OVERVIEW: Bowling Green will need to bounce back from Saturday’s disappointing loss if it wants to claim a victory over Buffalo. The Bulls are 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the Mid-American Conference but have won their last three league games with victories over Miami, Western Michigan and UMass. … Before that Buffalo had lost six in a row, but that deserves an asterisk since the losses came against Kent State, Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo in league and Big East members Connecticut and Pittsburgh.
OFFENSE: The Bulls rank 12th in the 13-team MAC in scoring offense with their average of 22.5 points per game, a number that falls to 20.9 points per game in league contests only. Buffalo stands ninth in total offense with an average of 392.2 yards per game, and much of that comes from a rushing offense that ranks sixth in the MAC at 190.1 yards per game. A big question is whether junior Brandon Oliver can go in this contest: injuries have limited him to just six games, but in those contests he has run for 801 yards (133.5 yards per game) and five touchdowns. Alternatives at running back include junior Brandon Murie, who has 212 yards in nine games; freshman Devin Campbell, who has 476 yards in 11 games, and senior Rashad Jean, who is listed as a fullback but played at tailback at UMass and had 73 yards on 17 carries. At quarterback freshman Joe Licata took over three games ago (the team is 3-0 since). Licata has completed 73-of-133 passes for 877 yards and seven TDs with three interceptions. The Bulls, who rank 10th in the MAC in passing offense with 202.1 yards per game, have at least one dangerous receiver in junior Alex Neutz, who has caught 59 passes for 923 yards and 11 TDs, all team highs by a wide margin. Sophomore wideout Devon Hughes is second on the team with 23 catches for 228 yards and one score, while junior Jimmy Gordon (who is listed as a fullback) has 17 catches for 162 yards and two TDs. Buffalo has two seniors who start on the right side of the line in RG Graham Whinery and RT Gokhan Ozkan, while junior Jason Carlson starts at LG. Two sophomores round out the line in LT Andre Davis and C Trevor Sales.
DEFENSE: The Bulls’ defensive numbers rank near the top of the MAC, especially when it comes to applying pressure. Buffalo ranks just sixth in scoring defense, allowing 29.2 points per game, but in MAC games that number is just 28.3 points per contest. In terms of total defense, though, UB ranks second in the league with 368.5 yards allowed per game (despite allowing 37 touchdowns). The Bulls’ rushing defense stands sixth in the MAC at 162.1 yards per game, while the pass defense is second to BG at 206.5 yards allowed per contest. The leader of the defense is junior OLB Khalil Mack, who leads UB with 84 tackles and leads the MAC with 18.5 tackles for loss, which includes eight sacks. He also has forced four fumbles this season. Second on the team in tackles is sophomore ILB Lee Skinner, who has 76 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. The other linebackers in Buffalo’s scheme are senior OLB Isaac Baugh, who has 35 tackles, and one of two choices at the other ILB spot: senior Willie Moseley, who has made 44 stops, or sophomore Jake Stockman, who has 56 tackles. The Bulls’ defensive line is led by senior Steven Means, who ranks third on the team with 68 tackles and has 8.5 tackles for loss. The other end is junior Colby Way, who has made 51 tackles, including 10.5 for loss, and the nose guard is senior Wyatt Cahill, who has been credited with 22 tackles. Sophomore cornerback Cortney Lester has made 35 tackles this season but also has four interceptions in 10 games, to go along with six pass break-ups. The other cornerback is junior Najja Johnson, who has 36 tackles and three interceptions as well as six pass break-ups. The strong safety is expected to by junior Okoye Houston, who has 26 tackles, while the free safety is junior Derek Brim, who has made 42 stops.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore Patrick Clarke does the placekicking for the Bulls. He has made 27-of-28 extra points this season and has connected on 11-of-15 field goals, with a long of 49. Curiously, he has gone 3-for-5 on kicks inside the 30, but 8-of-10 on kicks of at least 30 yards. He made 3-of-4 kicks in the WMU win and went 2-for-3 on three kicks of at least 46 yards against Miami. … Clarke also does the kickoffs for the Bulls and averages 53.2 yards per kick, with 12 of his 49 kicks resulting in a touchback. Buffalo ranks 13th (or last) in the MAC in kickoff coverage, getting a net of just 32.3 yards per kickoff. … Freshman Tyler Grassman does the punting for the Bulls and has averaged 35.3 yards per punt with one block. Of his 71 punts, just four have gone at least 50 yards, and he has just 22 fair catches and 16 punts that have ended inside the 20. Buffalo also ranks last in the MAC in punting with a net of 32.3 yards per kick. … Sophomore Cordero Dixon has done the majority of the punt returns and averages just 3.1 yards per return. The Bulls’ average of 5.1 yards per return is 11th in the MAC. … Three players have handled the majority of the Bulls’ kickoff returns as junior Okoye Houston has 10 for 180 yards, junior Brandon Murie averages 18.4 yards on 11 returns (202 yards), and freshman Devin Campbell has 10 returns for 219 yards. As a team Buffalo ranks 12th in the MAC in kickoff returns with an average of 18.6 yards per return.
BG KEYS TO VICTORY: 1. We want to see the old “D.” The Bulls have done a better job of passing the ball in recent weeks, but if Oliver is healthy there will be plenty of running. Making Buffalo one-dimensional should be a big part of the Falcons’ plan. 2. The “O” must be able to handle the pressure. The Bulls lead the MAC in sacks with 34, and they create a lot of “negative” plays with creative use of Mack and others. Handling the pressure is important, but taking advantage of mistakes when the pressure is mis-applied is even more important. 3. Winning special teams isn’t enough. The Bulls have struggled on special teams, especially in the punt and kickoff games Making big plays on special teams should be more than a goal for the Falcons: It should be a must.