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The edge: Buffalo vs. Western Michigan

Predicting the Bulls’ homecoming game against the Broncos

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The Buffalo Bulls (3-2, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) are in the midst of a three game win streak as they head into their homecoming game this week against the Western Michigan Broncos (3-2, 1-0 MAC). Last year, this matchup went poorly for Buffalo and they lost 38-0 in front on a national audience on College GameDay.

But these are extremely different teams from last season. Western Michigan has lost a first-round draft pick, a senior quarterback and a head coach that moved to a power-five team. The Bulls have been on an upswing from last season and will be looking to pick up its fourth straight win, a first since 2013.

Here is The Spectrum’s position by position breakdown of the matchup.

Quarterback: Buffalo

This matchup would be a lot different if redshirt sophomore Tyree Jackson was available for the Bulls. That’s not a knock on junior Drew Anderson but his sample size is still too small. He’s been impressive in a game and a half of play and got the victory in his first start. He has a 91.3 QBR and that efficiency will make it tough for any team to beat the Bulls.

Sophomore Jon Wassink doesn't have a huge sample size for the Broncos but it’s still larger than Anderson’s. He has 763 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season starting under center for Western. But he gives the advantage to Anderson in QBR with only a 72.7.

This one is close, with two inexperienced play callers in the game. I think Anderson might have lower numbers but he’ll play the better game Saturday.

Running back: Western Michigan

Redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Reed has been the star of the Bulls offense for the last couple games. He enters Saturday with a chance at a fourth straight game of over 100 rushing yards. He also has 384 yards and four touchdowns, the highest marks for either team.

Junior Jamauri Bogan is close in a one-on-one comparison but not as good as Reed. They are both small rushers with listed heights under 5-foot-8. Bogan’s numbers are 355 yards and two touchdowns.

The big thing here will be the other running backs in the game. Redshirt junior Johnathan Hawkins is out again Saturday for Buffalo. The Broncos have two other running backs with over 200 yards and in total, four running backs have at least two touchdowns.. Reed edges Bogan but the Broncos edge the Bulls as a unit.

Wide receiver: Western Michigan

Western Michigan had one of the greatest receivers in college football history last season. Corey Davis was a top-five selection in this past draft but the team seems to be keeping the rhythm without him. They have three different receivers with nine or more catches. Sophomore Keishawn Watson has 16 catches and four touchdowns.

The Bulls are a little more focused on one player. Redshirt junior Anthony Johnson is the clear number one in this game. He has 10 more catches than any other player in the game with 26. He also has almost 200 more yards than any other receiver in the game.

Similar to the running backs, if it was top guy versus top guy, the Bulls win but as a unit the Broncos take the edge.

Tight ends: Buffalo

Neither team has an elite tight end in this game. Senior Donnie Ernsberger for Western has the best numbers entering the game. He has 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. But sophomore tight end Tyler Mabry is right behind him with 124 yards on only six catches.

The Bulls are starting to get back to the strong tight end play they’ve had for years entering this season, with redshirt freshman Zac LeFebvre getting involved in the game last week with two catches and a touchdown,

The Bulls used a lot of two tight end sets against Kent State and I think that will happen again this week. Buffalo’s two tight ends give them the edge.

Offensive line: Western Michigan

This one is a close call. Both teams have great units upfront and either could shine in the game. This one is based primarily on what the teams have done in the run game. Buffalo struggled in the run game untill Reed got on a roll.

The Broncos have been clicking all year and getting a huge push upfront. The Broncos had 263 rushing yards against a USC team that was ranked fourth in the nation heading into the game. They also have 2 more touchdowns and 100 more yards on the ground over the course of the year.

Buffalo’s line has been impressive but Western gets the edge.

Defensive line: Buffalo

The Bulls front four has looked great this season. Buffalo was all over the quarterback last week, against a pass heavy Kent State. The line has four sacks on the year and have contained a lot of the run game between the tackles. Junior defensive end Chuck Harris is second on the team with 29 tackles. Senior defensive end Demone Harris and junior tackle Justin Brandon have combined for 5 tackles-for-loss.

The Broncos have a great front seven but their down lineman are the weaker side of that equation. Redshirt defensive tackle Antonio Balabani is the most productive lineman for the Broncos. He has 12 tackles and two tackles for loss.

The front sevens are close but the down lineman of Buffalo take the edge.

Linebackers: Western Michigan

This side of the front seven goes to Western Michigan. Buffalo is led by junior Khalil Hodge who is one of the best in the MAC. He currently ranks top in the MAC and third in the nation in tackles per game. Junior Jordan Collier had the best game of his career at Kent State and finished with nine tackles, three tackles-for-loss and a sack.

But Western Michigan has a stable of dangerous players at linebacker. Led by senior Asantay Brown who has 38 tackles, the Broncos starting four linebackers have combined for 107 tackles, led by Brown who has 38 tackles. The starting four also have 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks.

Western Michigan has the edge here.

Defensive backs: Buffalo

The Buffalo secondary has been playing lights out this year and is ranked first in the MAC in passing yards allowed. Junior cornerback Cameron Lewis hasn’t played in two games but the rest of the team has handled themselves well in his absence. Junior cornerbacks Tatum Slack and Brandon Williams have been making big plays this year and both are reading offenses on a different level than last year.

Senior cornerback Darius Phillips is dangerous for the Broncos and Anderson said he is someone they will have to account for come Saturday. Western Michigan has more pass breakups and interceptions but the key stat here is Buffalo has only allowed two touchdowns.

Buffalo takes the edge because they keep points off the board.

Special teams: Western Michigan

Junior kicker Adam Mitcheson is inconsistent. He missed two field goals last week and missed his second extra point of the season. Mitcheson is now 5-of-9 on field goals for the year. On the other side, freshman kicker Josh Grant has been a little more consistent but still doesn’t standout. He has gone 6-of-7 on field goals for the year and has missed an extra point himself.

Western Michigan gets the edge but neither team should get comfortable.

Final pick: Buffalo

I think Buffalo is going to pull this one out and dethrone the reigning MAC champions. I was among the people who hit the panic button in my own head when Jackson went down. But Anderson proves me wrong down by down. Between Anderson and the emergence of Emmanuel Reed, this team has a potent and quality offense that can beat any defense in the MAC.

The defense has been consistent and I think that as long as the Bulls can contain the run, the pass game for the Broncos will suffer. Buffalo will get the job done and put themselves in the driver’s position early in conference play. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at UB Stadium.

Daniel Petruccelli is the Co-Senior sports editor and can be reached atdaniel.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com


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