Midweek MACtion is back on Tuesday night, as Buffalo looks to extend its lead in the MAC East with a victory over Kent State. The Bulls are in the thick of the conference title race and could crack the top 25 at the end of the season if this program reaches double-digit victories. On the other sideline, Kent State is looking to use the month of November as a way to build momentum under first-year coach Sean Lewis.
Buffalo picked up an important win in conference play last week, as coach Lance Leipold’s team defeated Miami (Ohio) 51-42 on Tuesday night. The victory over the RedHawks improved Buffalo’s MAC record to 5-0 (8-1 overall) with three games left. The Bulls have the Tuesday matchup against Kent State, followed by road trips to Ohio and Bowling Green. The Nov. 14 game versus Ohio is likely to decide the MAC East title, but Leipold’s team can’t afford to overlook Kent State on Tuesday. Buffalo knocked off Temple and Rutgers in non-conference play, with its only loss coming to Army (42-13) in late September.
As mentioned above, Kent State is hoping to finish out the year on a high note. First-year coach Sean Lewis has the program moving in the right direction and can play spoiler over the next three contests. Following Tuesday’s matchup against Buffalo, the Golden Flashes take on Toledo and Eastern Michigan – two teams sitting on the bubble for a bowl game. Kent State is a tough job and is a rebuilding project for Lewis, but there have been signs of progress. This program gave Illinois a battle in the opener and knocked off Bowling Green (35-28) last Tuesday.
Buffalo holds a 12-11 series edge over Kent State. The Bulls have won three out of the last four against the Golden Flashes.
Kent State at Buffalo
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Buffalo -22.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Kent State’s Defense Slow Down Buffalo’s Offense?
This is a matchup of strength versus weakness on Tuesday night. Buffalo’s offense enters this game averaging 34.9 points a game and 5.8 yards per play. The Bulls have a balanced attack, ranking third in the MAC in pass offense and fifth in rushing. This unit has scored at least 34 points in three out of the last four games and posted 51 in their last game (Miami, Ohio). Kent State has experienced its share of issues on defense this fall and ranks 11th in the MAC in points allowed (34.2 ppg) and is giving up 6.2 yards per play.
Quarterback Tyree Jackson is the catalyst for Leipold’s offense, throwing for 2,227 yards and 23 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He’s also added five rushing scores this fall. Receiver Anthony Johnson ranks among the best in college football at his position, catching 32 passes for 673 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018. K.J. Osborn (44 catches), George Rushing (20), Charlie Jones (12) and tight end Tyler Mabry join Johnson as the top pass catchers, giving Jackson a standout and deep group of receiving options. The freshman tandem of Kevin Marks (579 yards) and Jaret Patterson (576) leads the way for a ground game averaging 4.2 yards per carry. This duo will be a handful for a Kent State front ranked seventh in the MAC versus the run.
Kent State’s defense has allowed at least 20 points in every game against FBS opponents this season. This unit surrendered 52 to Ball State, 63 to Penn State, 31 to Miami (Ohio) and 31 to Illinois. As if those numbers weren’t concerning enough for Lewis, the Golden Flashes rank 11th in the MAC in pass efficiency defense – not ideal with a matchup against Buffalo’s passing attack up next. Kent State has generated 21 sacks, but the Bulls have allowed only eight all season.
Will Kent State find an answer to stop Jackson and Buffalo’s passing game? The Golden Flashes need to trade yards for stops in the red zone and have to force a few turnovers to pull off the upset.
2. Kent State QB Woody Barrett
If Kent State is going to pull off the upset, coach Sean Lewis’ team will need a huge effort from quarterback Woody Barrett. The former Auburn signee and junior college product ranks second in the MAC in total offense, averaging 262.2 total yards a game. For the season, Barrett has passed for 1,905 yards and 10 touchdowns to just three picks and added 455 yards and three scores on the ground. Barrett led the way for the win over Bowling Green last week, throwing for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 14 completions and rushing for 77 yards and a score.
In Buffalo’s win over Miami (Ohio) last week, quarterback Gus Ragland threw for 313 yards and a touchdown and added 53 yards and three scores on the ground. Barrett has to have that type of night in order for Kent State to keep this one close in the second half. Protecting Barrett is crucial for any shot at a victory. The Golden Flashes have allowed 34 sacks (most in the MAC), while the Bulls have generated 25 sacks through nine contests.
While Barrett has to have a huge game in order for Kent State to win, the sophomore won’t have to carry this offense on his own. Lewis has two talented running backs Jo-El Shaw (332 yards and five scores this year) and Justin Rankin (560). Rankin missed last week’s game due to injury and his status is likely to be undecided until kickoff. The Golden Flashes have three players - freshman Isaiah McKoy (39), Antwan Dixon (38) and Myles Carrigan (33) – with at least 30 receptions in 2018.
With Buffalo's high-powered offense likely to post 30-40 points on Tuesday night, Kent State is going to need its best (and a flawless) effort of the season from Barrett in order to pull off the upset.
3. Buffalo’s Defense
As mentioned above, any shot at an upset for Kent State hinges on a huge night by the offense. But there’s a slight problem with that theory: Buffalo’s defense is one of the best in the MAC. The Bulls rank second in the conference in fewest points allowed a game (23.4 ppg), yards allowed per play (5.0) and lead the MAC in pass efficiency defense. Additionally, Buffalo's defense has allowed only nine plays of 40 yards or more this fall.
On paper, the Bulls have showed very little in the way of major issues on this side of the ball. Leipold’s defense is solid against versus the pass and the run, have forced 19 turnovers and generated 25 sacks through nine contests. Buffalo’s standout linebacker Khalil Hodge will miss the first half of Tuesday night’s game due to a targeting suspension, but this unit should be able to navigate the first two quarters without its best player.
Even though Kent State has capable firepower on its offense, Leipold’s defense isn’t likely to surrender 40 points for the second week in a row.
Kent State is certainly showing signs of life in Lewis’ first year, but Buffalo simply has a better team in 2018. With a showdown looming against Ohio next week, the Bulls can’t afford to look ahead and not take care of business on Tuesday night. With the Jackson-to-Johnson connection back on track, it’s tough see the Golden Flashes getting enough stops to win this contest. Look for Barrett to deliver a few big plays, but Buffalo has too much firepower and pulls away in the second half.