Toledo, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - The Buffalo Bulls have yet to lose to a league rival, but their first-place standing in the Mid-American Conference's East Division will be put in jeopardy as they visit the Glass Bowl for a bout with the Toledo Rockets on Tuesday night.
Since starting the season with road losses to a pair of national title contenders in Ohio State (40-20) and Baylor (70-13), the Bulls have reeled off seven straight victories. They improved to 5-0 in MAC action last Tuesday with a 30-3 decision over Ohio University at UB Stadium. Coach Jeff Quinn's team seemingly came out of nowhere this season as it was 2-7 through nine games in 2012. Buffalo holds a single-game lead over Bowling Green in the divisional race, so the pressure is on with only three games remaining, the final of which being a home tilt versus the second-place Falcons.
Toledo is sitting in third place in the West Division behind Northern Illinois and Ball State, who have both yet to lose in MAC play. With the Huskies and Cardinals squaring off this week, the Rockets could gain some ground in their own divisional race with a win. Coach Matt Campbell's team owns a 6-3 overall record with the losses coming courtesy of Florida (24-6), Missouri (38-23) and Ball State (31-24). The Rockets have come out of their last four outings victorious. They had an open week following their 55-16 rout of Eastern Michigan on Nov. 2.
This will be the 10th meeting between Toledo and Buffalo on the gridiron. The Rockets improved to 6-3 all-time versus the Bulls last season with a hard- earned, 25-20 win in upstate New York.
Buffalo's offense surged for 421 yards of total offense and 30 points against Ohio, which came in allowing only 21.8 ppg and 375 ypg to rank second in the MAC in both scoring and total defense. The Bobcats are now third in both categories thanks to Branden Oliver, who set the Division I era school record with 249 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns to spearhead Buffalo's attack. Oliver is already the owner of the program career record with 3,637 rushing yards and is leading the MAC this season with 140.4 ypg.
Joe Licata improved to 10-3 as a starter as he threw for 169 yards with two touchdown passes to Alex Neutz, who tied Naaman Roosevelt's program record of 28 career touchdown grabs. The sophomore quarterback has been steady throughout the team's impressive run through the conference with 1,339 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions over his past seven games. Licata and NIU's Jordan Lynch are the only two signal callers in the MAC with a touchdown pass in every game this season. Neutz is netting 78.6 receiving yards per outing and is second in the league with nine touchdown grabs.
Since being torched by Baylor and Ohio State, Buffalo has held its opposition to only 12.3 points per game. The defensive unit was relentless against Ohio, limiting the Bobcats to a season-low 233 yards total offense. Khalil Mack continued to shine on the defensive side of the ball as he tallied five tackles, a forced fumble and a recovery. Mack now has 13 career forced fumbles, one shy of the NCAA record.
Toledo's offense will test the Bulls' defense. The Rockets have averaged 43.8 points per game during their four-game winning streak. They had little trouble with EMU their last time out as they compiled 729 yards of total offense despite the absence of star halfback David Fluellen. Rookie tailback Kareem Hunt filled in to contributive 168 yards and two scores, while senior quarterback Terrance Owens completed 18-of-24 pass attempts for a season-high 375 yards and three touchdowns. Fluellen, who is second in the MAC with 133.4 rushing yards per game, is questionable for Tuesday's matchup.
Justin Olack had a breakout performance against the Eagles with four receptions for 110 yards and a score. Bernard Reedy remained consistent with three catches for 84 yards. Reedy has racked up 52 receptions for a team-high 587 yards on the season. Alonzo Russell has also been a factor in the aerial attack with 515 yards and five touchdown receptions. Owens has thrown three touchdown passes in back-to-back games after failing to register more than one scoring pass in a single contest through his first seven outings. Three of his six interceptions came in the Rockets' loss at Missouri.
Toledo held EMU to only 309 yards of total offense before its bye week. The Rockets are allowing 394.4 total yards and 26.2 points per game on the season. They have a capable leader in linebacker Junior Sylvestre, who is ranked 16th nationally with 10.2 tackles per game. Senior defensive end Jayronne Elliot leads the MAC with four forced fumbles in addition to his seven sacks and 10.5 TFL.
The status of Fluellen could play a big factor as Hunt will have trouble finding room to run against this stout Buffalo defense. Toledo will most likely do what it can to limit Oliver and force Licata to beat it through the air. Although the sophomore may not put up jaw-dropping numbers, Licata has proven himself capable since he took over the starting job at the end of the 2012 season.