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Needing one more win for bowl eligibility, UB Bulls take on Northern Illinois

Buffalo faces reigning MAC Champ Huskies

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The Buffalo football team is one win away from being eligible for its second bowl appearance in three years. All Buffalo has to do is win one of its remaining three games.

First up: perhaps the hardest opponent it will face all season.

The Bulls (5-4, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) seek their all-important sixth win of the season when they take on MAC West powerhouse Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1 MAC) at UB Stadium Wednesday night. Buffalo, which has made just two bowl games since returning to Division I in 1999, and other FBS teams need six wins to be considered eligible for a bowl bid at season’s end.

But the Huskies, the reigning MAC Champs, will present a challenge.

“They’re just a complete football team,” said head coach Lance Leipold. “I think when you’re looking at the things we want to be in the long run, I think they have a lot of those thing going for them right now. Big physical offensive line, physical defense as a whole … it’s very apparent why they’ve been as consistent as they have … it’s a great challenge for us.”

Leipold doesn’t shy away from the Huskies’ talent. He acknowledges they’re a complete and advanced team. Northern Illinois ranks in the top-5 of nearly every offensive and defensive category in the MAC with many upperclassmen filling the starting slots.

But there is no player more decorated nor impressive on the Huskies than their nationally acclaimed running back.

Junior Joel Bouagnon could be considered for the Heisman Trophy if the selection committee didn’t overlook Mid-Major programs. The Northern Illinois prospect is one of the most aggressive north-south runners in the nation and his statistics – including 15 touchdowns – back it up. His 949 yards rushing lead the MAC and are good for 26th in the nation.

But Buffalo has two power rushers.

Junior running back Jordan Johnson and senior running back Anthone Taylor have been a huge lift Buffalo, which was previously on a three-game losing streak before its recent successful run. Johnson, who filled in as the main back for an injured Taylor for two weeks, has been a revelation in the backfield.

A win over Kent State last week was the first time Taylor and Johnson were healthy in the same backfield in nearly a month. There’s no clear-cut leading back, according to Leipold. But he noted it’s a great problem to have.

“We’ve never had it designed that, ‘This guy needs to get 75 percent of the carries and 80 percent of the yards,’” Leipold said. “When games get close and you have fresher bodies and fresh legs in the fourth quarter, you have a chance to be successful. Both of those guys have handed it very well. Whoever has the hot hand, or there are certain plays are certain situations that gonna put one guy in the game over the other, they seem to embrace that.”

Buffalo may also get one starting guard back. Sophomore Brandon Manosalvas will be a game-time decision to play after missing last week. Leipold said he was practicing and practicing well.

But there wasn’t much good news about the other starting guard.

Senior Dillon Guy will miss the remainder of his season due to an apparent knee injury, Leipold confirmed on Tuesday afternoon and called it unfortunate for Guy.

The Bulls are entering Wednesday with a huge confidence boost. Last Thursday, Buffalo overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Kent State (3-6, 2-3 MAC) to win its third straight game. Leipold wants his senior class to go out on top.

“As we strive for consistency, to continue to be better and do the things we talked about from the day we got here,” Leipold said, “and that is to give our seniors the best chance for success and put them in a position to put them in a bowl game and build a program that’s going to consistently be in bowl games.”

The game will be aired on ESPNU on Wednesday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman. 


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