Midweek MACtion in November continues on Tuesday night with Buffalo hosting Miami (Ohio) in a critical game for positioning within the MAC East. The RedHawks took the division crown last year, with a 34-20 victory over the Bulls certainly helping their cause. Buffalo was the preseason pick by some in 2020 to win the division and catching Miami (Ohio) at home is a huge opportunity for coach Lance Leipold’s team to make an early statement in the MAC’s abbreviated 2020 slate.
Buffalo opened its 2020 season last Wednesday by beating Northern Illinois 49-30. Dating back to last season, the Bulls have won four in a row and seven out of their last games. In the win over the Huskies, the offense accumulated 357 yards over 57 snaps, while the defense scored three times and forced five takeaways. Coach Leipold’s team exited the opener with plenty to work on but also showed why they should be the team to beat in the MAC. After Tuesday’s game against Miami (Ohio), the Bulls play at Bowling Green and host Kent State before a key showdown at Ohio on Dec. 5.
Miami (Ohio) began defense of its MAC championship by holding off Ball State in a thrilling 38-31 victory last Wednesday. The RedHawks trailed 21-10 in the third quarter but rallied behind backup quarterback AJ Mayer (212 passing yards) and used a late turnover to score the game-winning touchdown with less than 10 seconds left. Coach Chuck Martin’s squad has a frontloaded schedule with matchups against three of the MAC’s top teams — Ball State, Buffalo, and Ohio — to open their slate, followed by more favorable contests against Akron, Kent State, and Bowling Green to finish the 2020 slate.
Miami holds a 15-7 series edge over Buffalo in the all-time series. The RedHawks have won three out of the last four against the Bulls.
Miami (Ohio) at Buffalo
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Buffalo –9.5
When Miami (Ohio) Has the Ball
Miami entered 2020 looking to improve on an offense that averaged only 24.1 points a game last fall. It’s hard to read too much into one game, but Martin and co-coordinators George Barnett and Eric Koehler have to be pleased with what transpired in the opener. With Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton out at running back, Davion Johnson added 58 yards, with Zach Kahn chipping in 42. Quarterback Brett Gabbert was off to a good start (five of eight for 76 yards) before leaving the game due to injury. Despite Gabbert’s absence, Miami (Ohio) finished last week with 422 yards (5.7 per play) and had five scoring drives of 52 yards or more.
Some mystery surrounds the quarterback situation for Tuesday night, as Gabbert never returned to action after suffering an injury in the first half. Mayer played well in his absence and would get the nod under center once again. Assuming the backfield is intact for this matchup, Johnson will continue to see the bulk of the carries, with Kahn and freshmen Kevin Davis and Ontario Russell also in the mix for carries as well. Jack Sorensen (seven catches for 139 yards), Davis, and tight end Jack Coldiron figure to be the top receiving options once again for Gabbert or Mayer.
Buffalo’s defense led the MAC in scoring defense (21.3 points a game) and fewest yards per play allowed (4.87) last season and brought back seven starters. With the returning talent in place, along with the experience of some of the new starters, this is a formidable group for Leipold and his defensive staff. The Bulls got off to a good start on defense last Wednesday, as Northern Illinois managed 397 yards over 80 plays (5.0 per snap), went five of 14 on third down, and did not have a play longer than 34 yards. This unit also recorded three sacks, six tackles for a loss, and forced five takeaways. Buffalo held Miami (Ohio) to just 3.6 yards a play in last year’s meeting and 52 of the team’s 120 passing yards came on one play. Due to the offensive turnovers, the Bulls were placed into some bad situations in terms of field position and had to defend short fields. If the offense doesn’t turn it over this time, the RedHawks will have a tougher time putting points on the board.
When Buffalo Has the Ball
The strength of Buffalo’s offense rests up front in the trenches and in the backfield with a pair of standout running backs. All-America candidate Jaret Patterson and backup Kevin Marks both eclipsed 1,000 yards last year and started off strong in the opener. Patterson pounded Northern Illinois for 137 yards and two touchdowns over 20 carries last week, while Marks chipped in 32 on six carries. In last year’s game, Patterson ran for 183 yards (including an 82-yard touchdown scamper) and Marks added 101. Miami struggled to contain this duo last fall, and that was with standout tackle Doug Costin anchoring the interior. The RedHawks still have a formidable defensive front, but Ball State managed 4.4 yards per rush and tallied 169 yards over 38 attempts. Whichever team wins the battle here is likely to come out on top, but based upon last week’s game and what transpired in 2019 when these two teams met, Buffalo should have an edge.
Buffalo won’t throw it much if Patterson and Marks are hammering away at the defense, but quarterback Kyle Vantrease is plenty capable. The junior edged Matt Myers for the starting job and threw for 175 yards and a touchdown over 11 completions in the win over Northern Illinois last week. Antonio Nunn (six grabs for 102 yards and a touchdown) and tight end Zac Lefebvre (two catches) were Vantrease’s top targets last week and should be the go-to options once again.
Miami’s defense came up big in last year’s meeting by forcing four turnovers and ending two drives on downs without a conversion. The RedHawks surrendered plenty of yards on the ground (309) but allowed less than 100 (89) through the air. Additionally, Buffalo converted just five of 14 third-down attempts. With six starters back, Miami (Ohio) should have one of the better defenses in the MAC. This unit surrendered 6.8 yards per play in the opener against Ball State but recorded six sacks and had a timely takeaway in the fourth quarter. Can the defense stuff Patterson and Marks on early downs and get Buffalo’s offense consistently behind the sticks?
Buffalo was the better team in last year’s game but made too many mistakes and lost 34-20. If the Bulls limit the turnovers and get Patterson and Marks on track, Leipold’s team should get revenge for last season’s defeat. Staying out of third-and-long is a priority for Buffalo. Miami’s quarterback situation and overall injury report are a bit of a mystery going into Tuesday night’s showdown. Whether it’s Mayer or Gabbert taking the first snap, Martin should feel good about his quarterback production, but the offense averaged only 2.6 yards per rush in last year’s game and struggled to put long drives together. Both defenses are likely to win their share of battles, but the Bulls are the better team and should get Patterson and Marks on track in the second half to seal the victory.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, Miami (Ohio) 24