FACTS & STATS: Site: Ralph Wilson Stadium (73,967) -- Buffalo, New York. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Bowling Green 5-1, Buffalo 5-0. Away Record: Bowling Green 3-2, Buffalo 3-3. Neutral Record: Bowling Green 0-0, Buffalo 0-0. Conference Record: Bowling Green 6-1, Buffalo 6-1. Series Record: Bowling Green leads, 7-3.
GAME NOTES: The Bowling Green Falcons and the Buffalo Bulls will meet up on the final day of the regular season with a spot in the Mid-American Conference Championship game hanging in the balance on Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bulls have not only the same league mark as Bowling Green (6-1) but an identical overall record (8-3). The Bulls bounced back from their first league loss of the season against Toledo, with an easy road victory over winless Miami-Ohio last Tuesday. Even with the loss to the Rockets the Bulls have won eight of their last nine games after starting off 0-2 with losses at Ohio State and at Baylor to kick off the campaign.
These teams also met in the regular-season finale a year ago, though with much less at stake. In that contest Bowling Green jumped out to a 14-0 lead at halftime and held on for a 21-7 victory. The win was the seventh in 10 all- time meetings between the programs for the Falcons.
Other than Northern Illinois and Ball State, who happen to be the two leaders of the West Division, no team in the MAC is picking up more yards on offense than the Falcons (461.7 ypg). The Falcons also trail the Huskies and the Cardinals on the conference's scoring list (35.4 ppg). Against Eastern Michigan the Falcon offense hit on all cylinders, racking up 560 yards of total offense on 72 plays.
The Falcons can move the ball through the air as well as on the ground. Matt Johnson guides the squad from under center as is coming off a rather impressive game against EMU when he threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns on 13-of-23 passing, though he was intercepted once. On the year Johnson has tossed 17 touchdown passes on 65.1 percent passing g while reaching over the 2,500-yard plateau in passing yards. Johnson has also excelled in keeping his mistakes to a minimum with only six interceptions.
Six different receivers have brought in at least 20 passes on the year for the Falcons. None has more than Shaun Joplin, who has brought in 41 passes for 658 yards and two scores. However against EMU it was Ronnie Moore that was the most productive pass-catcher. Moore had seven catches for 161 yards and three touchdowns as he doubled his receiving touchdown total (six) and got a huge boost to his totals in receptions (22) and yards (390).
While the passing game has been just fine the Falcons have really been successful on the ground. That is thanks in large part to Travis Greene. The Falcons running back is one of four rushers in the MAC to be averaging 100 yards per game. In all Greene has tallied 1,332 yards and nine scores on 205 carries this year. No other running back on the team has more than 45 carries, though William Houston has scored 11 rushing touchdowns as a short yardage specialist. Greene rushed for 126 yards and two scores against EMU while Houston ran for a season-high 84 yards and a score on seven attempts.
For how effective the offensive has been the defense has been that much better for Bowling Green. The Falcons lead the conference in total defense (302.1 ypg) and, as they have shown over the last few weeks, have been nearly impossible to string large point totals against. The Falcons were especially dominant against EMU as they allowed just 65 total yards to the Eagles on 44 plays. BooBoo Gates is tied for second on the team in tackles (55) and has also accounted for five forced turnovers.
The Bulls don't have the same type of offensive firepower that the Falcons are fortunate enough to have. The Bulls are scoring 33 points per game but doing so while picking up a less prolific number of yards per game (416.9).
Buffalo does boast a similarly balanced approach as compared the Falcons with over 2,000 yards both on the ground and through the air.
Joe Licata will be dueling with Johnson under center. Licata had a rather mediocre game against Miami-Ohio as he threw for only 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception. However Licata did complete better than 60 percent of his passes in the contest. Licata has shown an ability to carry the offense as well as he tossed for a season-high 497 yards and four scores in the previous week against Toledo. Licata has totaled 2,407 yards and 21 scores to only six picks on 60.9 percent passing on the year.
The workload through the air has been carried primarily by a duo of receivers for the Bulls. Alex Neutz (52 receptions, 881 yards, 11 TDs) is the primary target most times when Licata drops back. Neutz has three games of 100 yards or more this season but is coming off a season-worst six yards on just a single reception against Miami-Ohio. Fred Lee (49 receptions, 594 yards, four TDs) works as the second option and is coming off a four-reception, 61-yard effort against Miami-Ohio.
The Bulls have their own 100-yard rusher in Branden Oliver, who is one of the other three players in the MAC reaching the century mark each week. Oliver racked up 150 yards and two scores on 26 carries in the win over Miami-Ohio for his seventh-straight game over 100 yards. In total Oliver has tallied 1,375 yards and 14 scores on 264 rushing attempts on the campaign.
While they may not be as offensively proficient as the Falcons, the Bulls can certainly hang with most on the defensive side of the ball. Buffalo is second in the league in total defense (366 ypg) and scoring defense (22.2 ppg). The key for the Bulls has been their ability to force mistakes from opponents as it is tied for second in the league in forced turnovers (26). Linebacker Khalil Mack is at the center of it all, as the All-American has forced a league leading five fumbles this season. Mack had three forced fumbles against Miami-Ohio to set an NCAA record for career forced fumbles with 16.
These two teams are nearly mirror images of each other with both relying on strong defense and a steady dose of the run on offense. Mack and the Buffalo front seven have shown an ability to get in the backfield and create negative plays at an accelerated rate and that should be enough to pull out a tight victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buffalo 24, Bowling Green 21
Friday, November 29, 1:30 p.m. (et)