The edge: Buffalo vs Akron
An analysis on whether or not UB can get back on track this week
The UB football team started conference play in the midst of a three-game winning streak and looked like they were going to be able to make some noise in the Mid-American Conference. But the Buffalo Bulls (3-5, 1-3 Mid-American Conference) are now on a three-game losing skid.
It started with the seven-overtime marathon against Western Michigan and continued through last week when they fell to the Miami (OH) RedHawks 24-14. Injuries have been a huge issue for the Bulls causing freshman quarterback Kyle Vantrease to make his first start last week.
There are questions about who will start this week against the Akron Zips (4-4, 3-1 MAC). Head coach Lance Leipold said the team is the same position as last week and junior Drew Anderson will start if he’s ready, otherwise Vantrease will make his second start. Here is The Spectrum’s pre-game analysis.
Pass offense: Akron
Buffalo has managed to stay competitive with the pass offense no matter who is under center. Anderson’s status wasn’t clear in Tuesday’s press conference. Assuming Vantrease is starting this week, Saturday will be a big test.
Akron has a much more settled situation. Senior Thomas Woodson has experience that includes a few starts from his freshman year for the Zips. Although he hasn’t been perfect, his experience should allow him to outplay Vantrease.
Buffalo has the better pass catching unit. Junior Anthony Johnson is hands down the best receiver in this game and has more than double the yards of any Akron receiver. Akron has a deeper unit, but when Buffalo sophomore K.J. Osborn or senior Kamathi Holsey are in a groove, they are as good as anyone on Akron. Both teams have failed to get the tight ends thoroughly involved in the pass game.
The Zips take the edge in pass offense because of the amount of experience Woodson has. Vantrease hasn’t had the time to develop as much chemistry with his receivers.
Rush offense: Buffalo
Neither team posts an impressive run offense. Both teams are bottom-five in the MAC in rushing yards, though the Bulls rank fourth in rushing touchdowns. The problem is that out of UB’s 12 touchdowns, six came from players who will likely not see the field Sunday. Leipold confirmed Tuesday that junior running back Johnathan Hawkins is out for the rest of the year.
Redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Reed has taken up the bulk of the workload since Hawkins went down. He has almost 500 yards on the year and five touchdowns. But he picked up 371 of those yards during a three-game span, and only has 111 yards in the three games since.
The Zips are working with a running back by committee. Senior Warren Ball led the way for the first four weeks but suffered from a knee injury in week five. The team has had lower rushing numbers every week since the Bowling Green game that injured Ball.
Buffalo has a slight edge in this matchup. Reed is better than Morgan and Edwards and I think Saturday will allow Reed to get back into a rhythm.
Pass defense: Buffalo
This might be the most clear cut matchup in the game. Buffalo’s pass defense has been great this season and is probably the strongest part of the team. The injury to junior cornerback Cameron Lewis doesn’t help, but juniors Brandon Williams and Tatum Slack should be able to handle Akron.
Buffalo ranks second in the MAC in pass defense while Akron ranks second to last. They are allowing almost 80 more yards per game and have given up four more touchdowns on the year. The Zips have an advantage in interceptions and have double the amount of interceptions of the Bulls.
Despite Buffalo not causing as many turnovers, they have the better pass defense. They should make it a tough day for Woodson.
Rush defense: Akron
Neither teams’ defense excels in the run game. Both teams are bottom-four in the MAC against the run. Akron has 33.5 less rushing yards allowed per game and five less touchdowns allowed than Buffalo.
Both teams are led by dominant linebackers. The Bulls have junior linebacker Khalil Hodge who currently leads the nation in tackles per game. The Zips have junior linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III who is second in the MAC in tackles per game. Hodge is better, but the problem is that the rest of Buffalo hasn’t matched his level.
Buffalo’s run defense has cost them games and I think that will make it harder on Saturday’s offense. Both teams will enter Saturday with a chance to get their run games on track against porous run defenses.
Akron gets the edge here but only slightly.
Final pick: Buffalo
I believe this game will go Buffalo’s way, even with their quarterback issues. Reed should be able to get back over 100 yards for the first time in four games. His success will open everything up and help Vantrease. If Vantrease can increase his efficiency, this is a very winnable game.
Last season, Buffalo’s only MAC win came against Akron. This year, they should be able to beat the Zips for their second MAC win.
Daniel Petruccelli is the Co-Senior sports editor and can be reached email@example.com