It is the opening weekend of conference play for many teams around the MAC, including an intriguing contest between the Buffalo Bulls and the Miami RedHawks. For Buffalo (2-2), it got a much-needed win over a rebuilding Temple team after taking consecutive losses at the hands of #15 Penn State and Liberty. Meanwhile, Miami (1-3) limps into conference play after taking a 76-5 thrashing at #5 Ohio State on top of double-digit losses to Iowa and Cincinnati.
The strength of the Bulls offensively has been its rushing attack as they have rushed for 223 yards per game and seven touchdowns so far this season. Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks form a dynamic one-two punch as they have combined for nearly 700 rushing yards and four scores on the season. The passing game with Matt Myers is not as prolific as it has been in the past for UB (completion percentage of 50.6, 543 yards in four games) but it doesn’t have to be when you have such a strong ground game.
Buffalo is also disruptive on defense with 21 TFLs, ten sacks, nine pass break-ups, three interceptions, and a trio of forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Ledarius Mack leads the team with three sacks and is tied for the team lead with four TFLs. Tyrone Hill and Devon Russell are players to watch out for in the secondary as they have three pass break-ups each on the season but James Patterson will be out of the lineup Saturday, leaving a void in the second level of the defense.
The Bulls aren’t bad at situational football either as they convert 44.6% of third downs and hold offenses to 30.6% on the same down, and excel in the red zone on both sides of the ball with 11 red zone touchdowns on offense and four red zone scores allowed on defense. However, special teams has not been a strength for UB as it only averages 32.6 yards per punt, has missed four field goals, and has allowed some big returns (a 22-yard punt return and a 51-yard kickoff return).
Meanwhile, it is hard to gauge how Miami will be on Saturday as it has yet to play a team that has similar talent to it this season. What complicates matters even more for the ‘Hawks is who will even be available to play against the Bulls; they only had half the starters participate in a Sunday walkthrough after the Ohio State game per the Hamilton Journal-News.
What we do know is that the Red and White will emphasize the running game, as Tyre Shelton and Maurice Thomas were able to have success on the ground at different points this season. Thomas was impressive last week as he earned 44 yards on eight carries on a stingy OSU defense. Miami used more speed option last week to get the ground game going to some success, so we can expect some variation of it in Saturday’s game.
The passing game, on the other hand, will likely be an adventure when the Bulls come to town. Brett Gabbert has shown glimpses of being an outstanding quarterback (two touchdown passes) but his inefficiency has made things difficult (54.6 completion percentage, two interceptions), and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to go Saturday. Jackson Williamson also took a beating in Columbus with four sacks, so it’s not an optimistic outlook for the aerial attack of the RedHawks.
2019 has not been kind to the defense of the ‘Hawks as it has allowed 15 red zone touchdowns in 20 trips. Myles Reid and Kameron Butler have been bright spots as the former is second on the team with 22 tackles and has forced two fumbles, while the latter leads the way with five TFLs and a pair of sacks. The one area where Miami has a dramatic advantage is special teams. Kyle Kramer averages 44.9 yards per punt while the coverage on both punt and kickoff have usually been pretty good.
With the injuries to Miami being what they are, the game will come down to who can stop the run. The Bulls and the ‘Hawks have made it clear that they want to run the ball and have the ability to do so, but it will be up to the defenses and the special teams units to decide the game. Can Buffalo overpower a depleted Miami team, or will the RedHawks take advantage of defensive injuries for the Bulls to earn a much-needed win? We’ll find out on Saturday.