Momentum will be key as Bulls and Golden Flashes meet on Thursday night riding very different streaks
As the final quarter of the season begins for the Buffalo Bulls and Kent State Golden Flashes, both teams enter Week 12 on markedly different trajectories. Buffalo arrives at Dix Stadium as winners of three in a row, while three straight losses by a touchdown or less have Kent State needing to win out to reach six wins and secure bowl eligibility.
Buffalo trailed Eastern Michigan 7-2 after the first quarter last week, but it didn’t take much longer for the Bulls to seize control, and once they did, they never looked back. Over the final 45 minutes, Buffalo outscored Eastern Michigan 41-7, powered by a 27-0 second-quarter margin that gave the Bulls a lead they’d never relinquish. Kent State, meanwhile, got its first taste of midweek action since the opening weekend loss at Arizona State, and the result wasn’t any different. The Golden Flashes fell victim to their third straight close loss — this one by just two points — on the road at Toledo.
This has been quite the entertaining series over the years... or, should I say, decades. Buffalo and Kent State first met in 1937 — a 13-0 Buffalo win — that was followed directly by a 54-0 Kent State win in 1938, the largest margin of victory by either side in the history of this matchup. Buffalo has won 13 of 24 all-time in this series and four of the last five meetings, including a 27-13 win in 2017 when the teams last met in Dix Stadium.
Buffalo at Kent State
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Buffalo -6
When Buffalo Has the Ball
The Bulls have been on a tear offensively as of late, averaging 35.7 points per game points during their three-game winning streak. Usually, teams with that prolific of a scoring attack do so through the air, but Buffalo’s ground game has been the driving force in 2019. The Bulls put up 224.4 rushing yards per game, trailing only Toledo in the MAC and ranking 17th in the FBS. Against Eastern Michigan, running back Jaret Patterson eclipsed the 30-carry mark for the first time this season en route to a 33-carry, 160-yard performance — which left him five yards shy of 1,000 — with a pair of touchdowns mixed in. Kevin Marks added 90 yards and a touchdown on 21 rushes, and even quarterback Kyle Vantrease tallied a pair of touchdowns on just five rushes for six yards.
When the Bulls do elect to go to the air, Vantrease has proven to be a capable distributor, as last week he completed 15 of 23 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown to give him three total in the game. Of his four games this season with at least 20 attempts, this was the first in which he eclipsed 200 yards passing. However, his completion rate has been above 60 percent in three of his last four games, and he only has one interception against eight total touchdowns.
It’s been a struggle for Kent State’s defense this season, as the unit has allowed 31.3 points per game in 2019. Two of KSU’s three Power 5 opponents — Wisconsin and Auburn — have notched at least 48 points against the Golden Flashes. Additionally, they allow 469.2 total yards per game, and only 11 teams have surrendered more on a per-game basis this season. Against a Buffalo team not exactly known for lighting up scoreboards, this might be the week where Kent State finds its footing defensively.
When Kent State Has the Ball
Some teams claim to have a do-it-all quarterback, but Kent State truly has legitimacy to its argument. Not only does quarterback Dustin Crum sport a 67.9 percent completion rate that’s among the top 15 in the nation, he’s also Kent State’s leading rusher. He’s not exactly endangering any school rushing records, but he does add an average of 46.0 yards rushing per game to his 178.0 through the air.
When Crum drops back to pass, by far his favorite target of 2019 has been Isaiah McKoy, who ranks fourth in the MAC in receiving yards (525) and receptions per game (4.4). He still leads the Golden Flashes in receiving despite not traveling with the team last week for their game at Toledo, and he’s a big-play threat that can cause some problems for the Buffalo defense.
Whereas Kent State’s defense enters among the conference’s worst, Buffalo finds itself at the other end of the rankings. The Bulls allow the FBS’ 12th-fewest yards per game at 293.8, buoyed by the strength of its rushing defense that allows just 85.0 yards per game on the ground, the sixth-best mark nationally. Additionally, the Bulls pace the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 22.3 points per game, with their last four opponents combining for just 54 points.
The set of opposites seen in these two teams sets up a fascinating matchup. Buffalo hardly ever goes to the air, while Kent State’s quarterback leads the team in both rushing and passing, but Kent State’s defense has been porous while Buffalo’s is one of the best in the country. Momentum may certainly be at play with the teams’ starkly different streaks entering Week 12, but don’t be surprised if this conference battle is closer than some think.
Prediction: Buffalo 32, Kent State 23
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of Buffalo Athletics)