The race for the MAC East Division heats up for the Buffalo Bulls as they travel to Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Wednesday night to take on Central Michigan. While the Bulls are battling for a potential sport in the conference championship game, the Chippewas are fighting for their postseason chances.
Buffalo (5-4, 4-1 MAC) is looking to get back on track after a 45-24 loss to Ohio last Tuesday night. The loss helped create a three-way tie atop the East standings with Bowling Green also involved. Against the Bobcats, a slow start pretty much doomed the Bulls as they trailed 17-0 after the first quarter. Cole Snyder threw for 238 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but he also needed 49 pass attempts (completed 25) to get those numbers. The defense had trouble slowing down Ohio's potent attack, as the Bobcats averaged 7.4 yards per play with a total of 317 through the air and another 157 on the ground. Conversely, Buffalo managed just 3.4 yards per offensive snap.
And while it wasn't an aesthetic masterpiece, Central Michigan (3-6, 2-3) got a much-needed win last Wednesday, defeating Northern Illinois 35-22 on the road. The Chippewas won despite turning the ball over four times (three fumbles) in part due to 245 rushing yards. Backup quarterback Jase Bauer and running back Lew Nichols III did most of the damage, combining for 201 yards and two touchdowns. The defense did its part by holding Huskies quarterback Nevan Cremascoli to 13-for-33 passing, limiting them on third and fourth down (combined 6-for-19), and also coming up with a pair of takeaways. The victory also was important in that it keeps CMU's bowl hopes alive. The Chippewas still need to win out to become bowl eligible, and they have rivalry games with Western Michigan (home) and Eastern Michigan (away) following Wednesday night's visit from Buffalo.
Central Michigan dominated this head-to-head series early, winning seven of the first eight meetings but Buffalo has claimed the last two, the most recent being a 43-20 win at home in 2019.
Buffalo at Central Michigan
When Buffalo Has the Ball
Controlling the football on sustained drives has been a big strength of the Bulls' offense in 2022. Buffalo has had 19 drives of 69 yards or longer, which is a sign of a good football team that can execute the offense over a sustained period of time without self-inflicted issues like penalties.
This offense is at its best when running the ball. The Bulls average 185.4 rushing yards per game in their wins and only 87 in their losses. They managed just 22 yards on the ground on 28 carries last week against Ohio. Mike Washington and Ron Cook Jr. (combined 1,006 yards, 9 TDs) need to set the tone early against a Central Michigan defense that is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry to conference foes.
Snyder hasn't necessarily been prolific (238.3 ypg) but he's been solid most of the season (14 TDs, 6 INTs) and he'll look for Justin Marshall (41 rec., 569 yds., 6 TDs) and Quian Williams (47, 514, 4) when he drops back to pass. The Chippewas haven't given up a ton of yards through the air to MAC teams (197.2 ypg), but they have surrendered eight touchdowns while recording just one interception. Overall, CMU has the top defense in conference play in terms of yards allowed per game (331.0), but is still giving up 26.4 points per contest.
When Central Michigan Has the Ball
The single biggest factor that has impacted the Chippewas' offense this season is turnovers. CMU is tied with Stanford for the worst turnover differential in the FBS ranks, at minus-13. It's not much better in MAC games only (minus-8), as the Chippewas have coughed it up four times in each of their last two games. Fumbles have been a huge problem, as the team has lost 16 of them. These turnovers are why Central Michigan is averaging 23 points per conference game.
Similar to Buffalo, CMU needs to establish the run. Nichols led the country last season with 1,848 rushing yards but he's seen his production drop considerably as he's managing just 3.5 yards per carry and only 80.1 yards per game this season. A rebuilt offensive line can be attributed to some of this, but Nichols also has had issues with ball security. He was responsible for two of the team's three lost fumbles last week. Bauer also brings a running threat (7.0 ypc, 4 TDs) to this offense, so he may figure prominently in the game plan against a Buffalo defense that's giving up nearly 170 yards per game on the ground to conference foes.
Starting quarterback Daniel Richardson has a nice 15:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he's completing 56.6 percent of his passes and is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. The Chippewas don't really have a big-play weapon in the passing game, as the team is averaging 11.2 yards per reception. Tight end Joel Wilson has been a productive red zone target with a team-high six touchdown catches among his 44 total receptions. However, he suffered an injury in last week's game and will miss the rest of the season.
Besides turnovers, CMU also hasn't been the most disciplined team. The Chippewas are averaging 8.2 penalties per game in MAC play, which are costing them 70 yards. The Bulls aren't exactly shutting teams down (396.2 ypg in conference play) but have been able to limit some of the damage on the scoreboard (26.0 ppg), a task that is made easier when a team is hurting itself when so many self-inflicted mistakes.
Look for a hard-fought battle between both teams, as they will be looking to put on a show for a national cable television audience. The quarterback play is going to play a big role in deciding the winner, as both teams need more consistency from the position regarding accuracy. Neither team is completing over 60 percent of its passes, which, in today’s college football with the rules favoring offense, is a hard thing to overcome. So, look for the team that makes the fewest mistakes on Wednesday night to pick up the win, and that team will be the Buffalo Bulls by a one-to-two score margin.
Prediction: Buffalo 33, Central Michigan 24
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.
*Price as of publication.