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The edge: Buffalo vs. Ball State preview

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The Buffalo Bulls (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) head into Saturday’s game against the Ball State Cardinals (3-3, 0-2 MAC) 1-8 in the all-time series. The Bulls’ only win came in the 2008 MAC championship game. It has been five years since the last time the two programs played.

The Spectrum has the scouting report on which team has the edge.

Quarterback: Ball State

Freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson has had flashes of brilliance but Ball State sophomore quarterback Riley Neal has been much more consistent.

Neal currently has 576 more passing yards than Jackson, as well as two more passing touchdowns. Ball State does run a more pass-heavy offense with Neal having passed 67 more times than Jackson, but he has also completed 8.8 percent more of his passes. Ball security has been a slight problem for Neal with six interceptions to Jackson’s two.

Jackson’s athleticism is another area where he has the edge on Neal. They both have three rushing touchdowns this season but Jackson has been better at extending plays and has only been sacked five times while Neal has been sacked 12 times.

The edge goes to Ball State under center.

Running backs: Ball State

The Ball State running backs currently have more than double the production of Buffalo’s running backs. Led by sophomore running back James Gilbert who has 590 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, the Cardinals have 960 yards. Buffalo’s core starts with senior running back Jordan Johnson who has 270 yards and the unit’s only touchdown. As a group, they have 452 yards.

Johnson showed earlier this season he does have elite ability but has been stagnant for the last three games.

The Cardinals have the edge at running back.

Wide receivers and tight ends: Ball State

Ball State has four receivers with either equal or more receptions than Buffalo’s top receiver. They have three with equal or more yards.

The Cardinals fifth-year senior receiver KeVonn Mabon has been the most productive receiver in this game. So far this season, he has 37 catches for 415 yards. His teammate, freshman receiver Damon Hazelton Jr. is the only receiver heading into the game with two touchdowns.

Buffalo’s receivers have not created a lot of space this season and are currently the last place unit in the MAC. They have half the touchdowns of the Cardinals, only finding the end zone three times this season.

Offensive Line: Ball State

The Bulls offensive line has been a question mark for the team in the last three games. In the first two games of the year, The Bulls averaged 228.5 yards, they have 229 in the three games since. The Cardinals are averaging 200.2 rushing yards per game on the season.

Buffalo may have shown better pass protection only allowing five sacks and three QB hits. The Cardinals have allowed 12 sacks and five QB hits this season. Jackson’s mobility does contribute to his low-sack total.

Overall, Ball State gets the edge because of their strong run blocking.

Defensive Line: Ball State

Buffalo’s line has struggled, allowing an average of 271.2 rushing yards per game, last in the MAC. They’ve also been tasked with facing an average of 53.2 rushing attempts per game. That kind of workload is going to take a toll on the defensive line. Ball State has been a bit more successful, ranking fifth in the MAC and surrendering 149.3 rushing yards a game.

The Cardinals have been very successful getting into the backfield this season with 16.5 sacks from defensive lineman. Buffalo’s defensive line only has two. They haven’t had a ton of opportunity but will have a chance this weekend. The Cardinals line also has 32 tackles for loss, Buffalo only has 11.5

Linebackers: Buffalo

Both linebacker cores share equal responsibilities for their team rushing yard averages. Though the Bulls linebackers didn’t have a great game against Kent State, they are one of Buffalo’s most consistent units.

The two major deciding factors in this game will be the play of Buffalo junior linebacker Ishmael Hargrove and Ball State fifth year senior linebacker Zack Ryan. Hargrove has 43 tackles and Ryan has 45. Hargrove has two sacks along with two forced fumbles and recoveries. Ryan has a turnover of his own, with an interception.

Defensive backs: Buffalo

The Bulls currently rank third in the nation in pass yardage defense. Their opponents have only passed 96 times, which makes them the only team in the MAC not to face 100 passes. That should change this week against a Ball State offense that averages 34 pass attempts a game.

The Cardinals are ninth in the MAC against the pass allowing 273 yards a game. They have also given up four more touchdowns than the Bulls, but had four more interceptions than the Bulls as well. Until the Bulls are tested more, their ranking as third in the nation may give them the edge.

Special teams: Ball State

Both kickers have gone 7 for 10 on field goal attempts and made two field goals from beyond 40 yards, but neither have made it from beyond 50 yards. But Ball State sophomore kicker Morgan Hagee is 21-of-21 on extra points. Buffalo Sophomore kicker Adam Mitcheson missed an extra point in the Army game and is 7-of-8 on the season. Mitcheson is the only one to have hit a game winner

Ball State also had a punt block that was returned for a touchdown.

Coaching: Ball State

After spending two years in the NFL before taking over at Ball State last year, head coach Mike Neu has established a versatile offense that is dangerous in the air and on the ground. The Cardinals currently rank five spots above Buffalo in MAC total offense rankings and have 12 more touchdowns. Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold has underwhelmed all season, with his team particularly struggling in the first half of games, digging themselves in holes they can’t come out from.

Sports desk can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com


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