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2016 MAC Football Preview: Miami RedHawks vs. Buffalo Bulls

Can Miami keep its bowling hopes alive against the inconsistent Bulls?

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With two games left in the season, the Miami RedHawks (4-6, 4-2 MAC) still have an outside shot at the MAC Championship game in Detroit with a pair of winnable games left and a couple of losses by the Ohio Bobcats. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bulls (2-7, 1-4 MAC) were able to knock off the Akron Zips a couple of weeks ago but have looked out of sorts all season. If the Buffalo team that put up 41 points on the Zips show up Saturday, the game will be one of the more entertaining MAC games of the week.

Tyree Jackson has carried the Bulls offensively for the greater part of the season with 1,676 passing yards, 433 rushing yards, and 14 total touchdowns despite nine interceptions and a fumble lost. One of Jackson’s favorite targets this season has been tight end Mason Schreck with 40 receptions on 60 targets for 470 yards and four scores. UB has been able to move the ball, but hasn’t made plays in critical situations as the team has converted 37% of third downs and is 11/22 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

Buffalo has struggled defending the run this season as opponents rushed for 300+ yards in four games this season. However, its pass defense has been treacherous at times with four picks and only two 200+ yard passing performances in MAC play. The Bulls have another great at linebacker in Khalil Hodge with his team-leading 72.5 tackles and six tackles for loss, while Ishmael Hargrove has been a playmaker at LB as well with 55 tackles, four TFLs, two sack, an INT, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

Miami has been on a tear in its four-game winning streak as Gus Ragland has given the offense the shot in the arm it need with 789 passing yards, 10 TDs, and zero interceptions on 60% complete in addition to 175 yards on the ground and a score on 43 rushes. Ragland has done a great job of managing the game as he has the lowest sack rate among RedHawk QBs at 6.5%, helped the team win time of possession in three of his four starts, and has been effective in the red zone with 10 red zone TDs in 12 possessions. The team didn’t miss a beat with James Gardner out with Rokeem Williams and Sam Shisso stepping up for critical catches and Kenny Young has been able to show his explosiveness in the past couple of weeks, so the offense shouls have some success this week.

The ‘Hawks defense has been dominant in MAC play this season as it is first in the league in total defense, first in rush defense, second in sacks, third in scoring defense, third in third down conversions allowed, forced 10 turnovers, and allowed the second-fewest red zone touchdowns. J.T. Jones has wrecked offensive lines all season with 11 TFLs and 6.5 sacks while Tony Reid was named MAC Defensive Player of the Week with five tackles and a pick against Central Michigan. The unit will have a hole to fill with Zach Smierciak being charged with felonious assault this week and suspended from the team, but a rotation of Austin Gearing and Quinn Calcagno should shore up that spot nicely.

For the Bulls to get the upset victory, they have to have success running the ball and win the time of possession battle. Getting into obvious passing downs against this defense isn’t ideal and limiting Miami’s possessions would help keep the game close. Defensively, Buffalo has to make Ragland pick them apart and not get beat in the running game. The ‘Hawks just have to stay within themselves and not get caught up in making highlight plays, and they’ll come away with their fifth straight win.