Miami fans, rejoice; MAC play is back! Will that make a difference for the winless RedHawks? It's not likely this weekend, but it's a start.
The Red and White will make the trip to
scenic Buffalo this weekend to take on the Bulls (2-2), who are coming off of a cake-walk win over Norfolk St., 36-7 and will be playing their fourth home game in five weeks. Led by junior quarterback Joe Licata, the Bulls have strung together a few impressive aerial performances this season and rank 25th in passing offense among FBS schools. His 1,099 yards and completion percentage of 64 look rock-solid anchored by 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and his two favorite targets are some of the most dynamic in the MAC. Junior Ron Willoughby is Licata's go-to wide receiver and he's caught 20 balls for a 286 yards and four TD's, both team bests. Senior Devon Hughes isn't far behind, though - he's managed 17 receptions and 267 yards through four games, and also has four touchdowns. Running back Anthone Taylor is coming off a 116-yard outaing last weekend and offers a nice offensive counterbalance on the ground.
Two of Miami's first four opponents were top 25 passing teams (Marshall: 23rd, Cincinnati: 9th), and Miami capped the Bearcats' blitzkrieg passing attack to just 272 yards, about two-thirds the distance that UC drove on Toledo the week before. The RedHawks also forced multiple picks for the first time in a game this season, both of which were the products of senior cornerback Quentin Rollins. The first-year college football player is on the breakneck pace of 12 interceptions for the year - though highly unlikely, that would tie the Middletown native for third all-time in INT's come the postseason.
One year after Buffalo's defense - and by "defense," I really mean "Khalil Mack" - trounced Miami's offense in a three-turnover, 200 total yard affair that yielded just a single, fourth quarter RedHawk touchdown, this year's matchup is a 180-degree twist of M. Night Shyamalan proportions (and we're talking The Sixth Sense Shyamalan, mind you, not The Happening). Senior David Frazier has put together three 100-yard receiving games and Miami's 276 passing YPG put them at 37th in the nation (a 157 YPG improvement over last year). They face a Buffalo team that allows a whopping 36.3 points-per-game, a figure placing them at 111th in the FBS, and while Miami's total is similar - 31 PPG - they've also played much stiffer competition on the offensive side of the ball, and handled it much more competently.
All signs point to another close contest for the RedHawks. Excepting Michigan, every week has been decided by two scores or less; EKU and UC both won by a touchdown, Marshall took the opening game by 15 points. Though Miami has dropped the last two meetings to Buffalo, the Bulls have struggled to fill the shoes of their linebacker Mack, who was taken fifth overall in the 2014 NFL draft by the Raiders. Miami is 12-4 all-time against Buffalo and 5-2 on the road against the Blue, but the most telltale number is still the RedHawks' 0-20 slide dating back to October of 2012 - a streak that Miami will look to halt at 3:30 on the afternoon of the 27th.