- Time and date: Saturday, October 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: UB Stadium — Amherst, NY
- Spread: Buffalo (-1.5)
- ESPN FPI: Buffalo has 64.4% chance to win
- All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 16-8
- Last meeting: Miami (OH) 45, Buffalo 18 — November 9, 2021
- Current streak: Buffalo, 1 (2021)
Setting the scene
MAC play enters full swing in Week 5. Buffalo already got its first taste of it, stunning Eastern Michigan in a 50-31 shootout last Saturday afternoon. Miami (OH) has yet to square off against conference competition, but the RedHawks are flying high after an elusive Big Ten victory over Northwestern in Week 4.
Every MAC East team is currently 2-2 or 1-3 and the division looks as wide open as ever. Buffalo and Miami meet at UB Stadium to usher in October, and they’ll provide clarity and separation in what is set to be a tight division race.
Miami RedHawks outlook
Through four games, Miami sports a 2-2 record which seems reasonable for a team that entered 2022 as the MAC East favorite at the conference’s media day. The RedHawks dropped challenging contests to Kentucky and Cincinnati but pulled off their first victory as an underdog last Saturday night, upending Northwestern 17-14 on a late field goal.
Miami won its first regular season non-conference game against FBS competition since 2011 and claimed its first victory over a Big Ten opponent since 2003 on the same stroke of the leg by kicker Graham Nicholson. Capitalizing on the MAC’s final chance to extend its 16-season streak (excluding 2020) of defeating a Big Ten team was impressive. But even more impressive is the resiliency of this squad in the midst of immense injury adversity.
The RedHawks lost starting quarterback Brett Gabbert in Week 1 to Kentucky for the foreseeable future, passing down the role to Aveon Smith. Nobody expected Smith to come in and replicate the All-MAC gunslinger’s numbers but Smith is 2-1 as a starter. While his completion percentage of 48.5 percent is certain to improve as he gains more experience, he’s done a decent job avoiding turnovers — exhibiting a 6-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Miami’s offensive profile shifts in the absence of Gabbert. Now, the RedHawks’ run game is the focal point of the offense. That rebrand worked against Northwestern as running back Keyon Mozee darted for a career-high 171 yards to become the program’s first 100-yard rusher since November 2019. Miami balanced its reps between a slew of tailbacks in the first few weeks of the season, but Mozee seems poised to handle the No. 1 role after shredding Northwestern’s defense a week ago.
The other skill position player Buffalo must keep in check is Mac Hippenhammer. The third-year RedHawk leads the group in every receiving statistical category by an overwhelming amount — more than tripling any other Miami receiver with 219 yards and hauling in four of the team’s six touchdown passes this year. Hippenhammer can be a home run hitter on deep balls, but most of the other receiving options in this offense operate as short-yardage threats, especially since Gabbert’s unavailability limits the number of shots this offense takes through the air.
Defense is what won the game for the RedHawks against Northwestern. Miami only allowed two touchdowns, and forcing two fumbles against the Wildcats ultimately proved to be the difference. The RedHawks feature a slew of hard hitters on this side of the ball, including leading tacklers Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek. Serving as the heart of the defense, McWood is on his way to stellar numbers this season. The inside linebacker ranks second in the MAC in tackles by averaging over 10 per game and his non-conference résumé includes two takeaways. Those stats translate into team success as Miami fields the 11th ranked rushing defense in the FBS, holding opponents below 82 yards per game.
Takeaways have been an integral part of the defense this year, which is refreshing for the RedHawks because forcing turnovers was not one of the team’s recent fortes. Miami recovered four fumbles and intercepted four passes in the first four weeks. Safety Eli Blakey and cornerback John Saunders Jr. have done a tremendous job in anchoring the pass defense, combining for two interceptions and nine pass breakups. After the 50-point outing Buffalo posted at Eastern Michigan without committing a turnover, Miami hopes its disruptive defense carries over into Upstate New York as the team begins its journey through MAC play.
Buffalo Bulls outlook
Buffalo entered Week 4 as one of six FBS teams bereft of a victory. The odds were not in the Bulls’ favor during a venture to The Factory in Ypsilanti, MI. Facing an Eastern Michigan squad coming off a signature win at Arizona State, Buffalo did not falter. The Bulls posted their best offensive performance since the days of Jaret Patterson, piling 50 on the Eagles with points on each of their first nine possessions.
After a 19-point road victory to open its conference slate, the Bulls’ Week 2 FCS loss seems awfully distant and they appear to be invigorated with new life in a wide-open MAC East.
Going into year two of the Maurice Linguist era, it was unclear what Buffalo’s identity would be. But after the offensive clinic conducted last Saturday, the Bulls look like a team with big-play potential that can generate points in a hurry. Rutgers transfer quarterback Cole Snyder displayed his best showing as a starter to date, firing for 297 yards and two touchdowns and demonstrating his mobility to the tune of 35 yards and two additional scores.
When not facing pressure, the quarterback has been efficient and explosive in both facets of the game. But protecting him has been one of the team’s major inconsistencies. Buffalo prided itself on dominant offensive line play in the Lance Leipold era, but the team is allowing 2.8 sacks per contest at this point. Thus, the Bulls must sustain their level of play from the Eastern Michigan win in order for Snyder to replicate that performance on a weekly basis.
The rushing attack proved to be potent with the duo of speed back Ron Cook Jr. and power back Mike Washington complementing each other’s styles well. Both running backs have nearly identical numbers and it’s most likely the Bulls maintain their balance in production as the year progresses. In the receiving game, Buffalo trots out a trio of playmaking receivers — incumbents Quian Williams and Jamari Gassett, as well as the electric Louisville transfer Justin Marshall. Last week belonged to Williams, who posted 99 yards and a touchdown to go along with a 75-yard kick return. However, Marshall has torched opponents well beyond the century mark this year, forcing Miami’s defensive backs to account for multiple big-play threats in the Bulls’ offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, there’s certainly work to be done after allowing Eastern Michigan to score on its first four offensive possessions of the contest. Buffalo ranks 109th nationally in scoring defense, allowing over 34 points on average. Neither containing the run or limiting opponents through the air have been areas of strength, but the Bulls can focus more on the ground game this week considering Miami’s revised offensive game plan without Gabbert.
In order to limit the run, Buffalo will require linebackers Shaun Dolac and James Patterson to step up to the task. Dolac and Patterson rank first and second on the team in tackles, respectively. While Dolac is more of a rising star, Patterson has been the team’s anchor for quite some time. The reigning First Team All-MAC linebacker is off to another excellent start in 2022, adding 3.0 tackles for loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery to a loaded career stat-line.
Buffalo’s loss to an FCS opponent seems like a head-scratcher, especially now after the offensive competency displayed against Eastern Michigan. After working out the kinks in Weeks 1 and 2, the Bulls look like they’ve gelled together as an offense now, and given the weapons they offer at the skill positions, this team is set to light up the scoreboard in MAC play — if they can sharpen their pass protection.
If Miami wants to win its second consecutive road game, the RedHawks must muck up the game and turn it into a defensive slog, similar to what we saw at Northwestern last week. Miami’s offense hasn’t demonstrated much explosiveness since the loss of Brett Gabbert, and the RedHawks must rely on productive rushing performances and turnovers in order to optimize offensive output. Given the disparity in how these offenses have performed as of late, the Bulls look poised for a 2-0 head start in MAC play.
Prediction: Buffalo 35, Miami (OH) 17