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2022 MAC Football Week 2 Game Preview: Holy Cross Crusaders at Buffalo Bulls

The Bulls have a top 15 FCS team coming to Buffalo for the home opener. This game could be tougher than the average FCS game, but an alert Bulls squad should win.

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bulls head home to host the Holy Cross Crusaders. A casual fan may look at the game notes and see Buffalo has an FCS opponent as their home opener, but it should be stated the Crusaders are not your typical FCS pushover.

Holy Cross returns 16 All-Patriot League players from 2021 and is ranked #15 in the FCS. The Crusaders won their first-ever FCS playoff game last season on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the game.

The Bulls acquired more players through the transfer portal than any other MAC team this offseason, including quarterback Cole Snyder. Snyder transferred from Rutgers after three years and limited playing time. Head Coach Maurice Linguist enters his second season after Lance Leipold left for Kansas in April of 2021. The past offseason was Linguist’s first full offseason as head coach and made the most of it.

Buffalo played Maryland in Week 1 and lost 31-10, and Holy Cross took care of business on the road against Merrimack 31-17.

Buffalo needs to show up ready to play or Holy Cross could pull an FBS upset like they did last season.


GAME NOTES

  • Time and Date: Saturday, September 10, 2022, at 6:00 pm Eastern time
  • Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
  • Location: UB Stadium in Buffalo, New York
  • Spread/Total: N/A
  • All-time series: Holy Cross leads the all-time series 6-3-1, but the last time these two teams met was 1970.

The Holy Cross Crusaders through Week 1:

NCAA Football: Holy Cross at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

The Crusaders are led by dual-threat quarterback Matthew Sluka. Last week, he passed for 242 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 102 yards and another score. During the 2021 season, Sluka led the team in rushing yards and attempts from the quarterback position.

They want to build the whole offense out of Sluka. In their playoff loss in 2021, he threw 35 passes which almost doubled his season high and ran the ball 22 times.

Holy Cross is a ground-based offense that will test the Buffalo front. Maryland didn’t have any trouble moving the ball down the field and averaged 5.7 yards per rush. Holy Cross won’t have people movers upfront of the same caliber as Maryland, but if they can get to the edge as easily as Maryland did, they could find success.

The air attack from the Crusaders stretches the field. Every player that caught a pass averaged over ten yards a catch with one exception. The longest pass caught by each receiver accounted for 73 percent of the total passing yards. They spread the ball to their tall receivers and take shots.

Defense

Their defense was the strength of the team in 2021 and had a strong first outing this season.

The Holy Cross scoring defense was 14th in scoring defense in the FCS last year, only allowing 18.5 points per game. They put the hammer down in the heart of the conference schedule last season and held their opponents to 14 points and under in five of six games. In the outlier, Fordham scored 24 points in the first half for a tie game at the break. Fordham didn’t score again and only crossed the 50-yard line once. Holy Cross won 52-24.

As a unit, the Holy Cross defense did it all. In thirteen games played, they amassed 44 sacks, 88 tackles for loss, 18 interceptions and 36 passes broken up. It was a strong unit last season and they held Merrimack to 10 points before garbage time. Buffalo needs to be smart with the football and stay ahead of the chains to score points Saturday.


The Buffalo Bulls through Week 1:

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

It’s safe to say the Maryland game did not go well for the Bulls. Five of their twelve offensive possessions ended in a three-and-out.

It’s not all doom though. The Bulls ran a nine-play drive to get to the edge of field goal range and missed a 48-yard field goal. Early in the second quarter they got on the move and decided to be aggressive on a 4th and 2. A Maryland penalty for an offsides on a missed field goal on fourth-and-seven gave the Bulls new life. They failed to convert, but kept the momentum to score a touchdown on their next drive.

The Terrapin defense shut the Buffalo offense down until garbage time in the second half. The first four offensive drives for the Bulls in the second half all ended in punts and totaled 15 plays for nine yards.

Cole Snyder completed just over half of his passes and showed some ability to run. He was under threat in the pocket regularly in this game and used his legs to take off or extend plays.

Buffalo plans to use his legs as an asset in their running game. Some run-pass option plays have the action but are a designed run. There isn’t an actual option. They ran some true option plays, one to set up the 19-yard touchdown run.

The rushing attack looks good and ran for a respectable 4.2-yard sack-adjusted average. With sack yardage taken out, Snyder led the team with six rushes for 50 yards and running backs Mike Washington and Ron Cook Jr. each rushed for 33 yards.

The gaps were there against the Terps, but they closed quickly. The Holy Cross front will be different and the ground game should get in gear.

The passing game needs to improve but there should be fewer long passing downs this Saturday.

Defense

The Buffalo defense was hot and cold against Maryland. Maryland had a great script for the first drive that caught the Bull defense flat-footed. They marched down the field in five plays to score a touchdown on a 33-yard run.

On the next drive, the Terps were forced to punt after three plays.

Maryland did not score on consecutive possessions all game, which makes it feel like the defense was never completely overmatched. Thirty-one points given up is too many to be a good game for defense though.

The four touchdown drives didn’t have too many similarities. The first and third were built on explosive plays, the second was a short field that any defense will struggle with and the last was a long drive with two opportunities to get a stop and off the field. Maryland converted a third-and-fourth at their own 39 and a fourth-and-three from the Buffalo 44.

Individually, defensive tackle Daymond Williams came up with the only sack, and safety Marcus Fuqua intercepted an overthrown pass early in the second half. The return was for 23 yards and gave the Bulls a little bit of life that the offense wasn’t able to do anything with. The defense fought hard the entire game and will be fine for the rest of the season.

As long as they’re ready to play disciplined football Saturday night, the front seven should be able to bottle up the running game of Holy Cross. If they can successfully force the Crusaders into passing situations, the Crusaders can still be dangerous, but not as consistently as Maryland.


Prediction

The Bulls should take care of business here. The Holy Cross offense can be tricky with a running quarterback in a spread system, but the Bulls should have the players up front to keep him in check.

The running backs will be better than 3.4 yards a rush and take some pressure off of Cole Snyder. Snyder will have more time to pass and be more productive from the pocket.

Holy Cross 17, Buffalo 35