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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 4 Game Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes at Buffalo Bulls

Two undefeated teams meet in a game of critical importance in the MAC East Division race.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Akron at Kent State
QB Dustin Crum has guided the Golden Flashes to six straight wins going back to 2019 and figures to be a big factor in the outcome this Saturday vs the Bulls
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you can only watch one MAC game this week, this is it.

Kent State (3-0) travels to Buffalo (3-0) this week to take on the Bulls in critical game that will shape the race in the MAC East Division. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for a shot to get to Detroit for the MAC Championship game while the loser will be effectively two games back in the race with only two games remaining.

We are going to find out a lot about both squads in this one. While it is obvious both teams are talented and legitimate MAC title contenders, how much can you tell about teams who have played opponents with a combined record of 1-16?


Game Info

  • When: Saturday, November 28 at 12 p.m. (EST)
  • Where: UB Stadium in Amherst, New York
  • Watch/Stream: CBS Sports Network (valid cable subscription required)
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 43 degrees, winds 15-25 MPH, per Weather.com.
  • Odds: Kent State is a 7.5 point underdog, with an over/under of 67.5, per OddsShark.

KENT STATE

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 3. Number in Parentheses is MAC ranking):

  • Points per game: 53, (1)
  • Points allowed per game: 27.3 (4)
  • Total yards: 1,848 (951 passing, 897 rushing) (1)
  • Yards allowed: 1,033 (500 passing, 533 rushing) (2nd among teams that have played 3 games)

Watching Kent State and Buffalo in 2020, here are some advantages for the Golden Flashes in this one.

Kent State has a well-balance offense, executed at a very high level by the best QB in the MAC East, Dustin Crum. Where there are cracks in the Bulls defense, the Golden Flashes have the talent to find and exploit those opportunities. Working quickly, Kent State will often take the play from the line of scrimmage and use read-option, run-pass option, play action, and quick and deep throws to take advantage of the defensive looks and force defenders to cover the entire field.

Crum is not only an accomplished passer, ranked 7th in the FBS in passer efficiency, but where he really kills the defense is on designed runs and scrambles. The Kent State QB leads the MAC in rushing yards by a QB with 164. Crum runs the read-option very well, holding the ball at the mesh point for the as long possible sometime in order to get to get a good look and ultimately punish an undisciplined defense. Also, on non-designed runs, Crum is readily able to analyze what is available and will improvise to exploit what he sees. His runs aren’t typically explosive but, time after time, Crum keeps the chains moving with runs just beyond the sticks.

Kent State may be able to cash in on some explosive passing plays in this one, wind permitting. If you just looked at the score of the Buffalo vs Miami game from earlier this year, you would think Buffalo dominated the game with a final score of 42-10. Truth is, Miami had a significant number of opportunities for big passing plays against man or single-high coverage in the first half, but were unable to convert due to drops or off-target throws.

Kent State’s passing game executes at a high-level and will take advantage of those opportunities Miami could not. If Buffalo plays man coverage against the Golden Flashes WRs Isaiah McKoy or Ja’Shaun Poke, they do so at their own peril. McKoy could ultimately be an NFL prospect, with great size (6’3”, 200 pounds), production, and competitiveness. McKoy will win most one-on-one battles against MAC defensive backs.

A final advantage for Kent State is special teams. The Golden Flashes have a major weapon in K Matthew Trickett, who is a two-time, First-Team, All-MAC performer. Trickett was named to the Lou Groza Watch List for the best placekicker in the country. Trickett is clutch, hitting a game winner last year as time expired to beat the Bulls, 30-27.


BUFFALO

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 3):

  • Points per game: 44, (3)
  • Points allowed per game: 19 (1)
  • Total yards: 1,848 (605 passing, 780 rushing), (5)
  • Yards allowed: 1,054 (579 passing, 475 rushing) (3nd among teams that have played 3 games)

The Bulls may prove to be one of the best squads in the MAC in 2020, with both a good offense and defense.

The Bulls start with a fantastic running game led by RBs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, who have combined for 742 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns. Patterson and Marks operate behind one of the best offensive lines in the MAC, led by 2019 second-team, All-MAC senior LT Kayode Awosika. The line has paved the way for the Patterson and Marks to average 6.8 yards per carry combined while allowing zero sacks.

If Kent State is going to compete in this one, they need to improve their rush defense from last week, where Akron’s Teon Dollard ran amok for 202 yards and four touchdowns.

In the passing game, WR Antonio Nunn has developed into the go-to guy. If the Golden Flashes are going to work to limit one WR, it figures to be Nunn who has 17 catches compared with the rest of the Buffalo squad that has a total of 19 receptions among eight players. Expect the Bulls to move the chains primarily with Nunn, sprinkling in a few deep shots when the Golden Flashes are focused on stopping the run.

If talented TE Zac Lefebvre is going to have that breakout game as a receiver, it might be this game. I think the Bulls could have some favorable matchups in this one with Lefebvre and he could be a menace in the red zone or as a deep threat.

The Bulls probably have the best defensive front seven in the MAC in 2020 and if Buffalo is getting some stops against Kent State’s great offense, players like DE Malcom Koontz and LBs James Patterson and Kadofi Wright are going to need to limit Crum’s scrambles and make some splash plays. Koontz leads the team with three sacks and James Patterson leads the squad with 24 tackles.

The biggest area of concern with the Bulls is in the area of special teams, particularly punt and field goal teams. The Bulls are last in the league in punting average with 33.0 yards per game. Also, Buffalo is the only MAC team that has not attempted a field goal in 2020 and return two kickers who combined to make only 11 out of 19 attempts last season.


Final Thoughts

A lot of signs favor the Bulls to win in this one. They have one of the best offenses and defenses in the league. They play at home, so they don’t have to travel with all of the COVID-based logistical issues that entails. There is cause for concern that the Golden Flashes will have difficulty containing Buffalo’s rushing attack after being shredded by Akron last week in the first half. Buffalo is favored by 7.5 points and ESPN’s ‘Match Up’ predictor says the Bulls have a ‘72.4 percent chance’ of winning.

That being said, I like the Golden Flashes not only to cover the spread but to get the ‘upset’ win. Kent State’s thrilling 30-27 win over the Bulls in 2019 sparked a winning streak which has the Golden Flashes on a 6-0 run. And though Kent State has played some of the MAC’s weaker opponents, I think the 2020 team is better than the 2019 version. Finally, Dustin Crum has played lights-out in big games, like Kent State’s 2019 bowl win over Utah State, where he passed for 289 yards and rushed for 147 yards. I like Crum to have a big game in this one to be the difference against the Bulls.