It’s been a roller-coaster few weeks for the Buffalo Bulls (5-6, 4-3 MAC East) and the Akron Zips (2-9, 1-6 MAC East.)
A game which was supposed to be played on Saturday, Nov. 19, was moved thanks to a historic blizzard which dumped over four feet of snow on the city of Buffalo, forcing a state of emergency.
Since then, a lot has happened to the two teams expected to take part.
It has been a miserable end to the season for the Buffalo Bulls; the team looked shell-shocked on the road after posting a big lead vs. Central Michigan, then found themselves in the same exact position a week-and-a-half later vs. Kent State, getting up to a two-score lead before squandering it all in overtime.
Akron, meanwhile, has some forward momentum.
The Zips managed to give Eastern Michigan a scare two weeks ago, engineering a late second-half rally without their starting QB DJ Irons in a 34-28 loss. This week, the Zips put down one of the most emphatic proof-of-concept games in recent memory, pouring it on against a hapless and injured NIU Huskies squad, winning by a final margin of 44-12.
With Buffalo’s loss to Kent State, they get another crack at the bat to get their sixth victory, as the MAC had promised to revisit the postponement if the Bulls did not qualify for the MAC Championship Game.
Now, two weeks after the original game was meant to be played, the Akron Zips will finally travel to UB Stadium to meet the Bulls to try to sustain their own momentum— and prevent their peer program from getting into the postseason.
Let’s get right into it:
- Time and Date: Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: UB Stadium in Amherst, New York
- Spread/Total: Buffalo is a 12-point favorite, with an over/under of 56, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: Akron leads the all-time series at 11-10, as both teams entered the MAC at approximately the same time. Buffalo has won four of the last five contests, with UB taking a 45-10 win over a Zips team led by interim coach Oscar Rodriguez.
Getting to know the Bulls
Buffalo has taken some severely tough losses in recent weeks, most notably against the Central Michigan Chippewas in Week 10, when Bert Emanuel Jr. made Buffalo’s defense the background of his highlight reel in his second career game, running roughshod over the Bulls for 295 yards and three touchdowns to engineer a 24-point second-half comeback.
A loss last week against Kent State has forced this game to be tighter than they might have liked.
The reasons the Bulls lost were fairly obvious; they stopped being able to move the ball on situational downs and did not make the proper adjustments in the second half when teams pulled out a completely different plan.
For instance, vs. CMU, Buffalo was 3-of-3 on fourth down in the first half, when they were up 24-7. The second half saw them go 0-of-2 on fourth down, and also saw them with four drives of four plays or less, with just 60 total yards on six drives prior to the one which decided the game.
Buffalo’s run game is still one of the top attacks in the MAC, averaging around 151.4 yards per game and just under two touchdowns per game on the ground, but could be ailing for this contest. Mike Washington Jr. (team-leading seven touchdowns) could be the team’s remaining healthy running back coming into this game, as Ron Cook Jr. (139 rushes, 600 yards, four touchdowns) was ruled out prior to the Kent State game and Al-Jay Henderson (59 carries, 303 yards, three touchdowns) was injured as the feature back during said game.
That could mean a lot of backup QB Matt Myers in a run-option package, a look Buffalo broke out last week. Myers had 21 carries for 109 yards and three scores to single-handedly keep the Bulls competitive.
Cole Snyder, Buffalo’s quarterback, is also one of the team’s top rushers, with 93 carries for 139 yards and four touchdowns. Snyder is decent, but not great, in the passing game, with 2,501 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing about 58 percent of his passes.
The majority of the passing game will fly through Louisville transfer Justin Marshall (47 catches, 627 yards, six touchdowns) and Quian Williams (54 catches, 613 yards, four touchdowns), the two outside receivers.
Defensively, this is a team which hopes to make teams panic with a stout front seven and create opportunities to take the ball back.
Shaun Dolac is the highlight player of the defensive unit, near the top of the NCAA tackle charts with 122 tackles (including 86 solo stops) and is also one of the best linebackers in the MAC in pass coverage, with sevenpass break-ups. Dolac also has 10 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles as well, proving to be a well-rounded prospect.
Daymond Williams (27 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, interception) and Ibrahim Kante (20 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks) lead the defensive line.
Buffalo depends on their secondary unit to make a lot of plays in this defensive system, with two of their starting safeties and both of their starting corners amongst the top six in the tackles list. JUCO transfer Keyshawn Cobb Jr. has been the cog which makes it all run from the safety spot, with 57 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, a team-leading eight pass break-ups, a team-leading three fumbles and a defensive touchdown.
Marcus Fuqua, another safety, has been the team’s biggest playmaker, with five interceptions and five pass break-ups. He has a nose for the ball when it’s in the air, with excellent scheme fit discipline.
Special teams for Buffalo have also been an asset for the Bulls, as Alex McNulty is 22nd in the NCAA in field goal percentage, converting 87 percent of his field goal attempts this season. They’re not gimmes either; McNulty’s longest attempt this season is 54 yards, with 11 of his 20 attempts from 40 yards or longer. McNulty is 8-of-9 from 40-49 yards and 2-of-3 from 50+, giving Buffalo options if they stall on offense.
Anthony Venerri took over punting duties from Jackson Baltar at the start of the conference season, and immediately turned around the team’s field position game. Venerri averages 41.67 yards per punt, with seven punts inside-the-20 and seven punts of 50+ yards (as compared to zero and three for Baltar, respectively.)
Getting to know the Zips
The Akron Zips finally have a big load off their shoulders, getting their first win against an FBS-level opponent of the 2022 season last week against the Northern Illinois Huskies by a final score of 44-12.
It was months in the works, as Akron had come close several times in the season to picking up wins, but kept coming up short. The Zips had four games in the conference slate where they lost by a touchdown or less, finding themselves in position to take victories at least twice (vs. CMU and EMU) before fading in the last moments.
The Zips also had a great opportunity for a win against Liberty in the non-conference season, trailing by just two points before allowing a late touchdown with 8:46 remaining. Two offensive drives afterwards produced two turnovers-on-down, but the fact they stuck in it against an 8-4 squad showed the team had potential.
Now that they’ve got that proof-of-concept win, it’s all about stacking results on top of each other.
The passing game is what drives the Zips offense, with one of the most up-tempo, vertical attacks in the MAC, ranking second in the MAC in passing offense despite playing only 11 games. Akron has completed 64 percent of their passes, with over 3,142 yards through the air and 13 touchdowns.
The Zips greatly miss DJ Irons, who was recently selected to the all-MAC third-team, and his dynamism at the position, as his six-foot-six, 240 lb. frame makes him a hard matchup. In 10 total games, Irons picked up 2,675 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions through the air and 314 yards and four scores on the ground (with 593 yards gained.)
Likely in Irons’ stead this week is former UAlbany signalcaller Jeff Undercuffler Jr., who was a major contributor in the upset win over NIU last week. Undercuffler Jr. finished 21-of-32 for 312 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, and has proved serviceable in his time as a spot starter.
Whoever plays at QB for the Zips will have a plethora of options to throw to. Former LSU Tiger Alex Adams (56 catches, 837 yards, eight touchdowns) has been especially hot of late, hauling in 150 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win. The NIU game was the fourth-straight game in which he’s scored at least once.
Former Pitt Panther Shocky Jacques-Louis (69 catches, 837 yards, two touchdowns) and former Penn State Nittany Lion Daniel George (60 catches, 693 yards, one score) are the other playmakers in the passing game.
Cam Wiley handles feature back duties, with 486 yards and eight touchdowns on 106 attempts, while Clyde Price III is more of a third-down and spell threat, with 230 rushing yards and seven total scores (six rushing, one receiving.)
Defensively, the unit has had its share of struggles, placing 10th in the MAC in total defense and rushing defense, 12th (and last) in scoring defense and pass defense efficiency, and 11th in turnover margin as of last week. But in the conference season, they’ve tightened up, keeping games close and bailing out the offense when necessary with key situational plays.
Wyoming transfer Victor Jones (48 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks) has been the pacemaker for the Zips line, with Zach Morton (24 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss. 2.5 sacks) also a key player.
The heart and soul of the defense is in the middle of the field, as Bubba Arslanian’s 118 tackles pace the field by several dozen stops. Arlsanian has proven to be a gap penetrator this season, with 9.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack, and has even pulled down an interception this season.
Hometown hero Darrian Lewis (52 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, interception, four pass break-ups), formerly of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s HS, and Copeland, Ohio’s Tyson Durante (35 tackles, two interceptions, six pass break-ups) make up the brunt of the secondary’s production.
Akron has gone between two kickers in 2022, with Cory Smigel and Noah Perez combining to go 13-of-20 on field goal attempts. Smigel will likely take the duties for the last game of the season. Punter Noah Gettman averages 41.43 yards per boot on 53 attempts, with 11 kicks landing inside-the-20 and six kicks of 50+ yards.
What to Expect
It’s all on the line for Buffalo, as they’ve gone from a darling of the league to an also-ran in the month of November. Now, they’ve been gifted a unique opportunity; a rescheduled game on their home field against the worst team in the MAC to get a chance at three more weeks of practices and a potential bowl trophy in the second season of a rebuild under Maurice Linguist.
Losing this game would raise questions about the overall health of the program.
Akron, on the other hand, can prove to fans their performance last week wasn’t an aberration with a win against a Buffalo tema who looked like world-beaters at points in the MAC season. Perhaps with the weight of a nine-game losing streak off their shoulders, they can leave it all out on the field and build forward momentum into the offseason.
Bookies have this game as a two-score win for Buffalo, but this league has been fairly close all season, and no lead has been certain with the Bulls. Akron has proven to be a punchy squad over the second half of 2022, too, and has a decided coiaching advantage with Joe Moorhead at the helm.
It’ll be a great game to watch, with the emotionality sure to hit a peak regardless of result.