UB Bulls must play the first half the way they do the second to defeat the beatable Central Michigan

I didn’t have much faith in the football team in the first half of Mid-American Conference play.

I predicted a measly 1-3 with the first win coming against a weak Kent State squad on Nov. 5. Buffalo already has one loss on its plate and will travel to play the East-leading Ohio Bobcats next week.

But Saturday poses an intriguing opportunity for the Bulls (2-3, 0-1 MAC). Central Michigan grabs the hype as the better all-around team, but the Chips are favored for its strength of schedule (SOS).

The Chippewas might receive the hype, but it’s a much closer matchup than one might imagine. Buffalo has had its fair share of quality surprises this season and Central Michigan’s SOS looks dangerous on the surface.

It’s a very winnable game for the Bulls.

They just have to play for all 60 minutes.

Buffalo needs to finally show up in the first half and sustain its second half surge.

Central Michigan and Buffalo aren’t too far off. They both rank in the top-5 in defensive scoring and Buffalo even outscores the Chips by nearly four points. Both teams have impressive pass defenses, weak run defenses, and high-volume passing games.

The edge may lie in the schedule. Central Michigan lost to Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Michigan State, one of the top teams in the nation. Those are no slouch names.

But Syracuse’s program has been slowly deteriorating since the days of Donovan McNabb. The Cowboys miss the glory days with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Michigan State is the only name that deserves recognition this year, as they could make the College Football Playoff.

It shouldn’t scare the Bulls.

Buffalo is statistically one of the best second-half teams in the MAC. The Bulls possess a +39 point scoring differential, 34 of which coming in the last three games. Buffalo won the second half battle in every game except to Penn State in Week 2. And even that matchup was only a 3-point differential.

So the 2-3 record doesn’t exactly add up.

That tells me one thing: it takes Buffalo too long to find its groove. Of course, it’s great to finish strong, but starting strong is just as important.

That’s Buffalo’s problem.

The Bulls have a -20 scoring difference in the first half this season and haven’t outscored their opponents in that frame since the opener against Albany. It doesn’t help that Buffalo is coming off a failed comeback attempt after a 15-point deficit in the first half against Bowling Green two weeks ago.

It’s never easy to come from behind to take a victory, and Buffalo was only successful once after a scintillating second-half performance against Florida Atlantic. But three unsuccessful attempts should be a call for concern.

It’s much easier said than done to keep the score at bay during the first half, especially for a team that has such a problem getting hot early on. But to pull out the victory, success must begin in the first half. And a main way to do so would be to expose the Chippewas’ holes early and continue to exploit them.

Their weakest part: their defensive line. One of Buffalo’s strongest factors is its running game. Senior Anthone Taylor is third in the MAC with over 94 yards rushing per game and junior Jordan Johnson is finally becoming a proven asset in that backfield after a down season.

Head coach Lance Leipold made some questionable choices in coaching last game, but his first move would be to run the ball more than pass to it. Tire out the Central Michigan front four and keep that momentum moving toward the second half.

In the passing game, senior Joe Licata has to take some risks. Central Michigan has a conference-worst three interceptions. Take a chance with the big-time receiving core.

And of course, the defense must stay focused. It’s going to be a long game. A big play shouldn’t snowball into another one. Keep the damage as small as possible to let the offense put points on the board. I expect a great football game that will go down to the wire.

The winner of Saturday’s game will be who wants it more by minute 60.

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