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2021 Week 9 Preview: Bowling Green Falcons @ Buffalo Bulls

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Bowling Green’s once-promising season is pushed to the brink of bowl eligibility as it pays a visit to Buffalo.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Buffalo at Bowling Green Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Saturday, October 30 at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: CBS Sports Network
  • Location: UB Stadium — Buffalo, NY
  • Spread: Buffalo (-13.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Buffalo has 90.5% chance to win
  • All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 11-7
  • Last meeting: Buffalo 42, Bowling Green 17 — November 17, 2020
  • Current streak: Buffalo, 4 (2017-20)

Setting the scene

Bowling Green (2-6, 0-4 MAC) controlled the series with six consecutive victories from 2011 through 2016, but Buffalo (4-4, 2-2 MAC) has made it an annual tradition to charge at the Falcons in brutal fashion. Buffalo’s current 4-game win streak over Bowling Green features an average victory margin of 26.75 points. The Bulls ride a wave of two consecutive wins heading into this MAC East matchup, and they’ll face a Falcons team looking for their first win after an 0-4 start to conference play.


Bowling Green Falcons outlook

Bowling Green’s 14-10 upset at Minnesota becomes more perplexing each week. Since that statement victory, the Falcons have yet to win and the Golden Gophers have yet to lose. Halfway through league play, the team which finished non-conference play 2-2 remains in search of its first MAC win. Now, the stakes are higher than ever as bowl eligibility is on life support for a Bowling Green program which hasn’t seen the postseason since 2015.

Bowling Green hung its hat on fielding an elite defense early in the season, but that trend has diminished in the past three weeks. Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, and Eastern Michigan all attained well above their season scoring averages to upend the Falcons. Last week’s 55-24 loss to the Eagles was by far the worst defensive showing of the year. Bowling Green’s passing defense still ranks 10th in fewest yards allowed per game due to early season accomplishments, but the unit allowed 286 yards and two touchdowns on 20/26 showing from Eastern Michigan quarterback Ben Bryant.

After three teams failed to complete more than half of their passes in the first four weeks, the script has completely flipped. Two of the Falcons’ last three opponents have connected on more than 75 percent of attempts. Bowling Green also has not won a turnover battle since the win over Minnesota. The defense forced two takeaways per game in non-conference play but that number has diminished to one since the MAC slate commenced.

If the defense, which has shown elite capabilities, isn’t generating havoc for Bowling Green, it’s not good news for the Falcons because the offense has been sporadic at best. Only three FBS teams average fewer rushing yards per game than Bowling Green’s 81, but all three produce at least 315 yards and two passing touchdowns per contest. Meanwhile, Bowling Green’s passing outputs are at 235.6 and 0.8, respectively. The Falcons generate the fewest yards per game in the conference.

The rushing attack has progressed over the course of the season. The last two weeks have featured 161 and 130 rushing yards, marking the Falcons’ two highest totals of 2021. Terion Stewart picked up a season-high 57 yards and a touchdown last Saturday, and after an impressive 2-touchdown performance on Buffalo’s defense last November, he looks primed to shoulder a load of Bowling Green’s offense in this coming matchup.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Buffalo at Bowling Green
Terion Stewart recorded two touchdowns and rushed for 4.7 yards per carry in last November’s game against Buffalo.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Quarterback Matt McDonald and the passing game served as the most dangerous weapons of Bowling Green’s offense early in the season. The Falcons opted for quick, efficient passes to chip away at defenses in a ‘death by paper cuts’ approach. Lately, the passing efficiency has declined as McDonald has completed 47.4 percent (36/76) of passes in his last two outings, compared to 65.3 percent (139/213) in his first six.

Wide receivers Tyrone Broden and Austin Osborne provide varying skill sets, but their abilities complement the passing game very well. Broden is the team’s downfield threat. The 6’4” sophomore is the team’s definitive leader in receiving yards and averages 16 per reception. Osborne is the premier short-yardage threat on the team. With a team-high 46 receptions, the Washington transfer averages just 8.1 yards per catch but his weaponry on 3rd and shorts makes him a perfect fit for this Bowling Green offense.


Buffalo Bulls outlook

Here’s a stat: Saturday’s 45-10 win over Akron was the third time Buffalo defeated an FBS team this season. It was also the first time Buffalo defeated an FBS team by more than one point.

It was relieving for Bulls faithful to finally see the team dismantle an opponent in comfortable fashion. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease put together a strong showing through the air for a team that is renowned for pounding the rock. Vantrease completed 15/20 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns on the Zips’ defense.

In Buffalo’s best offensive performance against an FBS team this year, a true freshman experienced a breakthrough day. Jamari Gassett committed to Buffalo in June 2020 after holding offers from UCF, Iowa State, and Boston College, among others. Gassett finally saw his commitment pay dividends with four receptions, 95 yards, and a touchdown in the victory. As time progresses, Gassett’s role in the offense looks destined to greatly expand after last Saturday’s performance.

As young guys start to flourish in the offense, one key veteran returns. Buffalo’s stacked running back room gains depth as former All-MAC selection Kevin Marks is set to play this week, per Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News. Marks, who averaged over 100 rushing yards per game in 2020, missed the prior two matchups with a lower leg injury. Complementing the longtime Bull in the running game is an emerging star in Dylan McDuffie, who thrived in Marks’ absence. The junior recorded his second consecutive (and second career) 100-yard game against Akron, and he currently leads the ground-based team with 603 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Bulls made their mark on the ground in the prior two meetings with the Falcons. Former All-American halfback Jaret Patterson shredded the defense with 298 and 301-yard outbursts on Bowling Green in 2019 and 2020. However, the Falcons run defense has made massive strides from permitting 310 to 190 yards per game from last season to the current campaign.

Along with running the football, rushing the passer has long been a strong suit of the program, but last Saturday was the best it’s ever been. Buffalo recorded 11 sacks in the blowout win over Akron, marking the most by an FBS team in a single game since Miami (OH) managed 12 against Akron in 2019. The Bulls posted this result without their star defensive end Taylor Riggins, who remains out with an injury. Newer faces on the defensive line including end Kyler Laing and tackle Daymond Williams stepped up to record multiple sacks to dominate in the trenches.

Now, the defense which produces sacks at the seventh highest rate in the nation will battle an offense which allows 2.88 per contest (24th most in the FBS). At the heart of the defense sits James Patterson, the twin brother of Bowling Green’s kryptonite. James is the do-it-all middle linebacker on this defense. Last year, he racked up a then-career-high 13 tackles against Bowling Green. Since, he’s evolved into a stronger tackler with a team-best 77 complemented with 4.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble in a loaded résumé.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Wagner at Buffalo
James Patterson recorded a career-high 13 tackles vs. Bowling Green last November. Since that night, Patterson has finished with 13+ tackles on three additional occasions.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prediction

These MAC East teams are trending in opposite directions, and with the game at UB Stadium, it’s likely those trends continue. The significant question in this matchup is, to what extent can Bowling Green resist the Bulls’ run game? Although much improved from last year’s FBS-worst rushing defense, ground-based offenses have still succeeded against the Falcons in recent weeks. For instance, Northern Illinois only completed four passes yet posted 34 points on them in Week 7. With Kyle Vantrease’s recent success, Buffalo won’t go that extreme in its play selection (although Vantrease only threw 12 times in the 2020 matchup), but the Bulls will be able to inflict damage with Kevin Marks and Dylan McDuffie manning the backfield.

Buffalo’s defense has also been strong at home this year and the team hasn’t yielded more than 28 points in four contests at UB Stadium. Against Bowling Green’s inconsistent offense, Buffalo will likely hold the Falcons to a low output. The key for an upset in this matchup involves Bowling Green’s defense keeping this below the 20s, such as the Minnesota game. But with the way Buffalo has moved the ball down the field in October, this one has a Bulls victory written all over it.

Prediction: Buffalo 31, Bowling Green 13