Bowl hopes are on the line when Buffalo hosts Toledo on Wednesday night for more midweek MACtion in the 2019 college football season. Both the Bulls and Rockets enter this matchup looking to rebound after disappointing losses last week. Buffalo led Kent State 24-6 in the fourth quarter but watched the Golden Flashes rally to a 30-27 victory. Toledo fell 31-28 at home to Northern Illinois last week, missing an opportunity to improve its position in the crowded MAC West title picture.
Kent State’s victory over Buffalo clinched the MAC East for Miami (Ohio), but the Bulls still have a lot at stake on Wednesday night. At 5-5, Buffalo likely needs two victories to ensure a bowl trip this season. The Bulls should be heavily favored in the finale against Bowling Green, but a 6-6 record may not guarantee a bowl trip. Coach Lance Leipold’s team started 2-4 but has claimed three victories in their last four matchups. When Buffalo wins, it usually does by a healthy margin this season. The Bulls have won all five of their games by 14 points or more, including three MAC matchups by at least 21 points.
Toledo was picked as the preseason favorite to win the MAC West, but coach Jason Candle’s team is just 3-3 in league play and has to beat Buffalo and Central Michigan to have a shot at a trip to Detroit in December. Last week’s loss to Northern Illinois was a significant setback to Toledo’s division titles hopes. Despite outgaining the Huskies 508-444, the Rockets had four drives end in NIU territory without points - a major factor in a three-point defeat. If Candle’s squad wins on Wednesday, next week’s game at Central Michigan could play a huge role in shaping which team wins the division.
Toledo holds a 7-4 series edge over Buffalo. The Bulls won 31-17 in the Glass Bowl last season. However, the Rockets have claimed two out of the last three meetings between these two teams.
Toledo at Buffalo
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Buffalo -7.5
When Toledo Has the Ball
It’s a matchup of strengths when Toledo has the ball on Wednesday night. The Rockets lead the MAC in rushing offense, while Buffalo can counter with the conference’s best rush defense. Behind the talented one-two punch at running back in Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour, Toledo enters this matchup averaging 245.7 yards a game on the ground. The Rockets average 5.4 yards per carry and have accumulated at least 200 rushing yards in six out of the team’s 10 contests this year. Koback was limited to just two carries due to an injury suffered in the Nov. 5 win against Kent State. Considering Koback has 1,066 rushing yards over 165 carries this season, his presence is critical for Toledo’s hopes of a win on Wednesday night. Seymour isn’t far behind on the stat sheet (693), but Koback brings more big-play ability to the backfield by averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Buffalo’s rush defense has not allowed a team to manage more than 190 rushing yards in a single contest this season. Additionally, six of the 10 offenses faced this year have recorded less than 100 yards on the ground. Winning the battle against the run starts with good personnel, and Leipold’s defense certainly has the right pieces in place. Linemen Taylor Riggins, Ledarius Mack and Malcolm Koonce have combined for 27 tackles for a loss, with linebackers James Patterson and Matt Otwinowski forming a strong second level. The formula for Buffalo’s defense is a simple one: Win on early downs with negative plays to put the offense behind the sticks and get off the field on third downs.
With Buffalo’s ability to take away a team’s ground game, the passing attack will be crucial for Toledo. Unfortunately for the Rockets, starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni has been sidelined for the last four games and is not listed on the depth chart for Wednesday night’s game. Junior Eli Peters has started the last three games and is on track to get the nod under center once again. With a strong ground game leading the way, Peters completed just 24 passes combined in wins over Eastern Michigan and Kent State. However, despite throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns versus Northern Illinois last week, Toledo fell short on the scoreboard. Buffalo ranks seventh in the MAC in pass efficiency defense, so there could be opportunities for Peters and receivers Bryce Mitchell, Danzel McKinley-Lewis and Desmond Phillips to connect downfield. Considering the Bulls' performance against the run, Peters may have to throw a little early on to take the pressure off the ground attack.
When Buffalo Has the Ball
Toledo ranks as the MAC’s No. 1 rushing offense, but Buffalo isn’t far behind on the stat sheet. The Bulls rank second in the conference with an average of 226.5 yards a game and record 4.5 yards per rush. Buffalo doesn’t generate a ton of big plays from its ground attack (just one of 40 or more yards) but leads the MAC in volume (50.9 carries a contest).
Sophomore Jaret Patterson has pieced together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his career in Buffalo. Patterson ranks second in the MAC with 1,136 rushing yards and leads the team with seven rushing scores through 10 contests. Fellow sophomore Kevin Marks is second on the team with 783 yards and six rushing scores. While Patterson and Marks are standout talents on an individual level, credit for Buffalo’s ground game should also go to a strong offensive line. The front five for the Bulls has allowed only eight sacks this season and consistently clears rushing lanes for Patterson and Marks.
Similar to Toledo, Buffalo was forced to turn to a backup quarterback this season. Starter Matt Myers was lost for the year after an upper-body injury suffered in late September, prompting backup Kyle Vantrease to step into the No. 1 role. The sophomore has passed for 813 yards and six touchdowns over 121 attempts so far this season. Vantrease has only one contest of more than 200 passing yards and averages just 12.1 attempts a game. The Bulls lost their top five statistical receivers last year, but Antonio Nunn (35 catches) has emerged as the go-to target, with tight end Zac Lefebvre (17) and receiver Daniel Lee (17) rounding out a capable trio for Vantrease.
Bend-but-don’t-break is the best way to describe Toledo’s defense this season. The Rockets are giving up 6.5 yards a play and the most yardage a contest (465.3) of any team in the MAC this season. The Rockets have had trouble against the run (200.1 ypg allowed) and rank seventh in the MAC in pass efficiency defense. Despite the yardage allowed, Toledo is tied for fifth in the conference in scoring defense (28.8). While the Rockets are giving up a good chunk of yardage, timely stops have been crucial for Candle’s group. Toledo ranks fourth in the MAC in third-down defense and fifth in red zone stops.
It’s no secret how this game will be decided on Wednesday night. Toledo and Buffalo have four of the MAC’s top running backs and combine for 95 rushing attempts a contest. The Rockets need a healthy Koback to win but also have to get more of their defense after allowing nine out of their 10 opponents to record more than 400 yards. The Bulls also want to establish the run early behind Patterson and Marks and chip away against a struggling Toledo defense giving up 200 rushing yards game. While these two teams are similar in offensive style this year, there’s a big gap on defense. Buffalo ranks first in the MAC in scoring defense and allows only 4.9 yards a snap. Additionally, the Bulls are plus-six in turnover margin compared to minus-seven for the Rockets. With an edge on defense, homefield advantage and two standout running backs, Buffalo clinches bowl eligibility with a win on Wednesday night.