- Time and date: Saturday, October 7 at 2:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: UB Stadium — Amherst, NY
- Spread: Central Michigan (-3)
- Over/under: 52
- All-time series: Central Michigan leads, 8-3
- Last meeting: Central Michigan 31, Buffalo 27 — November 9, 2022
- Current streak: Central Michigan, 1 (2022)
Setting the scene
One undefeated MAC record must go!
Buffalo (1-4, 1-0 MAC) and Central Michigan (3-2, 1-0 MAC) both trot unbeaten conference records into UB Stadium this weekend, despite drastically differing results in non-conference play. Both teams emerged in 3-point victories last Saturday as the Bulls edged Akron in a low-scoring overtime bout, while the Chippewas overcame a fourth quarter deficit to upend Eastern Michigan, 26-23.
Central Michigan commandingly controls the all-time series and holds the current bragging rights over Buffalo after erasing a 24-7 halftime deficit in Midweek MACtion last year, thanks to an unforgettable performance of 293 rushing yards and three touchdowns by quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr.
Central Michigan Chippewas outlook
It wasn’t the strongest start to the season for Jim McElwain’s Chippewas, but now, they are one of the hottest teams in the conference after back-to-back come from behind wins. Central Michigan pulled out a stunner at South Alabama as 16.5-point underdogs in Week 4 and followed it up in poised fashion by defending home turf in the MAC opener vs. Eastern Michigan. Now, Central Michigan holds status as the favorite as the program looks to claim a three-game win streak for the first time since rattling off five victories to end 2021.
What’s worked for McElwain’s team the past two weeks? The passing game is finally clicking after early season struggles, and that multidimensionality in the offense allows the run game to thrive to a greater extent. This was demonstrated by Central Michigan’s monstrous 7.1 yards per carry against Eastern Michigan, and the team only faced six third downs throughout the entire contest.
Jase Bauer took over as the starting quarterback and he’s posted two respectable performances during this Chippewas’ two-game win streak. Across those starts, Bauer completed 68 percent of passing attempts for an average of 221 yards per game — a significant uptick from what was observed in the first three games. Bauer also presents a sense of mobility, and he rushed for four touchdowns against South Alabama in a season-high 55-yard performance.
Bauer is a capable runner, but Bert Emanuel Jr. possesses a different burst from the quarterback position that Central Michigan might use against Buffalo’s struggling run defense. Emanuel posted 293 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the Bulls last year, and while he’s been less-utilized as a passer since Bauer took over, he should still see the field due to his degree of mobility.
Outside of Bauer and Emanuel, who combine for 273 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns this year, Central Michigan boasts a reliable halfback tandem in Myles Bailey and Marion Lukes — who both average 4.8 yards per carry. Bailey has been the bellcow back all year but Lukes turns on the jets for explosive runs from time to time, and he delivered the 24-yard game-winning touchdown against Eastern Michigan. Speaking of explosive playmaking, the other name to watch in Central Michigan’s offense is wide receiver Chris Parker, who averages roughly 20 yards per reception as the team’s chief deep threat.
Central Michigan’s defense needs to show substantial improvement if it wants to contend for the MAC. Currently, the Chippewas allow the 17th-highest scoring output in the FBS at 37.4 points per game. The main factor leading to those 37 points is a leaky pass defense, which is third-to-last in the country with 311 yards surrendered per game. That’s not the best formula for a matchup against a pass-happy Buffalo offense, but Central Michigan makes up for some of its shortcomings in the secondary with a sturdy front.
Defensive tackle Jacques Bristol and inside linebacker Kyle Moretti have done a tremendous job of invading backfields thus far, each displaying 4.5 tackles for loss on the season. Moretti has especially shown fortitude in defending the run with 46 tackles on the season, which currently ranks sixth in the conference. Countering the ground game shouldn’t be a major concern against Buffalo, but Central Michigan must generate loads of pressure to stifle the passing attack. The Bristol-led defensive line produces 1.6 sacks per game, and they’ll have a golden opportunity to amplify that average against a Buffalo offensive line which surrendered seven sacks in its last two games.
Buffalo Bulls outlook
The chapter of Buffalo and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad non-conference play is officially closed. The Bulls were one of five winless FBS teams heading into last Saturday after a disastrous out-of-conference slate which featured a loss to Fordham of the FCS and poor defensive performances against Wisconsin, Liberty, and Louisiana.
But Buffalo is firmly focused on salvaging the 2023 season by winning its MAC battles. So far, the Bulls are off to a perfect start after slipping past Akron, 13-10, in a defensive-minded conference opener. Participating in a low-scoring was a nice change of pace for Buffalo, which allowed an average of 44.5 points per game through its first four contests. The Bulls still possess the fifth-worst scoring defense and sixth-worst run defense in the FBS, but substantial improvements were observed against the Zips on Saturday.
Containing the run was the glaring issue for Buffalo last time it faced Central Michigan — allowing Bert Emanuel Jr. to shine in a one-man domination — so this game comes down to how well the Bulls counter the Chippewa backfield. Buffalo is equipped with a star linebacker in Shaun Dolac who landed First Team All-MAC honors in 2022 after leading the FBS in solo tackles. Dolac is tied with fellow starting linebacker Joe Andreessen for the team-lead in tackles with 32 on the season, and that duo will be pertinent in containing quarterback runs, as well as the production of Marion Lukes and Myles Bailey.
Central Michigan isn’t one of the stronger passing offenses in the MAC, and dropbacks are Buffalo’s opportunity to gain an upper hand. Buffalo impressively limited Akron’s aerial ventures last Saturday, and the Bulls look to replicate that performance against a Chippewa offense which ranks 115th nationally in passing. Marcus Fuqua is Buffalo’s chief havoc causer in the secondary. Last year, he contributed an FBS-high seven interceptions en route to AP All-American status, and he’ll look for many opportunities to contribute to the turnover battle Saturday.
Although it didn’t show in last weekend’s box score, offense is the stronger aspect of the 2023 Bulls. Still, Buffalo is accustomed to starting slow, trailing Liberty 24-0 and Louisiana 17-0 before generating its first points in those respective contests. The Bulls have just seven first quarter points against FBS competition this year, and those transpired back in Week 1 at Wisconsin.
The Bulls typically get into a groove around the third quarter, and it’s often in aerial fashion. Quarterback Cole Snyder reigns supreme in the MAC with 1,075 passing yards and 11 passing touchdowns on the season, and his arm will be heavily relied upon against the Chippewas. No MAC team relies on the passing game as much as Buffalo, which airs it out 38.2 times per game — good for 15th in the FBS. Snyder doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 option, but he distributes the ball cleanly to a bevy of targets, ranging from yards leader Marlyn Johnson to receptions leader Cole Harrity — two of four targets with between 144 and 208 receiving yards this season.
The run game has been a two-man duo of Ron Cook Jr. and Mike Washington the past two seasons, but Washington is currently nursing a knee injury which held him out of the Akron game. If he remains unable to go, Jacqez Barksdale will step into that role, as he did last week in a 6-carry, 28-yard performance. But the speedy Cook — an All-MAC return specialist — should be the primary option, fresh off season-highs of 17 attempts and 62 rushing yards.
This one is a stylistic clash. Central Michigan wants to run the ball down Buffalo’s throat, and Buffalo’s sixth-to-last run defense might make that objective easy. Conversely, Buffalo wants to air it out like there’s no tomorrow, and Central Michigan’s third-to-last pass defense could make that feasible.
Offense is the strength of both MAC programs at the moment and given the defensive lapses thus far, this one should be on the higher-scoring side. Central Michigan’s defense is the more trustworthy unit to produce a critical stop when needed, and that should be the difference which allows the Chippewas to claim their third consecutive victory on the road in Buffalo.
Prediction: Central Michigan 35, Buffalo 30