The Ohio Bobcats (6-3, 3-2 MAC) shuffle off to western New York to take on the Buffalo Bulls (3-6, 3-2 MAC) this week, with each squad striving to keep some team goals alive. A loss by either team here would likely be a fatal blow to some important goals. We take a look at where each team is heading into this MACtion affair after setting the scene with some game notes.
- Time and date: Wednesday, November 7th, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern
- Network: ESPN2 (A valid cable subscription is required.)
- Location: UB Stadium in Amherst, NY
- Gambling considerations: Ohio is favored by seven points, with an over/under of 44.5 per DraftKings.
- Last Time: Ohio blew out Buffalo 45-24 on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022.
- All-time series and streak: Ohio leads 17-11 in 28 matchups dating back to 1949 (the teams have met annually since 1997.) Ohio looks to extend a new streak.
Getting to Know The Buffalo Bulls
The Bulls head into this one coming off a 31-13 loss to MAC West leader Toledo. The loss is a blow to their postseason hopes, but Buffalo is still in the mix if they can win out. Bowl eligibility is on life support right now with six losses on the season and two games versus MAC East contenders Ohio and Miami yet to play.
The Bulls still can win the MAC East if they win out and Bowling Green loses one of its last three games.
The Bulls defense rides a wave of momentum into this one and is good enough to keep them in the contest. After allowing 44.5 points per game on average against very good non-conference foes, the crew has flipped the script by allowing about 14 points per game on average in five conference games.
The defense’s calling card is generating turnovers, for which it is ranked 10th nationally with 18. Sophomore safety Devin Grant leads the charge with five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble along with two touchdowns in what has been a breakout 2023 campaign for the youngster.
The Bulls have done a solid job of making plays in the backfield, tied for 54th nationally in tackles-for-loss (53), but haven’t done as much damage in getting to the quarterback, ranking tied for 10th in the MAC with 15 sacks.
UB has been up and down in the run defense in the last four weeks, holding CMU and Kent State to under 100 total yards while coughing up about 370 combined to BGSU and Toledo. The Bulls are also down a few key defenders against the run as their fifth-leading tackler Red Murdock is out for the first half with a targeting call in the second half last week. Star linebacker Shaun Dolac has missed the last several games with injury, and will likely be out for this contest.
While giving up some yards on the ground at times, over the last three weeks, the Bulls have not been significantly hit through the air, surrendering only about 110 yards on average.
Throughout five games in MAC play, the Bulls’ offense, not counting defensive scores, have put up about 17.5 points per contest.
Statically, UB has been a balanced approach on average, with about 33 passes per contest and 37 runs.
When the Bulls go to the air, QB Cole Snyder is the man, completing about 55 percent of his passes for almost 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns. Snyder does have nine interceptions on the year, so needs to be careful not to give Ohio’s offense any short fields.
On the ground, UB features a versatile back in Ron Cook Jr. who may break 2,000 career rushing yards while being a factor in the passing game with 68 career receptions.
Getting to Know The Bobcats
Ohio is already bowl eligible, but lost control of the MAC East division race to rival Miami RedHawks with a 30-16 setback last week. As Miami has the MAC East head-to-head tiebreaker, Ohio will only get the MAC East crown if they win out while Miami loses two of its last three versus Akron, Buffalo, and Ball State.
Offensively, Ohio hasn’t needed to do much at times to win behind a stellar defense but hasn’t been able to consistently deliver against better MAC defenses, as NIU shut them out in the second half while Miami held them scoreless in the middle two quarters, only allowing an Ohio touchdown in the fourth quarter after the game was effectively decided.
Not counting Ohio’s 42-point offensive explosion against rebuilding Kent State, Ohio is averaging about 18.5 points against MAC competition in four games.
While not as explosive through the air as in 2023 as evidenced by wideout yards-per-catch averages, Ohio still leans more on its passing game than running game for yards ranking first in the MAC with 218 yards a contest. Quarterback Kurtis Rourke continues to battle back fromvarious injuries over the last calendar year, completing 63 percent of his throws with a 10:5 touchdown to interception ratio, while picking up nearly 1,700 yards passing.
Rourke’s main target is wideout Sam Wiglusz, who leads the ‘Cats with 44 catches and 519 yards.
The ‘Cats will typically try to run but have had mixed results in 2023, ranking eighth in the MAC with 132 yards per contest. A possible factor in the run game struggles is a decrease in explosive passing yards in 2023 as Ohio’s leading regular is Wiglusz at 13.0 yards per catch while the Bobcats had two regulars with over 17.1 yards per catch in 2022 in James Bostic and Jacoby Jones.
Sieh Bangura will get the lion’s share of the totes, leading the club with 486 yards and four scores. When Ohio’s offense has been effective at times this year, Rourke has also been a factor on the ground with almost 200 yards and two scores.
Defensively, the Bobcats have been generally stellar throughout the season with the MAC’s top ranked squad in yards allowed per game with 264.
The defense has been generally impenetrable this season when teams have had to go the length of the field but when the ‘Cats have been undone it has been by explosive plays, surrendering five plays over 46 yards in the last three weeks to Miami, WMU, and NIU.
The team is led by their dynamic duo at linebacker in Bryce Houston and Keye Thompson, who have combined for 160 tackles and three interceptions and sacks.
One area of concern for the Bobcats going forward is special teams, which has been in a tough stretch the last 2-3 games with missed field goals, a blocked extra point, and worst of all porous punt/kickoff coverage with returns over 50 yards versus Miami and WMU that has made things tougher on the defense.
Ohio features the best defensive unit in this one and a slightly better offense while Buffalo wins on special teams.
Having the better overall squad in two of the three phases, Ohio should win if they can take care of the ball and get back to solid special teams play.