UB Bulls vs. Northern Illinois: Who has the edge?

The Spectrum’s scouting report as the Bulls take on the Huskies

The Buffalo football team (5-4, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) enters Wednesday night’s game at UB Stadium looking to become bowl eligible for just the third time since the program rejoined Division I in 1999.

But the Bulls will face the reigning MAC Champs, Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1 MAC), which also knocked off formerly unbeaten No. 24 Toledo (7-1, 4-1 MAC) two weeks ago.

The Spectrum has your scouting report on who has the edge in Wednesday’s matchup.

Quarterback: Draw

It’s about a dead heat between the two quarterbacks.

After a so-so start in head coach Lance Leipold’s offense, senior quarterback Joe Licata has thrown four touchdowns to two interceptions and completed more than 63 percent of his passes over the past three games. No coincidence – all three games have been Buffalo wins. On the season, Licata has 12 touchdown passes, eight interceptions and 2066 passing yards.

On the other side, Huskies’ junior quarterback Drew Hare has put together a similar season, completing 63 percent of his passes, 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions and has also been a threat to run.

Running back: Northern Illinois

The Huskies have the best running back in this game, even with Buffalo’s dangerous 1-2 combo.

Northern Illinois junior Joel Bouagnon has been one of the better running backs in the country, running for 949 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. Behind him, sophomore Jordan Huff has made the most of his carries, running for 388 yards and five touchdowns at 7.3 yards per carry in a reserve role.

Buffalo’s two-man rushing attack of senior Anthone Taylor and junior Jordan Johnson is solid and the lynchpin of the Buffalo offense, with both backs having run for more than 600 yards this season, but the combination of Bouganon and Huff has been better.

Wide receivers and tight ends: Buffalo

The Bulls enter the game with the better players on the outside. Senior tight end Matt Weiser has been a reliable target for Licata this season with 45 receptions on the season. On the outside, senior receivers Ron Willoughby (40 catches) and Marcus McGill (33 catches) have provided Licata with a trio of skill players, capable of taking over any game.

Northern Illinois has the top receiver in junior Kenny Galloday, who leads the Huskies with 801 yards and five touchdown receptions. But there’s more of a drop off in production after that, such as Huskies’ senior tight end, Desroy Maxwell, who has just 14 catches and 130 yards on the season.

We’ll give Buffalo the edge.

Offensive line: Buffalo

The Buffalo offensive line has kept Licata upright for the last three games and the possible return of starting guards Brandon Manosalvas and Dillon Guy should only assist the Bulls in keeping Northern Illinois’ defensive line in check.

Northern Illinois’ offensive line has allowed just 18 sacks on the season, four more than Buffalo on the year. It will be a battle of two decent offensive lines, looking to keep their starting quarterbacks upright and open holes for their talented running backs.

But Buffalo gets the slight edge.

Defensive line: Buffalo

Buffalo’s line has been on fire recently. Junior defensive tackle Brandon Crawford has had a presence in the middle, with 27 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for losses. Young defensive ends like sophomore Demone Harris and freshman Charles Harris have both played well as of late.

Northern Illinois has a line consisting of senior defensive ends Perez Ford and Cameron Clinton-Earl and defensive tackles Corey Thomas, a junior, and William Lee, a sophomore. Buffalo ranks just above the Huskies in both sacks and rushing defense, so the edge goes to the Bulls.

Linebackers: Buffalo

Buffalo has one of the better linebacker groups in the MAC.

Senior linebacker Nick Gilbo is stout in the middle, placing second on the team in tackles with 76 to go with his 3.5 sacks on the season. Senior linebacker Okezie Alozie leads the team in sacks with five, while junior Brandon Berry has a team-leading 80 tackles and nine tackles for losses.

Northern Illinois’ linebackers are led by senior Boomer Mays (62 tackles and one interception), junior Sean Folliard (47 tackles, one sack and one interception) and freshman Renard Cheren (38 tackles and one sack) but Buffalo clearly has the more productive group.

Secondary: Northern Illinois

Huskies sophomore cornerback Shawun Lurry may be the best cornerback in in the country, with seven interceptions and 19 pass deflections on the season with three games still remaining. Alongside Lurry are safeties Marlon Moore, a senior who leads the team with 67 tackles, and sophomore Brandon Mays, who has one interception and five pass deflections.

Buffalo has junior cornerback Boise Ross, who has two interceptions and an impressive 16 pass breakups on the season, and the recent play of sophomore Ryan Williamson has helped stabilize one of Buffalo’s safety positions.

Northern Illinois ranks fourth in the MAC in pass defense, while Buffalo ranks seventh. But the play of Lurry alone is enough to give the Huskies the edge.

Special teams: Buffalo

Senior punter Tyler Grassman was awarded the MAC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second consecutive week. His punting has been stellar as of late, consistently punting the ball inside the 20-yard line and pinning opposition back into deep territory. Throw in freshman kicker Adam Mitcheson, and this may be the most dangerous special teams unit in the conference.

Northern Illinois has a solid duo of sophomore kicker Christian Hagan and junior punter Jacob Ambrose, but we give the edge to Buffalo.

Coaching: Northern Illinois

Leipold has the Division-III accolades, but Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey has quietly put together a very impressive resume over his first three seasons in DeKalb, Illinois.

After taking over for former head coach Dave Doeren in the Orange Bowl during the 2012 season, Carey recorded back-to-back seasons with at least 10 victories and a MAC title in 2014. This year, he already has the Huskies bowl eligible yet again with six wins and looking to repeat as conference champions.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.