If you were to look at these two programs on Sept, 10, 2022, you would think the Buffalo Bulls and Georgia Southern Eagles were on very different trajectories.
The Bulls hosted Holly Cross for a classic “cupcake” game to get a win on the board early in the season, while. The Eagles were on the road in Lincoln to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska was a 23.5 point favorite.
It was apparent immediately that Nebraska had its hands full with the Eagles. Georgia Southern struck first and answered every Nebraska touchdown to force a 28-28 tie at the halftime mark.
Buffalo scored early in the second quarter to open up a 14-0 lead to set up a typical FBS romp. The Crusaders battled back, however, and pulled even late in the third quarter with a 62-yard touchdown pass, and Buffalo responded meekly with a punt, a turnover on downs and a field goal to tie the game with 31 seconds remaining. Holy Cross drove the ball to the Buffalo 46 and went for the Hail Mary.
You have to think a school named Holy Cross will get a little help on a Hail Mary.
HOLY CROSS HAIL MARY TOUCHDOWN FOR THE WIN OVER BUFFALO!! pic.twitter.com/HiMD5rumcS— @ (@FTBeard7) September 11, 2022
A couple of hours later into the night, Nebraska took the lead 42-38 over the Eagles with a 15-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that took just under six minutes after intercepting Georgia Southern. Upset bids die when the favorite takes a late lead, but not this one. Georgia Southern ran 11 plays in 2:29 and Kyle Vantrease took a designed quarterback run to the house from eight yards out. (Yes, the very same Kyle Vantrease who led the Buffalo Bulls in 2021.)
GEORGIA SOUTHERN TAKES A 3 POINT LEAD AT NEBRASKA WITH 36 SECONDS LEFT!!!! pic.twitter.com/Knd2dN3z2V— @ (@FTBeard7) September 11, 2022
Despite this clear fork in trajectory, both teams entered their final game needing a win to become bowl eligible. Buffalo squeaked past a feisty Akron team 23-22 and Georgia Southern beat Appalachian State 51-48 in double overtime.
Now these teams face each other after up-and-down seasons which ultimately ended up in the same destination. Both coaches are early in their tenure at their respective schools and are quite motivated to get a bowl win.
So what can we expect from these two teams Tuesday afternoon? Let's get into it.
- Time and Date: Tuesday, December 27, 2022 at 12:00 pm Eastern time
- Network: ESPN (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama
- All-time series: This will be the first game between the Buffalo Bulls and the Georgia Southern Eagles.
- Odds: Georgia Southern is favored by 3.5 points, with an over/under spread of 66.5 points, per DraftKings.
The Buffalo Bulls season:
The Bulls season has been a season of streaks. Losses to Maryland, Holy Cross and Coastal Carolina started the 2022 campaign on the wrong foot. They found a way to correct themeselves at the right time, eeking out five straight wins to put them in position to win the MAC East outright, sitting at a 4-0 conference record through October. The Toledo comeback was a sight to behold, as the Bulls scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win by a final margin of 34-27.
The good times were over after that, however, with Ohio, Central Michigan and Kent State all beating the Bulls during the midweek #MACtion portion of their schedule. A brief scheduling issue due to monstrous amounts of snow pushed their home game against Akron to the Friday before the MAC Championship Game, creating a unique win-and-in scenario due to their loss against Holy Cross in Week 2. The Bulls ultimately got their much-needed win and set their sights on the Eagles.
The Bulls have been balanced on offense, methodically marching their way down the field. They have lacked the ability to consistently create big plays this season, which might be harder in the bowl game. Wide receiver Jamari Gassett, tight end Trevor Borland and center Jack Hasz have each entered the transfer portal and will be unavailable.
Gassett is the biggest weapon that will be missing from the offense, but losing Borland and Hasz will certainly be felt in the run game. Gassett is second on the team in catches and yards.
Running backs Ron Cook Jr and Mike Washington combine for 259 rushes and 1,147 yards with 11 touchdowns. They split the carries out of the backfield but make a strong running attack when combined. Cook Jr is a threat in the passing game with more than 200 yards receiving on the season.
Georgia Southern’s defense does not stop the run well unless it’s telegraphed. Their front seven is almost last in FBS in havoc plays and line yards allowed, but in power situations, they rank in the top half of the nation.
The Bulls need to throw the ball just enough to keep the Eagles from keying in on the run and if the Eagles do anyway, Quian Williams and Cole Harrity need to find space in the secondary. That doesn’t seem like an easy task. The Eagles are a top 25 unit it passes broken up with 55 this season and 11 interceptions. Quarterback Cole Snyder takes care of the ball well and Tuesday can’t be an exception if they want to win.
The Bulls defensively are without starting safety Keyshawn Cobb, transfer portal, but otherwise are at full strength. To hold the Eagles in check, they need to continue to create negative plays and break up passes. They lead the nation in havoc plays (excluding garbage time) according to collegefootballdata.com.
Georgia Southern passes at the seventh highest rate in the country, but not explosively. The secondary will need to be disciplined and tackle well to keep short completions from turning into big plays. The Eagles throw contested passes more often than almost any other team, but that may be due to how often they pass the ball.
The script for Mo Linguist’s Buffalo team is simple on paper:
Stay balanced on offense and keep the Eagles in front of themselves on defense. It all comes down to execution and the exquisite randomness of college football.
The Georgia Southern Eagles season:
Georgia Southern is led by Clay Helton in his first season in Statesboro. The Eagles have a storied history with national championships at the FCS level running the triple option. Before they made the jump to FBS, they had been coached by triple option legends Paul Johnson and Jeff Monken. The first season after joining the Sun Belt, current Tulane head coach Willie Fritz lead them to an 8-0 conference record.
They have attempted the transition away in the past to disastrous results.
Tyson Summers took over after Fritz and was fired after starting his second season 0-6. They went back to the triple option with Chad Lundsford and immediately went 10-3. It’s baked in at Georgia Southern.
Helton, suffice it to say, does not run the triple option offense— but it’s worked out pretty well so far.
They’ve handled the transition about as well as they could have, in part due to Helton getting quarterback Kyle Vantrease from Buffalo in the transfer portal. The Eagles’ offense has gone from running the ball at the sixth highest rate in the nation to a team which has thrown the ball at the seventh highest rate in the nation.
Vantrease is exactly who he has always been his entire career. He completed 61.5 percent of his passes in 2021 with Buffalo and 61.3 percent with the Eagles. He threw for 7.1 yards per attempt last year and 7.0 this year. The difference is a little more than double the attempts, 262 to 558 and triple the touchdowns. Getting into the endzone more is the step this offense needed from Vantrease to work out and he’s figured that out.
The pass-first offense for the Eagles is built on a high success rate and neutralizing the defensive front getting the ball out quickly. They can’t give the Bulls a chance to make negative plays and kill drives because they absolutely will.
With that said, the Bulls’ defense has been vulnerable to the big play all season. It would be worth it to take some shots deep or find creative ways to get receivers in space.
The Eagles force the ball into tight spots at times and a lot of passes get batted down or knocked away. Their defense is one of the best at it and they generated 55 passes broken up. The offense has had 78 passes broken up. Their defense sees more rushing attempts than passes and their offense is the opposite, but 78 is a lot. Vantrease has good for one interception a game on average.
Khaleb Hood leads the Eagles in catches with 80 on the season and Derwin Burgess Jr is their big play guy. He leads the team in yards per catch and touchdown receptions. Despite being a pass first offense, running back Jalen White finished the regular season 66 yards short of 1000. He’s definitely a weapon for this offense.
Their problems on defense stem from not being able to limit the run on standard downs. They allow too many yards on first and second down and struggle to get off the field. Their best quality, without a doubt, is their ability to break up passes. Defensive backs Tyler Bride, Derrick Canteen and NaJee Thompson combine for 28 passes disrupted as a group. Not enough are being turned into interceptions for the defense to be strong, but it’s a good start.
Buffalo isn’t built on the big play so Georgia Southern can take their chances stacking the box and allowing their secondary to be aggressive.
Canteen is the only player for Georgia Southern to enter the transfer portal so far. He’s a big loss, he leads the team in passes broken up and has 64 tackles from the secondary, but the roster is in better shape than Buffalo’s. The Eagles will be ready to play on Tuesday.
Bowl game predictions are silly. There are a lot of things going on at this end of the season that may not have a lot to do with football or preparing a team to play a game. It can often come down to which team is excited to be in a bowl game and feels they have something to play for.
In this I believe that both teams will come in motivated. Neither team wanted to be 6-6 but both teams played a hard fought game to earn that record and bowl eligibility in their last game.
Too many players are on the move for Buffalo and Vantrease wants to beat his old team. The best unit on the field is the Georgia Southern offense and they get the win but it’s tight from start to finish.
Georgia Southern 27