UB Bulls face Bowling Green: Who has the edge?

image_54dcd1a3ea81f

The football team (2-2) takes on one of the more consistent teams in the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green (2-2), at UB Stadium on Saturday.

The Falcons seem to always have the edge over the Bulls, whether it was last season’s heartbreaking 36-35 Buffalo loss or two years ago when they defeated the Bulls in what was an essentially a MAC East Championship game.

Here’s who The Spectrum thinks has the edge at every position.

Quarterbacks: Bowling Green

Senior Joe Licata has played admirably through non-conference play, but he hasn’t lived quite up to the quarterback we know he can be. His 338-yard passing performance that ended with an interception last week is the best way to define his season thus far.

But Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson has been one of the best quarterbacks in the entire nation this season. Yes, the nation. Johnson leads the country in passing yards and has passed for more than 400 yards in all four of his games this season. The Falcons’ pass-heavy offense could very well expose the remaining holes in the Bulls secondary.

Running backs: Buffalo

To much surprise, the Falcon’s offense isn’t fueled solely by the passing game. In fact, Bowling Green runs on 40 percent of its offensive plays this season.

The Falcons, like Buffalo, have two elusive running backs in their backfield in Travis Greene and Fred Coppet. They proved their worth to the Falcons as they pounded in four scores in their 35-28 victory against Purdue last week.

But Buffalo’s backs have also been on a tear this season. Senior Anthone Taylor and junior Jordan Johnson already combined for 618 yards on the season and picked up the offensive slack when Licata had a down day. The Falcons’ defensive line is stingy, but not too overbearing to handle.

Wide receivers and tight ends: Bowling Green

What’s a star quarterback without star role players?

Bowling Green features a trio of veteran receivers who bring multiple assets to the field. Ronnie Moore hasn’t had a catch-less game since 2013, and is second on the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (312).

But their biggest asset this season has been sophomore Roger Lewis, who has been on an absolute tear so far. He leads the team in every receiving category, including receptions, yards per catch, receiving yards and touchdowns.

Buffalo isn’t slacking in this department either with its elusive mix of veterans, newcomers and the reigning tight end of the week Matt Weiser. But in the end, Bowling Green’s Johnson has more effective weapons.

Offensive line: Bowling Green

Buffalo’s line has been making strides in getting better, but the unit isn’t there yet. Although the Bulls allowed only two sacks last week, there was a Nevada player in the backfield for most passing plays. There wasn’t going to be enough time for Licata to be productive, even on his best days.

Defensive line: Bowling Green

While Buffalo’s ‘D’ line is still growing, Bowling Green’s is well on its way to becoming the best unit in the MAC.

The Falcon front four allowed less than 80 rushing yards on 38 attempts to Purdue, a Big Ten Conference school, last Saturday. They play with force and clog running lanes – a possible downfall for a team like Buffalo.

Bowling Green also recorded eight tackles for losses and four sacks in the dominating performance last week. Expect more of that.

Linebackers: Buffalo

Bowling Green may possess the best linebacker in Saturday’s game, but they are certainly not the best unit on the field.

The Falcon’s Austin Valdez has 47 tackles through the first four games of the season – good enough for first in the MAC and fourth in the country. But he’s only one piece of a unit.

Buffalo has three impressive linebackers, all of whom contributed with gusto during the non-conference schedule. Seniors Nick Gilbo and Okezie Alozie, as well as junior Brandon Berry have formed an unlikely unit, but it’s worked so far and it should Saturday.

Defensive backs: Buffalo

Junior Boise Ross has developed into one of the best cornerbacks in the conference and maybe the nation with the outrageous stats he’s been putting up this year. His 10 pass breakups lead the nation and he already have two interceptions on the year.

Newcomers Ryan Williamson and Andrews Dadeboe and veteran Marqus Baker have solidified a once-questioned secondary. Saturday will be a true test to see how well they’ve improved.

Special teams: Buffalo

Senior punter Tyler Grassman and freshman placekicker Adam Mitcheson have been nothing short of phenomenal this season for Buffalo.

Grassman continues to turn heads with his long and accurate punts. It was clearly evident last week as three of his five punts landed inside the 20-yard line, two within the 10. Mitcheson is 4-of-6 this season and made both of his field goals in the last matchup against Nevada.

Coaching: Bowling Green

It’s a rookie-veteran matchup. And this time, the veteran knows best.

Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers runs a fast-paced system, even faster than Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold’s touted fast offense. Babers and the Falcons ran nearly 90 offensive plays last week and there is no sign of slowing down.

Babers also knows how to mix up his play calling. Even with a weapon like Johnson, he still manages to run the ball 40 percent of the time. Leipold, in his first taste of MAC play, will hold his own, but the veteran will have the advantage this time.

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