The Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, is the site of the 2022 Camelia Bowl between the Buffalo Bulls and the Georgia Southern Eagles. Both teams are 6-6 this season and both coaches are early in their tenure of shaping their respective programs.
Clay Helton has the Eagles at 6-6 in his first season in Statesboro after a 3-9 2021 campaign. The stylistic change from Chad Lunsdford to the offensive system Helton is running this season is significant, but it’s working so far. The Georgia Southern offense is the strongest unit and is 36th ranked in ESPN’s SP+.
Mo Linguist became the head coach of the Bulls on May 7th, 2021 after Lance Leipold took the Kansas job. A coaching change in May is very late and left him behind schedule for each step of the process after becoming a head coach. One year later, after one full season and off-season, the Bulls are back in the postseason.
The narratives and high-level numbers were covered in our preview article for the bowl game. This is a deep dive into the numbers. The numbers are purely a record of what they have done, not a 100% indicator of what will happen. But it’s a good place to start.
Styles Make Fights
The high-level stats set the stage for the bowl game. Georgia Southern runs an air raid offense and averages 328 passing yards per game. They have almost matched the Bulls in rushing yards per game despite running the ball only a shade over a third of their plays.
The Bulls, on the other hand, have been striving for balance all season, and by and large, achieving it. Their advantage is on the defensive side. They are much better at limiting yards, but this isn’t opponent-adjusted. The Sun Belt has been a much stronger conference this season than the MAC.
The chart below shows the average yardage for both teams on offense and defense. It’s important to remember how different the offenses are. The Eagles are going to throw the ball just under 50 times and the Bulls are going to be balanced. It’s almost a requirement for them.
Despite the 90 more yards per game, the Eagles only scored 11 more total points. The defensive excess in yards added up to 62 more points.
|Best Win (SP+)||Toledo (80)||James Madison (50)|
|Worst Loss (SP+)||Holy Cross (FCS)||Georgia St (79)|
Buffalo was able to be positive in point differential over the course of the season against a much weaker schedule. The Bull's wins came over Toledo, Eastern Michigan, and four teams ranked 104 or higher in SP+. Holy Cross is a fantastic FCS team and was undefeated in the regular season before they were knocked out of the FCS playoffs by #1-seeded South Dakota State. Buffalo still needs to win that game. They also lost to two MAC teams ranked in the 100s.
By contrast, the Eagles only had two teams ranked higher than 100 in SP+ on their schedule, and one was Ball State. They had to get their wins in tougher spots like on the road at Nebraska and at home against James Madison and App State.
The only team that Buffalo faced this season that replicated the air raid is Akron and that game did not go well. Mainly for offensive reasons. The Akron passing attack was held to just over five yards per pass attempt and the defense got five sacks. Georgia Southern will be a different, stronger test for the Bulls.
Nebraska and South Alabama ran the ball at almost the same rate as Buffalo this season and got their points from the Eagle defense. Let's be clear, the Bull's offense is not as good as either of those offenses. It might be closer than you think. A total of 3.8 points separate Buffalo’s offense from the best of that pair, South Alabama’s offense, so maybe their balance will be the key.
Buffalo wants offensive balance
|Stat||Buffalo Offense||Ga. Southern Defense|
|Run Rate (%)||51.3%||52.7%|
|Run Success Rate (Rank)||64||119|
|Run Explosiveness (Rank)||119||90|
|Havoc Front Seven (Rank)||106||130|
|Pass Success Rate (Rank)||40||71|
|Pass Explosiveness (Rank)||74||65|
|Havoc Defensive Backs (Rank)||124||20|
Buffalo has advantages in success rate in the passing game and on the ground, so they should be able to move the ball consistently. Their explosive plays come from the pass, and the numbers suggest that’s going to be a problem.
In the stats above, the Eagle’s defense is best at preventing big passing plays and creating havoc with their secondary. Defensive back havoc rate is defined as the percentage of plays that end in a pass broken up or an interception. It’s not always the defensive backs doing the damage, but it’s clear that Georgia Southern gets in the passing lanes.
If the Bulls find themselves having a hard time staying on schedule with the down and distance it will be a long day for them. They aren’t typically explosive enough to power through it. Buffalo quarterback Cole Snyder doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions, but the offense is still 124th in allowing defensive back havoc. There is a potential for a lot of passes knocked away.
Sticking to the ground game works, especially to stay ahead of the chains. The Eagles are 130th in havoc rate from their front seven. They don’t make tackles for loss and they struggle to get to the quarterback in passing situations. The Bulls need to hammer this weakness, as it’s the biggest weakness of the opposing defense.
Ga. Southern takes the defensive front seven out of the game
|Stat||Ga. Southern Offense||Buffalo Defense|
|Run Rate (%)||36.9%||54.5%|
|Run Success Rate (Rank)||40||28|
|Run Explosiveness (Rank)||45||131|
|Havoc Front Seven (Rank)||2||3|
|Pass Success Rate (Rank)||22||89|
|Pass Explosiveness (Rank)||126||115|
|Havoc Defensive Backs (Rank)||130||115|
Georgia Southern’s data is extreme. They run the ball efficiently despite passing about two-thirds of the time. They do not allow the opponents front seven to be a factor and pass for a high success rate at the expense of big plays. With the short passing plays, the opposing defense gets their hands up on the line and plays tight on the outside. Only Ball State had more passes deflected or intercepted this season.
The Bull’s front seven is one of the strongest groups in the nation at creating negative plays and getting sacks. The offense from Georgia State is going to take that away by design. That defensive group for the Bulls is boom or bust. They limit the running success rate very well, but when they miss it goes for a huge gain. They give up the most explosive running plays in the nation.
The Bull's 54.5 percent run rate means that when opponents are calling plays against them they’re calling runs, or that the opponents on Buffalo’s schedule are run-first teams. That’s not what Georgia Southern is going to do.
Former Buffalo quarterback and current Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease has thrown 15 interceptions this season. At just over one per game, the Bulls need to capitalize on his want to throw into tight coverage. Junior safety Marcus Fuqua has seven interceptions this season and was named to the AP All-American Third Team. Vantrease will know where he is every play.
Based on the size of the Georgia Southern wide receivers, their passing attack must be built on speed and quickness. Their tallest usually target is their tight end Jjay Mcafee at six-foot-three and their next tallest is an even six-foot. The Bulls secondary can matchup well in size, but needs to stick to quick receivers.