November is here in the Mid-American Conference, and that means midweek games. The Bulls and Bobcats had the weekend off and so did this preview article.
What does this game mean for both programs? The Bulls enter this contest at 3-5 and still in transition after a change at head coach. The Bobcats come into this game limping at 4-5 and finally get a bye week after this week. Both teams have hopes of running the table and getting to bowl eligibility. Both squads could win or lose out, but it all starts with this week, where Ohio is currently a three-point favorite at home.
The bye week is coming late, but better than never, for a a very young Bobcat team that has bee crippled (see what I did there) with injuries. That bye though, won't come until after Buffalo. Coming into the season Ohio lost eight starters from 2013 on the offensive side of the ball alone. Add a slew of injuries and a young team became even younger with newcomers pressed into action.
Coach Solich has eased the practices and provided time off to his players, but one of the biggest injuries he's got to overcome is at the QB position. Solich named Derrius Vick the starting QB heading into the season, redshirt sophomore JD Sprage has been forced into action.
"He'll (Vick) start going into Buffalo, but in saying that, he has to show that he's at 100 percent and performing very, very well."
-Ohio Bobcats Head Coach Frank Solich
The Ohio offense is averaging under 20 points per game and this game will feature a bad cliche: a movable object versus a stoppable force.
UB has struggled all season against FCS offenses except for last game's surprise, where the Bulls held CMU to only 20 points. CMU is averaging over 30 points per game and just dropped 38 on EMU this past Saturday. Can the Bulls have consecutive solid games on defense? Before Vick was injured against Eastern Illinois, he looked very dangerous. My feeling and prediction is that the Bulls have upper hand when Ohio has the ball. Slightly.
What about when Buffalo has the ball?
Coming into the Ohio game, the swag that was Joe Licata has taken a noticeable dip from the start of the season. This game will show exactly what Buffalo has in Licata, more than midway through his junior year. The teeth of the Ohio defense was to be the secondary, but MAC preseason darling CB Devin Bass has not only struggled but has been exploited by the deep ball, leading to Ohio giving up close to 300 yards passing per game.
The Bulls have had their share of injuries but the extra time in this faux-bye week should help the Blue and White. Licata should have his full complement of offensive weapons back. This game looks to rest on Joe's shoulder but we have seen Joe struggle to match the expectations many placed on the junior in his third year starting.
Buffalo running back Jordan Johnson did return from IR against CMU, but the running game was all but useless against the Chips. With the one-two punch of Taylor and Johnson, can the Bulls get the running game back on track? If Joe struggles, it will be paramount.
Way back in the season opener the Bobcats defensive line was an overwhelming force on Kent's O-line. Since then, the front four have struggled to get to the QB. This may be just what Licata needs: Give Joe time to work while trying to contain the deep stable of receiving options, and this game could be a struggle for Ohio.
The Bobcats have seen success on the ground themselves with bruising runner A.J. Ouellette, but the strength of the Bulls defense is against the run, especially after changes to the D-line against CMU. I see Ohio struggling to gain big chunks of yards on the ground.
Who is the best player on the Bobcats? It could be their punter, Mitch Bonnstetter. In the loss to WMU, the JUCO transfer averaged 47 yards per kick. With UB lacking any punt return threat or even the willingness to fair catch and prevent a long roll, you have to give a huge nod to Ohio in the field position game.
I see the Bulls being more successful on offense and defense but struggling on special teams. On our weekly Last Bull In videocast, my BRuWPEG score prediction was UB winning 24 - 13. Catch everyone else's picks and make your own at the BRuWPEG - Ohio post. For our editors' picks, go watch the Last Bull In Live Bulls Show to see the reasoning that split us 50-50 on this game.