Bulls go Bowling

Bulls look to conquer Troy Trojans in the Dollar General Bowl

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The Bulls play in the Dollar General Bowl on Dec. 22 against the Troy Trojans. The game takes place in Mobile, Alabama at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It is Buffalo’s first bowl game since 2013.

The Bulls (10-3, 7-1 Mid-American Conference) earned the right to play in the Dollar General Bowl after reaching a program record for regular season wins and an appearance in the MAC title game. Buffalo has one of the best offenses in the country, with multiple playmakers that should lead it to their first-ever bowl victory.

At quarterback, junior Tyree Jackson has been one of the best to lace it up this season.  Jackson completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,857 yards, while starting every game for the first time in his career. He was named the MAC offensive player of the year while breaking the school record for most touchdowns in a season with 32.

Redshirt-sophomore Sawyer Smith started all 12 games for Troy (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt) amassing just 1,349 yards. Smith is not utilized in Troy’s offense. The Trojans run the ball the majority of the game and Smith is not a mobile quarterback, having less than 200 yards rushing.

The Bulls struggled against mobile quarterbacks all season. Ohio’s Nathan Rourke and Northern Illinois’ Marcus Childers burned the Bulls defense with their ability to run. With Smith remaining in the pocket, it puts less pressure on Buffalo linebackers senior Khalil Hodge and freshman James Patterson to seal the edge.

Both teams boast impressive running attacks. The Bulls have had a freshman running back score in every game this season between Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks. Buffalo averages 195 yards on the ground and had 142 against Northern Illinois’ top-ranked MAC run defense in their most recent game. Troy allows 130 yards per game.

The Trojans can destroy teams on the ground. They are a top team in the country, averaging nearly 180 yards each week. Sophomore B.J. Smith rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 5.5 yards per carry was more than any Bull this season.

The ground game is where Buffalo has got itself into trouble this season. The Bulls run defense has struggled, allowing 164.8 yards. Senior defensive end Chuck Harris has missed games since suffering a neck injury and the Buffalo pass rush has been crippled. Harris led the Bulls with sacks this season and was top five in the NCAA before his injury. Sophomore Taylor Riggins has stepped up in place but cannot replace his impact.

The Bulls’ secondary failed to adjust to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game but will have an easier time against Troy. Trojan junior quarterback Kaleb Barker only played in six games this season before an injury ended it. Smith cannot play at the level Barker can.

Buffalo will not be able to control Troy through the air. Senior wide receiver Anthony Johnson re-aggravated a leg injury in the MAC title game and was seen in a walking boot after the game. Before the injury, Johnson had two touchdowns and was on his way to one of the best performances of his career.

The Bulls will have All-MAC team selections junior wide receiver K.J. Osborn and junior tight end Tyler Mabry to pick up what is lost with Johnson potentially not playing.

Head coach Lance Leipold needs to abandon field goal attempts and kicking in general. The Bulls have not had a reliable kicking game all season with struggles from both freshman kicker Alex McNulty and senior Adam Mitcheson. If Buffalo can convert two-point attempts and keep fourth downs to short yardage, they will win.

Nathaniel Mendelson is the sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson