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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 8 Game Preview: Buffalo Bulls at Akron Zips

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The Bulls take to the road looking for their second-straight victory after last week’s thrilling comeback against Ohio.

Akron v Buffalo Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

GAME NOTES

  • Time and Date: Saturday, October 23, 2021, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
  • Spread/Total: Buffalo -11, O/U 57.5
  • All-time series: Akron leads, 11-9
  • Last Meeting: Buffalo took care of Akron by a final of 56-7 back on December 12, 2020.

The Buffalo Bulls (3-4, 1-2 MAC) travel south to take on the Akron Zips (2-5, 1-2 MAC) in a matchup between two teams that are looking to stay in contention in the MAC East. Buffalo is coming off of a thrilling, come from behind 27-26 victory over Ohio this Saturday. The Zips are looking to get back in the win column after falling 34-27 at Miami last week.

In the 2020 matchup between these two teams, Buffalo ran for 428 yards on the ground en route to a dominant 56-7 victory. Kevin Marks led the way with 182 yards and two scores on only 15 carries. Buffalo may have a new coach in 2021, but Maurice Linguist has kept the Bulls offensive identity in tact, as Buffalo still fields a dominant run game to the tune of 200 yards per game.

There are signs of optimism at Akron, and the Zips victory over Bowling Green two weeks ago was a real shot in the arm for the program. Coach Tom Arth has greatly improved the talent at the skill positions over the past three years, though the Zips are still undersized along both lines.

Both squads are looking to earn their second MAC victory. Let’s take a look at the matchups.


When Buffalo has the ball

Oftentimes, a new head coach means a new identity. A new coach usually wants to mold a team to fit his philosophies and make his imprint on the program.

That has not been the case at Buffalo.

The Bulls established a hard nosed, run first mentality under former head coach Lance Leipold. Mo Linguist has come in and largely maintained that identity from the previous administration, and the Bulls once again field a powerful run game. The Bulls currently rank fourth in the MAC and 32nd in the country, averaging 200.6 yards per game. Kevin Marks, Jr., was expected to take over the lead back role this year with the graduation of Jaret Patterson, and in some ways he has. Marks leads the Bulls in carries with 94, though he has only produced 368 yards and five scores. Part of that has been health, as Marks did miss the Ohio game due to injury, but the other part has simply been the emergence of other backs.

While Marks and Patterson formed a devastating duo for the past two years, this year the Bulls actually have three backs that their able to deploy. The reason Marks is only the second leading rusher on the team has been because of the emergence of local Buffalo product Dylan McDuffie. The junior had only 38 career carries entering this season, yet he has exploded onto the scene with 492 yards and six scores on 83 carries in 2021. Fellow junior Ron Cook, Jr., has also acquitted himself well, adding 332 yards and two scores on 56 carries of his own.

Much like in the Leipold era, the Bulls are still a run first team. QB Kyle Vantrease has shown himself to be a capable signal caller, but he isn’t always called upon to do a ton. His numbers are decent enough: he’s completed a respectable 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,423 yards, though he does have a less than stellar 5:4 TD-to-INT ratio.

Vantrease had arguably the best game of his season last week against Ohio, completing 22-of-30 passes for 251 yards, two scores and an interception. With the Bulls down 26-10 entering the fourth quarter, he was asked to pass a little bit more than he usually would be, but once again he showed capable of the additional workload.

Former Eastern Michigan Eagle WR Quian Williams has proven to be a great addition from the transfer portal, and his 41 receptions and 579 receiving yards more than double the production of any other receiver on the roster. Dominic Johnson is the only other receiver to have more than ten catches, with 19 receptions for 208 yards on the year.

Buffalo is going to try and establish the run in this game, and that’s not good news for the Akron defense. The Zips enter this match up ranked 11th in the MAC and 122nd nationally in rush defense, giving up 215.6 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. This feels like a game where the Bulls run game will be able to do just about whatever they want. Kyle Vantrease may not throw ten passes in this game, and that’s just fine with the Bulls. The Akron secondary has performed better than the front seven, and CB Charles Amankwaa is tied for the MAC lead with three interceptions on the season, and Jaylen Kelly-Powell at safety has provided stability on the backend.

MLB Bubba Arslanian getting hurt is a big blow for this unit, as he is the heart and soul of this defense. The first team all-MAC performer in 2020 racked up 43 tackles through the first four games of the season before getting hurt against Ohio State. He will be out once again this week.

If the Zips want to compete in this one, they’ll need a big step up from their defensive line, namely Bryce Wilson and Zach Morton. Wilson leads all Akron defensive lineman with 15 tackles on the year, and Morton picked up sacks in back to back weeks earlier this season against Ohio and Bowling Green.

Slowing down the Bulls rushing attack is the only way the Zips will give themselves a chance in this game. Their front seven has a tall task ahead of them.


When Akron has the ball

It’s a very rare thing to get such a high level of quarterback play from a team that is struggling so badly on offense, but that’s exactly the case here with Akron. The Zips have perhaps the deepest quarterback room in the MAC, with three legitimate signal callers.

Senior Kato Nelson played in the first four games before getting injured, and sophomore DJ Irons stepped into replace him. Irons burst onto the scene by completing all 13 of his passes against SEC foe Auburn, compiling 129 passing yards and a score.

The Zips injury issues weren’t quite done, however, and Irons went down in the third quarter of the Zips loss to Ohio in week five. Enter Zach Gibson, the starter from last year, who reminded us not to forget about him by completing 14-of-15 passes for 177 yards and three scores against Bowling Green, leading the Zips to a comeback victory. He followed that up with another very good performance last week, going 25-of-39 for 291 yards and another three scores. If you combine the statistics from all three quarterbacks, you get a stellar stat line: 141-of-207 (68.1%), 1,611 yards, 15 TD and 4 INT.

If those numbers were from one individual, the yardage would rank third in the MAC. The 15 touchdowns would rank first.

There are other signs of hope here. Freshman WR Konata Mumpfield was just named to The Athletic’s mid-season Freshman All-American team, and leads the Zips with 38 receptions, 459 yards, and six scores. Sophomore Michael Mathison has stepped up as well, and is second on the team with 35 receptions for 377 yards and two scores of his own.

Unfortunately, this progress is severely hampered by the continued slow development of the offensive line. The Zips are extremely green up front, starting five freshman along the line last week against Bowling Green. The youth shows, as the Zips currently rank 11th in the MAC and 115th in the FBS in rushing offense, averaging on 108 yards per game and a paltry 2.9 yards per carry.

The story isn’t much prettier in the passing game, as the Zips have given up 36 sacks on the year. Not only is that the worst mark in the MAC, that is dead last in the entire FBS. Honestly, the poor condition of the line makes the Zips’ quarterback numbers all the more impressive.

This Buffalo front seven is going to pose a number of problems for the Zips offensive front. The Bulls like to bring pressure and currently rank third in the MAC with 18 sacks. Defensive tackles Daymond Williams and George Wolo form a solid tandem up front, and each have 2.5 sacks apiece while also consistently clogging the middle and taking up blocks for blitzing linebackers. Defensive end Max Michel leads the team with three sacks of his own.

LB James Patterson is the heart and soul of this defense and currently leads the MAC in tackles with 72. Senior LB Kadofi Wright is having the best season of his career and is second on the team with 41 tackles.

The strength of the Zips offense is passing the ball, and they may have an advantage in this aspect of the game. The Buffalo front seven has been solid all year, but the Bulls rank 8th in the MAC in passing defense, allowing 227.4 yards per game. If the Akron offensive line can give their quarterbacks time to throw, Mumpfield and Mathison have the ability to give the Bulls secondary problems. This is a team that gave up over 400 yards through the air against Kent State two weeks ago. They can be had.

As of press time, it still has not been announced who will be playing quarterback for the Zips in this one. Gibson has played very well these past two weeks, but DJ Irons does seem to have a higher upside. If Irons is cleared to play, I would anticipate he gets the nod. If not, Gibson has proven himself to be a trustworthy option.


Prediction

The Zips could badly use a win here, and I do think they’ll pick up another victory before the season is out. With that said, this matchup does not line up in their favor. The Bulls want to establish the run and pound the ball, and the Zips have not proven able to slow down a powerful rushing attack this season. I do think Akron can have some success through the air in this game, however I think the Bulls front seven on defense will prove too much for the Zips young offensive line. Akron may hang around for a half in this one, but I thin Buffalo pulls away after halftime for a convincing victory.

Buffalo 38, Akron 20