- Time and date: Wednesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN2
- Location: Yager Stadium — Oxford, OH
- Spread: Miami (OH) (-8.5)
- Over/under: 40.5
- All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 16-9
- Last meeting: Buffalo 24, Miami (OH) 20 — October 1, 2022
- Current streak: Buffalo, 1 (2022)
Setting the scene
It’s clinching time for the Miami (OH) RedHawks. With a Wednesday win on senior night over Buffalo, Miami punches a ticket to the MAC Championship Game for the first time since 2019 — when many of the graduating seniors were freshmen.
Standing in Miami’s path to a MAC East division title is Buffalo. The Bulls are eliminated from bowl contention after dropping consecutive games to the MAC’s other top teams, Toledo and Ohio. The home team has won each of the last six games in this series, so history and the oddsmakers both believe in a RedHawks MAC Championship Game appearance.
Buffalo Bulls outlook
Buffalo (3-7, 3-3 MAC) sealed its fate last Tuesday night against Ohio, as the Bobcats scored 10 unanswered points in the final nine minutes to eliminate the Bulls from bowl contention. The program won’t be competing in bowl season for just the second time in six years, but it can disrupt the MAC East division race by pulling off the upset Wednesday.
As bizarre as it sounds, Buffalo is still alive in that MAC East division race despite wielding a 3-7 record on the year — if complete chaos unfolds. Winning out would produce a 5-3 conference record and secure the valuable tiebreaker with Miami. The Bulls would need to rely on Miami to drop its finale at Ball State and have Ohio and Bowling Green lose out to stumble to 4-4 in MAC play.
Buffalo has struggled against the MAC’s upper echelon, losing to the other three bowl eligible teams by double-digits. But the Bulls are in experimentation mode, hoping to find a spark down the stretch of this season. One of those experiments includes a two-quarterback system, similar to the one Bowling Green has successfully implemented throughout the year.
Cole Snyder has started all 23 games in his two seasons at Buffalo, but Snyder is no longer taking every snap. Buffalo is mixing it up with doses of CJ Ogbonna, who transferred in from Southeast Missouri of the FCS this season. Snyder in the lineup suggests higher odds of a pass, while Ogbonna’s presence makes a run more likely. Snyder attempted 21 of the Bulls’ 23 passes last week while Ogbonna fielded 12 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown. This system will likely prolong into Wednesday night’s contest as Buffalo’s offense looks for a spark after averaging 15.3 points across its last four outings.
Outside of Ogbonna, the run game is headlined by Ron Cook Jr., who has increasingly become more of a lead back. His last two games were his two with the most touches this year, and Buffalo makes it a mission to utilize the senior as often as possible, often involving him in the receiving game as well as kickoff and punt returns.
Buffalo significantly cut down on passing attempts last week after registering 30+ in each of the first nine contests. The Bulls never established a No. 1 go-to receiver this year, but there are four different receivers that have between 270 and 362 receiving yards this year, ranging from deep threat Darrell Harding Jr. to more short-yardage threats such as Marlyn Johnson, Cole Harrity, and Boobie Curry. Even though the Bulls take plenty of reps in the passing game, they protect their quarterbacks quite well. Pass protection is one of the best aspects of this team, and they’re third in the MAC and tied for 29th nationally in fewest sacks allowed.
However, generating sacks doesn’t quite come at the same rate and the defense needs more pressure to thrive. The defense has significantly improved since that disastrous 0-4 non-conference slate, but this improvement has coincided with a rougher offensive stretch.
Buffalo struggles more with containing the run as suggested by its 108th overall ranking in rushing yards allowed per game. It is one of 16 teams to allow at least 5.0 yards per carry, but massive strides were demonstrated last Tuesday against Ohio. Joe Andreessen has stepped up at middle linebacker to lead in place of the injured Shaun Dolac to produce a team-high 72 tackles and nine tackles for loss on the season. As the premier counter to the run, the former FCS standout has generated at least nine tackles in five of his last seven games and at least one tackle for loss in six of those seven.
Teams don’t pass nearly as much on Buffalo and the Bulls only allow 196 passing yards per contest. Safety is the most loaded position group on the team with 2022 All-American Marcus Fuqua occupying one spot and Devin Grant — the MAC’s leader with five interceptions — lining up alongside Fuqua. Fuqua and Grant aren’t just ballhawks, but they’re some of the better tacklers on the team checking in at second and third.
Miami (OH) RedHawks outlook
Miami (OH) (8-2, 5-1 MAC) is granted a perfect opportunity to clinch the MAC East for the first time in four years. When it comes to the MAC Championship in Detroit, the RedHawks are “win-and-in” for both of their last two contests — Wednesday night vs. Buffalo and the season finale at Ball State.
Last week, Miami joined Penn State as one of two teams to produce multiple FBS shutouts this season in a 19-0 stampeding of Akron. The RedHawks similarly shut out Bowling Green in early October, proving the championship mettle of its defense led by coordinator Bill Brechin.
It all starts with a dominant run defense. Akron only racked up 36 yards on a 1.6 average against Miami, and this has been a recurring theme in MAC play. The week prior, Ohio only registered 50 rushing yards on 26 attempts. Bowling Green got 63, while Kent State attained just 36. That adds up to four of Miami’s six MAC opponents obtaining under 70 rushing yards. Overall, it’s the 34th ranked run defense in the FBS allowing 117 yards per game, and it seems to improve with each passing week.
Edge rusher Ty Wise is becoming a focal point of taking down everything in the backfield. He has become an elite run stopper with two double-digit tackle performances in his last three outings, and he’s fresh off producing three of the team’s six sacks against Akron. With 7.0 sacks on the year, Wise isn’t even first on the team, demonstrating how deep Miami’s pass rush runs. Caiden Woullard has 8.0 while Brian Ugwu provides excellent support with 6.5. At 3.1 sacks per game as a team, Miami is first in the MAC and tied for 10th in the country, and that elite pass rush keeps the team afloat in this period of offensive inconsistency.
The rest of the defense isn’t too shabby either. Junior linebacker Matt Salopek just claimed his third-straight 100-tackle season last week and he’s gunning for a third-consecutive All-MAC appearance as well. Salopek is one of four RedHawks with at least 7.0 tackles for loss and he excels in coverage with past experience as a safety — collecting an interception and a pass deflection last week. When it comes to coverage, opponents must also keep an eye on the cornerback duo of Raion Strader and Yahsyn McKee who combine for 20 pass breakups on the nation’s 14th ranked scoring defense.
Defense has been extremely consistent for Miami all season long, and that’s the reason for the 8-2 record. Nobody has posted 30 points on the RedHawks since the opener and not a single MAC team has tallied more than 21. But the offense is more of a mystery box, especially after the devastating season-ending injury to Brett Gabbert in the Oct. 21 loss to Toledo.
Gabbert’s absence leaves Aveon Smith as the quarterback, but this isn’t unfamiliar territory for Chuck Martin’s team. Smith started nine games including the Bahamas Bowl last year and he’s already 2-0 as a starter this year, notably taking out Ohio 30-16 to gain an upper hand in the MAC East race. The offensive play-calling dramatically shifts when Smith is in the lineup, significantly decreasing the passing attempts and favoring the run. Smith is a viable runner, totaling 553 rushing yards in 2022 including two games over the century mark. Last week he rushed for 42 yards on 11 attempts, and he’s only averaged 14 passing attempts per game in two starts.
Rashad Amos will be relied upon to carry the bulk of the offensive production against Buffalo. The South Carolina transfer running back is coming off his top two performances since arriving in Oxford, dashing for 163 yards on Ohio and another 118 on Akron — averaging 7.8 and 7.9 yards in those wins, respectively. Good blocking from Miami’s offensive line fuels Amos, and he has become the first 700-yard running back on campus since 2019 Jaylon Bester.
Miami aims to ground the ball as much as possible, but there is still one force in the receiving game Buffalo must account for. Gage Larvadain is a likely All-MAC selection as the conference’s current leader in receiving yards. Larvadain hasn’t produced extraordinary numbers since Gabbert’s injury, but the receiver is still capable of making plays downfield should Smith take any deep shots.
Don’t expect many points in this one. Both teams are playing very defensive-oriented football right now and partaking in low-action barnburners.
Buffalo held Ohio in check, only allowing 10 points until the final nine minutes, and a turnover led to the last seven. The Bulls should have plenty of defensive success against a RedHawk offense which has scored under 28 in four of six MAC games. But Miami’s defense is playing on another level above Buffalo’s right now. Graham Nicholson’s immaculate leg (19-of-19 on field goals this season) will get the job done if the defense continues to win the field position battle. Then Rashad Amos and the offense will complement the unit enough to walk away with a multi-score win and a MAC East division title.
Prediction: Miami (OH) 23, Buffalo 10