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The Ohio Bobcats (5-0, 1-0 MAC) will welcome the University of Buffalo Bulls (1-3, 0-1 MAC) to Athens this Saturday for the noon kickoff of Ohio’s first MAC home game of the season.
The Bobcats are 5-0 for the first time since 1968. They are the only undefeated team left in the MAC and one of 22 left in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Buffalo is coming off a 24-17 loss at Connecticut, while Ohio barely edged out Massachusetts 37-34.
“Every team in the MAC has an identity, and theirs is toughness,” said Ohio head coach Frank Solich about Buffalo.
Buffalo defeated Ohio 38-37 last year at Buffalo’s UB Stadium. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw for 203 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the game.
Ohio was down 38-34 with 5:45 remaining in last year’s game. The Bobcats’ Matt Weller hit a 46-yard field goal to shrink the Buffalo lead down to 38-37. The Bobcats had a final chance on offense to win the game, but Buffalo’s defense put the game away by sacking Tettleton on fourth down with less than two minutes left.
This season, the Bulls are led by their defense. Buffalo ranks fourth in the nation in sacks, averaging 4.25 a game. The Bulls have 17 sacks this season, which is already more than last season’s total of 16. Sophomore linebacker Lee Skinner had a career-high 13 tackles and a sack for the Bulls against UConn.
The defense is led by 6-foot-3, 244 pound junior linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack leads the nation in tackles for loss with 11 and is tied for second in the nation in sacks with 4.5. He has recorded a tackle for loss in 22 of 27 career games as a Bull. The star linebacker is fresh off setting a school record for forced fumbles and earning a MAC East Defensive Player of the Week award.
Buffalo quarterback Alex Zordich has a 48.5 completion percentage this year and has passed for 697 yards and seven TDs. He has thrown four interceptions and has a 124.4 passer rating on the season. He played extremely well in the Bulls’ game against Morgan State as he went 16 for 21 for 237 yards and four touchdowns.
Buffalo has a good running back in Branden Oliver, who did not play last week against UConn because of a leg injury he suffered during his 77-yard performance against Kent State. Oliver rushed for 111 yards on the Georgia Bulldogs’ stout SEC defense in week one and then proceeded to rush for 238 yards against Morgan State. Oliver is day-to-day as of now and could possibly play for the Bulls against Ohio.
Buffalo running backs Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell filled in well for Oliver last week. The two combined for 164 yards of total offense and two touchdowns against a UConn defense that hadn’t allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards all season.
Since joining the MAC, Buffalo is 1-6 at Peden Stadium; its last win came in 2008. Since being hired on Dec. 22, 2009 Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn has only won one MAC road game, his last road win in the MAC came on Oct. 2, 2010 at Bowling Green.
Ohio nearly lost a MAC game on the road of its own last week. The Bobcats narrowly escaped the Massachusetts Minutemen at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Ohio pulled out a 37-34 victory behind the ever-churning legs of Ohio running back Beau Blankenship. He rushed 43 times for 269 yards and two touchdowns against UMass. Blankenship tied former Ohio running back Bill Gary for the most carries in a game by an Ohio player with the performance.
Blankenship’s workload has been heavy this year. Fellow Ohio running back Ryan Boykin has been nursing a hamstring all season and as a result, Blankenship is averaging 31.2 carries a game.
Boykin will likely see some action against Buffalo. In his weekly press conference on Monday, Ohio head coach Frank Solich addressed Boykin’s status.
“Boykin should be 100 percent healthy. It’s the first time he’s been that way since he had the hamstring injury very early on,” said Solich. “I think Ryan is a very, very good running back. We’ll, I think, utilize him this week.”
Although Boykin will be back, Blankenship should still see ample carries against the Bulls. According to Solich, Blankenship “doesn’t really want relief.”
Tettleton has been hindered by an undisclosed abdominal injury since the Marshall game. He did not play in the Norfolk State game and was noticeably cautious in the UMass game as he dodged hits and avoided contact throughout the contest
Yet, Solich expects Tettleton to be healthy for the Buffalo game.
“We think we got him through last game without re-aggravating the injury, and that was huge for us,” said Solich. “Right now, I believe he’s over it … he has a shot at going into this next game at 100 percent.”
Ohio’s depleted and young secondary got unexpectedly torched by UMass’ freshman QB Mike Wegzyn, he threw for 373 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Bobcats.
“It was disappointing in terms of how we handled the passing game last week, so that’s going to have to improve,” said Solich.
The Bobcats will need to do just that against Buffalo in order to avenge its loss against the Bulls last year in New York, even if Solich says revenge is not on Ohio’s radar.
“[Revenge] has kind of come and gone, we’ve got goals … So we don’t try to work on getting revenge from last year, or any type of revenge, we just look at trying to get football games won, week after week,” said Solich.
There are two big variables in the game. Ohio safety Gerald Moore is questionable; his absence would be a big blow to the Ohio secondary that is already weak. Buffalo’s Oliver is a dynamic running back, he is still day-to-day, but if he plays Buffalo will be dangerous on the ground.
A good matchup to watch should be Buffalo's explosive linebackers against Ohio's experienced offensive line. The Bobcats' line has been extremely impressive this year, they have done a great job of protecting the quarterback and opening up holes for Blankenship. However, Buffalo's defense ranks fourth in the nation in sacks per game, so something will have to give.
The Bobcats showed that their secondary is vulnerable last week. Buffalo’s Zordich has the skills to do some damage, but the Bulls have proven to be dismal on the road in MAC play. Defense will be key for both teams in the game.