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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 14 Preview: Buffalo Bulls @ Ohio Bobcats

Jaret Patterson chases Barry Sanders for the best 3-game rushing stretch ever as the MAC East title is within reach.

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

Jaret Patterson mania continues this Saturday.

After posting 301 and 409 yards in his last two outings, Buffalo’s junior running back produced the greatest 2-game rushing stretch in college football history. He was 19 yards away from breaking Samaje Perine’s single-game rushing record, and he tied the FBS single-game touchdown record with eight end zone appearances. With 228 rushing yards Saturday, Patterson can eclipse the legendary Barry Sanders for the most yards ever in a 3-game sequence.

Patterson cannot be stopped, and neither can the Buffalo Bulls (4-0, 4-0 MAC). Buffalo currently exhibits the top scoring offense in the country as the only team to average 50 points per game. The Bulls are winning games by an average margin of 26 points and nobody has come particularly close to challenging them in the MAC East race.

But all it takes is 60 minutes on a field to shake up the conference standings. The Ohio Bobcats (2-1, 2-1 MAC) still control their own destiny for their first conference title since 1968. Due to unique circumstances of the 2020 season, head-to-head winning percentage will be the division tiebreaker for teams with the same number of losses, so the Bobcats’ COVID-19 related cancelation against Miami (OH) will not count against them. Thus, all Ohio needs is to pull out a win at home in Athens to gain the upper hand. The Bobcats have controlled the series the past two years and Frank Solich is 3-2 head-to-head against Lance Leipold in their coaching careers.

The MAC East is on the line, and Buffalo clinches the division for the first time since 2018 if it claims a victory at Peden Stadium.


Running away with it

The focus of Saturday’s game will be on the running backs, specifically Heisman Trophy candidate Jaret Patterson. He currently ranks fifth in the country in rushing yards with 920 (230 per game) and second in touchdowns with 16 (4 per game) — and he’s only played four times.

But in Patterson’s last 26 games, his two worst rushing outputs have come against the Bobcats. Ohio stuffed Patterson to 23 yards at 2.9 yards per carry in 2018 and limited him to a season-low 52 yards in 2019. As a result of stuffing a team heavily reliant on the run, Ohio won both times. This season has been a year of shedding demons for the Bulls, and they already took down two of the three MAC teams that defeated them in 2019.

After manufacturing absurd numbers two weeks in a row, Patterson hopes for a stronger rushing result this time. Given what Patterson has done this season, don’t be shocked if he bursts for 200 yards again, especially considering Ohio’s rushing defense ranks 93rd nationally and allows 26.5 more yards on the ground in 2020.

Whether or not Patterson enjoys another record-breaking day, Ohio is still tasked with stopping his running mate, Kevin Marks. In the one game Patterson ran below 100 yards this fall, Marks carried the load with 109 yards. The junior has attained the 90-yard threshold in three consecutive games, averaging a stellar 6.2 yards per carry. Buffalo’s offensive line, headlined by left tackle Kayode Awosika, deserves plenty of credit for the gaps they manufacture for Patterson and Marks in the run game. The run blocking is elite, but the pass protection is nothing to scoff at either. The unit has not allowed a sack since Nov. 2, 2019, despite replacing three starters this offseason.

Ohio isn’t receiving the amount of attention as Buffalo in the backfield, but the Bobcats stroll into this matchup with a force at running back. De’Montre Tuggle rushed for 403 yards and six touchdowns in three outings this year, and he’s averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

Tuggle’s skillset isn’t limited to offense. He is a candidate for the Paul Hornung Award for most versatile player due to his success as a return specialist. Tuggle fielded a kickoff return for a touchdown against Central Michigan in the opener, and the senior tailback has logged 180 yards on four returns this season. Running back Julian Ross also scored a special teams touchdown this season, sprinting 96 yards to the house on a kickoff last week. The versatility of Ohio’s running backs has given the Bobcats a considerable advantage on special teams this season, one they’ll hope plays in their favor against the favored Bulls.

O’Shaan Allison joins Tuggle in the backfield, along with mobile quarterback Armani Rogers, to construct a top 25 rushing offense in college football. Allison hasn’t experienced a breakout moment this year, but he rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on Buffalo last October, and he punched in the game-winning score in overtime.

With Tuggle and Allison fronting the load, Ohio ran rampant for 355 yards and four touchdowns against Bowling Green. Although Buffalo’s defense is a major step up from Ohio’s previous opponent, the Bobcats hope the momentum sustains. The Bobcats have out-gained Buffalo in the rushing department for four-straight meetings but it will be no easy task to extend that streak to five.


Quarterback battle

Armani Rogers is set to make his first start for Ohio. The UNLV grad transfer checked in during the late second quarter of the 52-10 win over Bowling Green in relief for starter Kurtis Rourke. Rourke appeared to re-injure his left shoulder, which he underwent surgery for this offseason. The severity is not clear, but Rogers likely starts in place of Rourke this weekend.

Rogers started 18 games at UNLV, so there are no questions about his experience. Due to the blowout nature of last Saturday’s game, Rogers only threw three times, but he excelled as a runner with 65 rushing yards and a touchdown. Mobility is the most dangerous aspect of Rogers’ game, and Buffalo’s defense will be prepared for stopping the zone read after facing Kent State’s electric dual threat quarterback Dustin Crum a week ago.

Pitted against Rogers in this quarterback matchup is Kyle Vantrease, a very interesting quarterback to analyze. Vantrease rarely throws over 25 passes in a game and Buffalo’s offense remains grounded, especially in lopsided finishes. But Leipold and the Buffalo coaching staff let Vantrease air it out against Miami (OH) this season, and he proved he brings an effective arm to the table. Vantrease fired two deep touchdown passes that game and finished the second half a perfect 9/9 with 229 yards and three touchdowns.

Vantrease has solid weapons surrounding him, including potential All-MAC wide receiver Antonio Nunn (239 receiving yards, 2 TD in first two games) and tight end Zac Lefebvre, who also does a tremendous job anchoring the edge for Buffalo’s run blocking. If the Bulls elect to test out the air, they’ll have to be cautious as Ohio’s defense ranks fourth in the country in interception rate.


Defensive players to watch

Malcolm Koonce, DE, Buffalo: Koonce led the MAC in sacks last season and is currently tied for the lead with 4.0 through four games. The All-MAC defensive end has been a problem for the Ohio offensive line before, recording 1.5 sacks and forcing a fumble in last year’s meeting.

Jared Dorsa, ILB, Ohio: Dorsa is Ohio’s most consistent defender, operating from the heart of the defense. A tackling machine, Dorsa has been situated in the top three tacklers on the roster for three years running. He managed his first sack of the season last week and will be Ohio’s best bet at stopping Patterson and the run game.

James Patterson, ILB, Buffalo: If Jaret Patterson wasn’t enough, his twin brother will disrupt Ohio from the defensive side of the ball. James Patterson won MAC East Defensive Player of the Week two games ago for a 13-tackle effort against Bowling Green. He followed it up with another 13-tackle showing against Kent State last Saturday, and he’s on a roll right now.

Jett Elad, SS, Ohio: The freshman strong safety has been a pleasant surprise for the Bobcats this season. Elad has two interceptions and a pass deflection to go with 10 tackles this season. After the departure of longtime star Javon Hagan, Elad is developing into the next versatile safety on Ohio’s defense.


Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, December 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Network: CBS Sports Network

Location: Peden Stadium — Athens, OH

Spread: Buffalo (-11.5)

ESPN FPI: Buffalo has 70.3% chance to win

All-time series: Ohio leads, 16-10

Last meeting: Ohio 21, Buffalo 20 — October 5, 2019


Prediction

Before predicting the score, Jaret Patterson’s stat-lines have been so intriguing that it requires a prediction as well. I’ll go with 28 carries, 189 yards, 3 touchdowns, and perhaps Kevin Marks can also near the century mark Saturday.

Buffalo’s offense has not been solved, and the Bulls unleashed their best performance of the season by dropping 70 on an undefeated Kent State team last Saturday. The Bulls have been especially tough on Miami (OH) and Kent State after those programs prevented Buffalo from a MAC title in 2019. Ohio is the finally opponent with a target on its back, and the Bulls seem well equipped to keep the train rolling on offense.

Ohio only scored 24 points against Akron and the Bobcats will likely be without their starting quarterback. Matching Buffalo score-for-score is a daunting task, and the Bobcats will have to step up to produce turnovers and win all special teams battles in order to do so. Expect a strong showing from De’Montre Tuggle in the run game. Still, Buffalo ends its 2-game skid from Ohio and clinches the MAC East with a victory.

Prediction: Buffalo 48, Ohio 27