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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 14 Preview: Akron Zips @ Buffalo Bulls

Jaret Patterson and the #24 Bulls aim to stay perfect

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 28 Kent State at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, December 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Network: CBS Sports Network

Location: UB Stadium — Buffalo, NY

Spread: Buffalo (-32.5)

ESPN FPI: Buffalo has 98.1% chance to win

All-time series: Akron leads, 11-8

Last meeting: Buffalo 21, Akron 0 — October 19, 2019

Current series win streak: Buffalo, 2 (2018-19)


Buffalo Bulls outlook

Buffalo is officially the MAC East champion. The Bulls are ranked in the AP Poll for the first time in program history, earning a No. 24 next to their name last Sunday. However, they aren’t in the College Football Playoff rankings, which has a reputation of severely under-ranking teams from the MAC, Sun Belt, and C-USA when compared to the AP Poll. Still, Buffalo is enjoying a perfect season and aiming to eventually climb further up the rankings ladders. The only true roadblock in 2020 came last week when the Bulls faced a cancelation while road-bound to Athens, OH due to COVID-19 issues within the Ohio program.

A major reason Buffalo has been able to garner national attention is due to the efforts of running back Jaret Patterson. The junior halfback is entering Heisman-caliber territory after posting arguably the greatest rushing performance in college football history the last time he suited up. Patterson’s most recent game against Kent State featured 409 rushing yards (18 away from the record) and an FBS-record eight touchdown runs. He has two consecutive 300-yard games and is averaging 230 yards and four rushing touchdowns per contest this season.

Patterson isn’t the only player to watch in Buffalo’s backfield. Kevin Marks is one of the best secondary halfbacks in college football, accumulating 296 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his last three performances. With an elite halfback tandem, Buffalo has no problem grounding the ball north of 40 times per game. The Bulls often utilize the running backs because they’re used to playing with sizable leads this year. Buffalo wins games by an average of 26 points and all four wins have been by at least three scores.

Quarterback Kyle Vantrease has thrown fewer than 22 times three times in four outings this season. Vantrease did receive one opportunity earlier this fall to air it out, and he capitalized. Against Miami (OH), the junior quarterback launched the pigskin for 353 yards and four touchdowns, proving he has tremendous placement on his deep ball when needed. With one of the nation’s strongest receivers in Antonio Nunn on the roster, Vantrease has a reliable weapon when dropping back in the pocket.

On defense, the Bulls didn’t have their best outing, allowing 41 points to the Golden Flashes. Akron similarly struggled against Sean Lewis’ “Flash Fast” offense, which is one of the tougher units to stop in the conference. But Buffalo is especially stout on the defense line, where the conference’s sacks leader Malcolm Koonce lines up. Only two teams in the FBS allow more sacks than the 4.4 Akron yields per game, so Koonce will be able to add to his impressive sack total which currently stands at 4.0.


Akron Zips outlook

Akron finally snapped the streak. It’s been a long wait for the Zips, who won their first game since October 2018 last Saturday. Akron snapped a 21-game losing streak and won its first game ever under second-year head coach Tom Arth. The Zips didn’t only snap the worst FBS losing streak since 2007, they incinerated any memory of it with a decisive 31-3 victory over Bowling Green.

Ever since a 24-10 loss to Ohio in the second week of MAC play, the signs were there that Akron wasn’t too far away from fielding a competent team again. The Zips have dominant players on either side of the ball, which pose as problems to any conference opponent. Offensively, community college transfer Teon Dollard has been the best newcomer in the entire conference. Dollard led the charge with 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns while leading Akron to its second 30-point game of the season. Dollard now has three games with more than 160 rushing yards in his first season as an FBS player, making this matchup with Buffalo a must-see running back duel.

The frontman of the Zips’ defense is inside linebacker Bubba Arslanian. A tackilng machine, the 5’9” linebacker is a lock to land a spot on the All-MAC team. He notched a season-high 16 tackles against Bowling Green last week, totaling 42 in his last three outings. Arslanian will be Akron’s best counter to the seemingly-unstoppable Jaret Patterson, and he hopes to prevent another 300-yard rushing game from the All-American candidate halfback.

While allowing 58 points to Western Michigan and 69 to Kent State isn’t ideal, Akron’s defense showed massive improvements a week ago. The Zips held Bowling Green out of the end zone entirely, commandingly won the turnover battle 3-0, racked up three sacks, and even blocked a punt on special teams.

Akron has seen a noticeable uptick in the pass rush this year, registering nearly two sacks per game. This will be the most challenging contest for the Zips’ front seven yet, going to war against the only offensive line in the country to allow zero sacks in 2020.

What held Akron back from further domination is a lack of an offense outside of Dollard. The Zips took four sacks and completed 9/17 passes, so similarly to Buffalo, they don’t often live through the air.


Prediction

This one will feature considerably more points than Buffalo’s 21-0 shutout in Akron last October.

It’s the nation’s top scoring offense (50.8 points per game) against the 120th ranked scoring defense (38.4 points allowed per game). It’s the second best rushing offense (323 yards per game) against the 107th best rushing defense (212 yards allowed per game).

Jaret Patterson needs 80 yards to secure his third 1,000-yard season in three years. That likely happens, but how far can Patterson go? Is 300 yards for the third-straight week on the table? Patterson has the best 2-game rushing stretch in college football history and if he manages 228 rushing yards Saturday, he will break Barry Sanders’ record for the best 3-game stretch any eyes have witnessed.

Teon Dollard will look sharp on the other end and get the Zips in the end zone at least once, but Akron’s one-game winning streak won’t last long when facing the best MAC team we’ve seen since at least 2016 Western Michigan.

Prediction: Buffalo 56, Akron 17