Thursday night's match-up between Buffalo, who is coming off a huge win over Ohio, and a young Miami team. But a more pivotal meeting occurred in Talkin' sMACk this week as Matthew Gritzmacher of Buffalo squared off against Miami mark Jordan Rinard.
Matthew Gritzmacher: Obviously Miami is 1-7 on the season after a season-opening FCS win. I haven't really followed the RedHawks much, but it seems other than a good showing against Cincinnati they've got a close loss to a bad MAC team and big losses to very good MAC teams and very good Western Kentucky. What's gone wrong this season?
Jordan Rinard: Pretty much everything has gone wrong. The quarterback play has went in the tank following the loss to UC, despite Billy Bahl making some nice throws in his two starts, even though he lacks the anticipation and the headiness at this point in his career. The youth of the RedHawks have not done them any favors in the short term as 18 freshman played in the blowout loss to Western Michigan last week. But what about the Bulls? Lance Leipold picked up his first win against a supposedly good Ohio team. What was different about last week for Buffalo?
Matthew Gritzmacher: Frank Solich started his November swoon early. To answer it seriously, I think (1) the CMU game was the more out of character result for Buffalo than any other despite their 2-4 record going into Ohio. Lance Leipold's D-Coordinator Brian Borland is getting serious production out of a young group and a scheme change. Other than CMU, the defense has kept UB in every game into the fourth quarter and is the only group to hold Bowling Green under 30 this season. (2) The offense finally started to work to its strengths, dedicating more snaps to the run and taking advantage of an injury-riddled Bobcat team. Licata is having an off year, and was at least mistake free for the first time against Ohio.
Jordan Rinard: LICATA-BALL: Keep the ball out of his hands and on the ground, the Bulls have a chance. But seriously, how does the State University of New York at Buffalo (who came up with this?) stack up against another inexperienced, depleted MAC East team?
Matthew Gritzmacher: Well, unfortunately the state came up with that. It's the legal name of the school and the state is stupid. It all starts really with Cornell getting the land-grant status somehow way back when despite not being public and now ends in NYS refusing to name a flagship. So whenever UB, the biggest and richest, tries to do something, Stony Brook and Albany drag them back. The New York stuff is Athletics trying to emphasize that they're the biggest and best in the state while avoiding the legal trouble of the other schools that are nominally on par.
Back to football, UB's defense is likely the biggest unit here. Miami's already not rushing well, and once Buffalo can limit that their linebacking trio of Brandon Berry, Okezie Alozie, and Jarrett Franklin get to work, as happened against Ohio. It's a group designed not necessarily to limit yards but to make big plays, including a nation-leading six touchdowns this season. Buffalo fans are more concerned with the other side of the ball, I think, and any Bulls game from here out is a threat to devolve into a puntfest. Where is Miami's defense strongest?
Jordan Rinard: They're at their strongest when the offense has the ball. In all seriousness, the secondary is the best unit despite Heath Harding being a medical redshirt since early in the season as the unit helped force five interceptions this season. The run defense has been a liability all season long, as it has allowed 140+ rushing yards in all but one of its games this season, which plays into UB's hands. Any concern over whether the travel on the short week will affect the team?
Matthew Gritzmacher: That does play into Buffalo's hands, but we'll have to see if they don't go back trying to sling the ball everywhere. Definitely lots and lots of concern over the short week. This is the first time since 2010 UB's not had the Saturday before their first midweek game off. Other than Jordan Johnson in for Anthone Taylor there aren't really notable injuries right now. You mentioned that the RedHawks played 18 freshmen against WMU. Was that more injury or blowout motivated?
Jordan Rinard: It was more having kids get snaps in the regular rotation. Miami is not a team that ready to compete with the top teams in the MAC yet, due to the lack of size and the young kids learning how to play college football on the fly. There's certainly talent in Oxford, and they can definitely pick up some wins before the season is over, but the question will be whether the 'Hawks can make enough plays to win or not. They'll have their work cut out for them Thursday night, but they should be able to hang with Buffalo barring something catastrophic on both sides of the ball (which is possible!).
Matthew Gritzmacher: That's a nice thing about UB's season; they've mostly avoided catastrophic other than that ugly CMU game. Short week on the road is an opportunity for that to happen, for sure. If Buffalo's run game gets going and chewing up clock, Miami will need to make the most of their opportunities on offense. Who're the go to names?
Jordan Rinard: Bahl is obviously a guy to watch with him coming off of his best game of the season against the Broncos with his 200 passing yards. Sam Martin has been the go-to guy for the Red and White with his two 100-yard receiving games this season. Which of the Bulls should MU be concerned about, other than all of them?
Matthew Gritzmacher: Joe Licata seems to be favoring two or three receivers for the first time in his career, rather than spreading the ball all over. Tight End Matt Weiser has become a reliable option who's up to 34 catches and now draws safety help. I generally think Ron Willoughby has been overrated by everyone, but he's among that top group of targets, as well. Marcus McGill doesn't really impress at any one thing, but is carving a bigger role for himself.
Jordan Rinard: Alrighty then. What do you expect out of Thursday night's game?
Matthew Gritzmacher: I'll acknowledge this is optimistic, but I said it last night on the Bull Run podcast and I can't give different predictions in different places. Buffalo 38-9. Miami's offensive weaknesses play into Buffalo's strengths, and if UB can run the ball effectively for the second straight in rainy weather they should get back to .500.
Jordan Rinard: Well, it is optimistic since there's no way these two teams combine for 40+ points. I'm thinking UB takes it 17-10, as neither offense will be able so sustain drives while neither defense will be able to get quick stops or force turnovers. But there will be punts. Rest assured, there will be some punting #MACtion going on Thursday night.