- Time and date: Saturday, October 8 at 12:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: UB Stadium — Amherst, NY
- Spread: Buffalo (-2)
- ESPN FPI: Buffalo has 64.9% chance to win
- All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 12-7
- Last meeting: Bowling Green 56, Buffalo 44 — November 9, 2021
- Current streak: Bowling Green, 1 (2021)
Setting the scene
Buffalo and Bowling Green combined for 100 points in a bizarre October showdown in 2021. The Falcons’ 56-44 victory came with no shortage of strange happenings, ranging from a head coach ejection to a fake kneeldown at the end of the contest.
This year, the Bulls (2-3, 2-0 MAC) and Falcons (2-3, 1-0 MAC) each suffered heartbreaking losses to FCS competition in Week 2, but both programs recovered nicely from alarming 0-2 starts. Buffalo exhibits an unblemished 2-0 record in MAC play after running through Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH), while Bowling Green upended Marshall in non-conference play and opened its conference slate with a win at Akron. In a wide open MAC East, every matchup and every tiebreaker holds immense weight, so we’ll get a clearer picture of the conference race after the teams meet at Doyt Perry Stadium this Saturday.
Buffalo Bulls outlook
Perhaps no MAC team has a greater contrast between where it was in Week 2 and where it is now. After a dreadful 0-2 start which featured a walk-off loss to Holy Cross of the FCS, the Bulls demonstrated a quick turnaround. Buffalo proved to be worthy competition for Coastal Carolina — one of 16 remaining unbeatens in the country — and then unleashed a new version of itself upon commencing MAC play.
The Bulls demonstrated their true offensive potential in a 50-point offensive outburst against Eastern Michigan when they racked up 498 yards and scored on their first 10 possessions in a convincing victory. While the offense wasn’t able to maintain a similar pace in the follow-up act against Miami (OH), the Bulls demonstrated their defensive progress instead. Buffalo’s defense yielded 20 points to the RedHawks, completing the best showing from the unit this season. Now, Maurice Linguist’s team hopes to combine the positives from those two performances to create a team that can run through the MAC in his second year at the helm.
Buffalo has witnessed a significant drop-off in sacks from the prior year, and revving up this unit is one way to generate a more consistent defense. The Bulls haven’t applied ample pressure this season, sitting at six sacks through five outings. Reigning All-MAC nose tackle Daymond Williams owns the highest sack output on the unit with 2.5. But he draws enough attention from opposing offensive lines to where the defensive ends must feed off of Williams’ presence.
The strength of the unit resides in the linebacking corps where perennial all-conference middle linebacker James Patterson and his counterpart Shaun Dolac take position. Patterson is a tackling machine, recently passing Buffalo legend Khalil Mack on the program’s all-time tackles list with 336 career takedowns. While Patterson has been an established presence for years, Dolac is enjoying a breakthrough 2022 campaign. The junior has more than doubled his career tackle output through five games, and he averages 10.6 per game this season, tying Patterson for the team-lead in tackles for loss with four.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Cole Snyder has shown flashes of excellence in his first year as the Bulls’ chief signal caller. Snyder posted 297 passing yards, 35 rushing yards, and accounted for four total touchdowns against Eastern Michigan, proving he can elevate the offense to a lethal degree when he’s on his game. Last week, Snyder’s numbers took a step back against a solid Miami (OH) defense but the quarterback still delivered when it mattered most. He floated a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Marshall with 31 seconds left for the game-winning touchdown, showing tremendous poise in a crunch-time situation.
Snyder has two excellent receivers at his disposable in Marshall and Quian Williams. The tandem accounts for over half of Buffalo’s completions and seven of eight of the team’s receiving touchdowns this season. With the amount of usage and the adept route running abilities of both wideouts, opposing teams must be equipped with two viable cornerbacks when countering the Bulls.
Pass protection had been the most pressing issue of the Bulls’ passing attack in the first four weeks as the team permitted 11 sacks through a third of the regular season. But last week, the dominance in the trenches looked more like the Buffalo we’ve become accustomed to over the past half decade. Not a single sack was allowed to Miami (OH), but replicating that feat will be a challenging objective as Bowling Green is one of four FBS teams averaging at least four sacks per game.
If the passing attack experiences an off-game, Buffalo trots out a few faces in the run game which could propel the offense. The Bulls were very run-heavy in the Lance Leipold era, but a more balanced unit has been observed since Linguist took over. This year, Buffalo exudes the exact definition of a split backfield. Mike Washington has 67 carries for 254 yards while Ron Cook Jr. owns a stat-line of 68 carries for 246 yards. The 5’9” Cook is the speedier, shiftier back while Washington is ideal for trudging through short-yardage and goal line situations with a 6’2”, 215 pound frame.
Bowling Green Falcons outlook
Like Buffalo, the Falcons season was off to a doomsday start when falling in seven overtimes to FCS foe Eastern Kentucky in Week 2. But Bowling Green also followed the Buffalo blueprint by shedding off a disastrous loss to fare 2-1 in its next three contests. The Falcons strung together a hard-fought comeback to upend Marshall in overtime and won their MAC opener by exacting revenge on Akron. In between those victories was a lopsided shellacking at the hands of Mississippi State, but Bowling Green entered that matchup lacking starting quarterback Matt McDonald and head coach Scot Loeffler, putting itself at a severe disadvantage in SEC country.
McDonald has been essential to Bowling Green’s success this season. The quarterback is playing the best football of his career and belongs in the conference’s most-improved players conversation. After 12 touchdown passes in 12 games last season, McDonald already has 13 in his first four outings. The Falcons’ third-year starter only has one interception to go along with his impressive touchdown output — holding status as one of three FBS quarterbacks (Drake Maye, Grayson McCall) with 13+ touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions this season.
But the quarterback’s progress goes beyond the pocket. McDonald attained just 13 rushing yards last season and he has already shattered his season-high with 89 this season. His ability to scramble outside the pocket and extend plays has not gone unnoticed and he ranks as Bowling Green’s third-leading rusher behind running backs Jaison Patterson and Jamal Johnson.
It’s been a long time since the rushing game was a strength at Bowling Green. This year continues the trend as the Falcons rank 117th in the FBS in rushing yards per game at 103, but flashes of potential were shown against Akron. Jamal Johnson looked promising in limited action against UCLA, but the sophomore tailback missed the next three games due to injury. He returned to post 70 yards on the Zips and demonstrated the ability to operate as the team’s lead back going forward. Jaison Patterson also added 66 yards in Bowling Green’s first 100+ rushing performance against an FBS opponent this year. They’ll hope to sustain this level of play when countering a run defense currently situated at 113th in the nation in yards allowed per game.
Last season, Bowling Green won three of its four games by holding its opponent to exactly 10 points, with the lone outlier being the 56-44 shootout win at Buffalo. While the Falcons typically won by merit of their defense last season, this year the offense has taken the reins. Thus, Bowling Green’s focal point involves sharpening its defense in effort to rattle off four more victories to attain bowl eligibility for the first time in seven years.
Bowling Green surrenders 41.6 points per game to rank in the bottom five of the FBS — although a seven overtime game helped skew that number. Passing defense ranks second to last while run defense ranks 92nd. Fortunately for the Falcons, not all has been grim on that side of the ball as the defense is forcing turnovers at the highest rate in the MAC. Defeating Marshall in the turnover battle 3-0 and edging Akron 3-1 in this category were instrumental in producing Bowling Green’s two victories this season. Now, the Falcons must shore up the tackling and coverage to find a more sustainable way of churning out wins.
The bulk of Bowling Green’s stops this year have come from the linebacking corps. Four of the team’s five leading tacklers — DJ Taylor, Darren Anders, JB Brown, and Brock Horne — are all classified as inside linebackers. Brown has been a pleasant surprise this season, leading the MAC with three forced fumbles in addition to totaling three tackles for loss thus far. He also leads all of the aforementioned linebackers with 1.5 sacks, and getting to the quarterback has been the Falcons’ calling card this season.
Only Cincinnati and Arkansas accumulated more sacks per game than the four Bowling Green generates. Karl Brooks is the ringleader of this movement, shredding through opposing offensive lines with 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss this season, along with two batdowns at the line of scrimmage. Given Buffalo’s early season struggles with pass protection, succeeding with pressure in order to stall Buffalo’s offense is the Falcons’ ticket to victory in this matchup.
This year’s version of the matchup won’t produce the 100-point fireworks show we saw at UB Stadium last October, but this should still be a close exciting contest. Both quarterbacks have displayed sharp outings in recent weeks, proving there should be hints of stellar offense throughout the afternoon at Doyt Perry Stadium — especially considering both teams’ defensive shortcomings.
For Bowling Green to win, it’s about winning the battles in the trenches. Preventing sacks offensively and creating them defensively have been defining traits of this year’s Falcons squad. Along with the turnover battle result, those characteristics pushed Bowling Green to wins over Marshall and Akron and they must be sustained in order to hand Buffalo its first MAC loss of 2022.
For Buffalo to win, it’s about translating the offense from the Eastern Michigan game into Week 6. Bowling Green allows north of 40 points per game and gives up more passing yards than any college football team with the exception of Ohio. If Cole Snyder gets in rhythm and establishes reliable connections with Quian Williams and Justin Marshall, Buffalo should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard.
Prediction: Buffalo 34, Bowling Green 28