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2018 MAC Championship Game Preview: Buffalo Bulls vs Northern Illinois Huskies

The Bulls and Huskies will fight it out in Detroit for the MAC title.

Northern Illinois v Toledo Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

This Friday night the Buffalo Bulls and the Northern Illinois Huskies will battle it out to be MAC Champions.

For Buffalo, it’s just their second appearance in the MAC CG ever and their first in a decade. However, the Bulls won their only other trip, back in 2008, when they upset Nate Davis and the 12th-ranked Ball State Cardinals, 42-24, ending BSU’s hopes of crashing the BCS.

For the Huskies, Detroit is a familiar destination as they have won the West seven of the last nine years and are making their eighth appearance in the title game (the most of any team in the MAC). NIU is 3-4 so far in MAC Championship games; winning in 2011, 2012, and 2014.

The Bulls and Huskies don’t play often, meeting only a dozen time before Friday night’s contest. NIU has a commanding series lead, with an 11-1 record against the Bulls, and haven’t lost to Buffalo since LBJ was president. These two teams first met back in 1968, with Buffalo winning 20-7...but, since then, the Huskies have won all 11 games against the Bulls.


Game Info

Date/Time: Friday, Nov. 30th, 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)
Where: Ford Field — Detroit, Michigan (65,000 capacity)
Watch: ESPN2
Odds: Buffalo is favored by 4 points and has 52.6% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI


The Bulls...

Quick Facts:
Record: 10-2 (7-1 MAC)
Points per game: 35.3
Points allowed: 24.3
Yards per game: 419.4 (200.3 rushing, 219.1 passing)
Yards allowed: 344.9 (170.0 rushing, 174.9 passing)

Buffalo’s offense starts with quarterback Tyree Jackson.

Jackson has been slinging the ball around all season long en route to 2605 yards, 25 touchdowns, and a 55.5% completion rate. He’s second in the MAC in both passing yards and touchdowns and has been sacked just eight times this season! Jackson can use his legs to keep plays alive and, although he’s averaging just 4.1 yards per carry, he does has seven rushing touchdowns; making him a very dangerous quarterback to face...especially in the red zone.

Jackson has arguably two of the best receivers in the MAC as well, in Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn. Johnson has 45 receptions for 820 yards and nine touchdowns. Osborn, though, isn’t far behind. His 46 catches have netted him 769 yards and six scores, and he’s always a big play threat as he has four receptions of 50+ yards.

On the ground Buffalo has a two headed monster in freshmen Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks. Patterson has gained 874 yards on 150 carries (5.8 per rush!) and has scored 12 times while Marks has 153 rushes for 733 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Bulls only allow 24.3 points per game (third best in the MAC) and 344.9 yards per game (second best in the MAC).

They are anchored by Khalil Hodge who has been amazing all season long. The senior linebacker has amassed 130 total tackles, seven TFL, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble.

Up front, defensive end Chuck Harris has been wreaking havoc on offenses with his 40 tackles, seven TFL, six sacks, and two forced fumbles to go with his fumble recovery.

In the secondary a duo of cornerbacks have half of the Bulls interceptions this year. Brandon Williams and Cameron Lewis have three picks each and have combined for 80 tackles (Williams netting 51 of those 80) and seven pass break ups (Lewis having six of those PBU).


The Huskies...

Quick Facts:
Record: 7-5 (6-2 MAC)
Points per game: 19.9
Points allowed: 20.9
Yards per game: 318.0 (176.7 rushing, 141.3 passing)
Yards allowed: 344.0 (107.0 rushing, 237.0 passing)

Northern Illinois is no stranger to playing really tough teams, as their non-conference slate has indicated. However, they’ve had to rely solely on their defense the past two seasons as the Huskie offense has been nearly nonexistent.

Quarterback Marcus Childers has completed 57% of his throws this year for 1696 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, he has made quite a few mistakes, tossing nine interceptions (three of which have come in the last two games). Childers can use his legs, and does so more than Tyree Jackson, as the Huskie quarterback has now gained 438 rushing yards and leads the team with six rushing TDs.

When Childers passes, he looks one of two ways - towards D.J. Brown or to Jauan Wesley. Brown has more receptions (51) and touchdowns (3) but only 400 yards while Wesley has 543 yards and two scores on his 47 catches. Spencer Tears has come on late as a viable third option, with 28 grabs, 299 yards, and a pair of TDs.

Like the Bulls, NIU has two solid rushers in the backfield. Tre Harbison leads the way for NIU on the ground, with his 950 yards and four touchdowns on 177 carries. But Marcus Jones has also done well with 527 yards and four TDs on just 91 carries (an average of 5.8 yards per rush).

On defense it’s hard not to mention All-American Sutton Smith, who had one heck of a game against Western Michigan last week. In the loss, Smith had 7 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, and an 85-yard fumble return for a touchdown. On the season, Sutton has even more ridiculous numbers - 46 tackles, 21 TFL (6th in the NCAA), 13 sacks (4th in the NCAA), seven QB Hurries, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two blocked punts, and two defensive touchdowns.

With O-lines keying in on Smith, it frees up the Huskies’ other defensive end, Josh Corcoran, to do some damage as well. Corcoran might only have 26 tackles but most are in the backfield as he has racked up 10.5 TFL and eight sacks.

If Smith or Corcoran don’t make the play, chances are linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis will. He leads NIU with 104 tackles and has 11.5 TFL, six pass break ups, four sacks, and two fumble recoveries.


Prediction

This is a battle between the MAC’s two best defenses, with neither team giving up many yards or points.

If NIU had an offense like they did in 2013 (or even 2014) this would be one hell of a game. However, as it is, the Huskies don’t have the offensive weapons to keep up with the high powered Bulls.

Buffalo will most likely start to run away with it in the second half, as so many teams have done against NIU this year.

The defense could keep it close for NIU and, hell, they might be able to score some points of their own to help out the Huskie offense...but it’s going to be real hard for NIU to walk out of Detroit with a win. Not impossible, just hard. But, then again, the Huskies are used to doing things “the Hard Way”.

Buffalo Bulls - 34
NIU Huskies - 21