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2021 Week 11 Midweek MACtion Preview: Buffalo Bulls @ Miami RedHawks

Two 4-5 MAC East squads aim to revert to .500 in pursuit of the Bowl Season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Miami OH at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Tuesday, November 9 at 7:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPNU
  • Location: Yager Stadium — Oxford, OH
  • Spread: Miami (OH) (-7.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Miami (OH) has 54.2% chance to win
  • All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 15-8
  • Last meeting: Buffalo 42, Miami (OH) 10 — November 10, 2020
  • Current streak: Buffalo, 1 (2020)

Setting the scene

The last two MAC East champions are currently in below .500 territory, but that losing record won’t last long for the team which emerges triumphant Tuesday night. Last season, Buffalo handled Miami (OH) in convincing fashion, sending the RedHawks home with their only loss of the 2020 season.

Both teams enter the second slate of midweek MACtion games coming off a questionable loss to one of the MAC East bottom dwellers. Which team will put aside that mishap and make a stronger push for bowl eligibility?


Buffalo Bulls outlook

Buffalo became one of the final teams in the country to experience its bye week, finally earning a well-deserved Week 10 respite after nine consecutive matchups to launch 2021. However, only 10 days separate the Bulls’ most recent outing — a stunning 56-44 loss to Bowling Green from its upcoming MAC East showdown against Miami.

Many things went wrong for the Bulls in the shocking defeat. Prior to facing Bowling Green, Buffalo’s offensive line only allowed six sacks in 23 games. The Falcons doubled that total with six additional sacks on Oct. 30. Buffalo’s pass protection was a shell of its typical self in that game, but the Bulls must prove that performance was a fluke against a dangerous Miami front seven.

On the other side of the trenches, Buffalo counters the RedHawks’ line with a unit that produces 3.6 sacks per game which ranks eighth in the FBS. The Bulls are slated to operate without starting defensive ends Taylor Riggins and Max Michel (4.0 sacks apiece), so newer faces including Kyler Laing and Daymond Williams (4.5 sacks apiece) must sustain the high level of play from their past few outings.

Outside of the banged up defensive line, the unit features a program staple who has caused problems for MAC opponents for four years running. James Patterson currently has 84 tackles to his name — his most of any four seasons at Buffalo. Add three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble to that likely All-MAC résumé, and the middle linebacker is capable of presenting a multitude of problems for Miami’s offense.

Patterson and his 1.5 sacks were certainly a bright spot, but other concerning developments from the Bowling Green game included routinely allowing big plays. The Falcons struck the end zone from 81, 64, 77, and 47 yards out and shattered their season-high in rushing yards. Containing the ground should be easier against a Miami team which hasn’t established consistency in that area, but fending off the passing attack will be a challenge. Normally a strong passing defense, Buffalo allowed 263 yards and four touchdowns on 13 completions from Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald, so Maurice Linguist’s team hopes that instance doesn’t evolve into a trend.

Coastal Carolina v Buffalo
Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist is 4-5 in his first season at the helm, aiming to guide Buffalo to its fourth straight bowl game.
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Offensively, the Bulls are dealing with a fair share of injuries. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease left the Bowling Green game in the late second quarter after sustaining an injury from a sack. Matt Myers checked in for relief duties while Vantrease never returned. However, Vantrease is listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart. Another name appearing on the depth chart is halfback Kevin Marks. The former All-MAC product has not seen the field since Oct. 9, but he’s expected to return to Buffalo’s 25th ranked rushing offense. Currently, the unit has been spearheaded by Dylan McDuffie who has rattled off three consecutive 100-yard games in Marks’ absence for this ground-based offense.

When Buffalo opts to pass, the preferred target is no secret. Eastern Michigan transfer Quian Williams headlines the team with 49 receptions and 684 yards. Checking in second is quarterback-turned-wide receiver Dominic Johnson, who has totaled 26 and 346, respectively. Buffalo has been no stranger to airing it out to its receivers on Miami before. The RedHawks emphasized taking away the run in last year’s matchup, so Vantrease adjusted and proved his arm talent to the tune of 353 yards and four touchdowns.


Miami RedHawks outlook

Miami is coming off a brutal loss to a 2-7 Ohio team. The comeback was in place but the RedHawks simply ran out of time. After facing a daunting 28-0 in the second half, Miami scored 33 of the game’s final 40 points, including three touchdowns in the final 5:30. If only the defense recorded another stop, the Battle of the Bricks result may have turned out in the RedHawks’ favor.

Still, there are other issues Miami can point to as reasons for being on the wrong side of an upset. The RedHawks failed to convert 4th and 1 opportunities three times in the second half — two deep in their own territory and one at the Ohio 10. Also, penalties were a recurring theme and set the team backward on many drives in the first half, resulting in additional punts.

But when Miami’s offense catches fire, it cooks opponents. The connection from quarterback Brett Gabbert to wide receiver Jack Sorenson has been a masterpiece three years in the making. Sorenson, who made up roughly 50 percent of all Miami receiving production in 2020, recorded 283 of Gabbert’s 492 yards last Tuesday night. The star receiving ranks eighth in the FBS in receiving yards after his fourth consecutive 110-yard game. Sorenson totaled 14 receptions and two touchdowns in a standout performance, including a crunch time 82-yard catch-and-run which kept Miami in striking distance.

Miami Ohio v Army
Brett Gabbert’s 492 passing yards against Ohio marked the third most in program history, trailing Ben Roethlisberger (525) and Zac Dysert (516).
Photo by Edward Diller/Getty Images

Despite Sorenson’s insane yardage numbers, he’s not the only big play receiver this offense presents. Jalen Walker initiated the scoring effort at Ohio with a 51-yard touchdown reception. Penn State transfer Mac Hippenhammer chipped in two touchdowns that game and already has a 170-yard game under his belt. Gabbert is loaded with options, including capable tight ends, which makes this Miami passing defense dangerous. The RedHawks average 65 fewer rushing yards per game than Buffalo but 45 more in the passing department, so the offenses will present a contrast of styles.

Defensively, Miami can continue the headaches for Buffalo’s typically-stout offensive line. The RedHawks generate 2.7 sacks per contest, led by the lethal defensive line duo of Kameron Butler and Lonnie Phelps. Outside linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., the team’s breakout player of the season, chipped in two last game in addition to leading the roster with 18 tackles. Pace functions as the premier run stopper of the unit with nine tackles for loss and a team-best 87 tackles on the season.

While applying pressure has been a weekly theme, Miami has not excelled in forcing takeaways this year. The RedHawks are just one of 19 FBS teams to collect fewer than one turnover per game. When looking for a havoc play, the team usually turns to Sterling Weatherford. The longtime veteran has four career interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and a pair of forced fumbles. His latest interception occurred in the end zone in Week 9 to seal an impressive Miami victory over Ball State in the Red Bird Rivalry.


Prediction

Buffalo’s defense showed plenty of concerns in its last outing against a previously dormant Bowling Green offense. While Miami also suffered a questionable loss, the offensive firepower the RedHawks displayed late prove that their passing game remains a force to be reckoned with. Brett Gabbert is finally back in a groove after suffering several injury setbacks this year, Jack Sorenson has been unguardable, and other names such as Mac Hippenhammer are adding versatility to this offense.

The Bulls have struggled putting together two good halves of football this year. Many Buffalo games have a ‘tale of two halves’ theme, including the Bowling Green loss where it trailed 28-10 at halftime and was a goal line stand away from taking a lead in the final three minutes.

Buffalo is dealing with injuries to major contributors including Kyle Vantrease, Kevin Marks, and defensive ends Taylor Riggins and Max Michel. While the former two are expected to play, it’s no guarantee that they are at 100 percent, so health certainly favors Miami at the moment.

Overall, too many edges belong to Miami in Oxford and the RedHawks look destined to get revenge from their lone loss of 2020.

Prediction: Miami (OH) 34, Buffalo 24