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Game 11 preview: Buffalo Bulls

November 17, 2010

This weekend, in what we all acknowledge is the final winnable football game for EMU, the Eagles head to Amherst, New York, to take on the University at Buffalo. Yes, that’s right. It’s the University at Buffalo, not “of” Buffalo, because the full name is the State University of New York at Buffalo. And, the University at Buffalo Stadium (“UB Stadium”) is not in, at, or of Buffalo, it’s in the neighboring city of Amherst. So, just to make sure you’ve got it straight, EMU will be playing against the State University of New York at Buffalo Bulls in the University at Buffalo Stadium at the Amherst Campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo in Amherst, New York.

I hope you can keep all those prepositions straight, because I don’t think I can.

Record: 2-8 (1-4 MAC).

Recent games: After starting the season 2-3, with the losses coming to Baylor, Connecticut, and UCF, the Bulls’ last five games have not been pretty, though four of the five have been against bowl-bound MAC teams. They lost 45-14 at Northern Illinois, 42-0 to Temple, 21-9 to Miami, 34-17 at Ohio, and 20-3 to Ball State. Adding it up, they’ve been outscored by a whopping 162-43 in their last five games. For comparison, EMU has been outscored 225-105 in their last five games, two of which were against AQ-conference teams.

Quality wins: None this year. They opened the season with a 31-0 win over the FCS Rhode Island Rams (4-6), and also managed to eke out a 28-26 win at Bowling Green (2-8) when the Falcons’ Brian Wright missed a 40-yard field goal attempt as time expired. The Bulls’ most recent quality win was almost as long ago as EMU’s last — just one week later; on December 5, 2008, the Bulls defeated then the then #12 team, the 12-0 Ball State Cardinals, by a whopping 42-24, to win the 2008 MAC Championship.

Embarrassing losses: Like EMU, there are plenty to chose from. There’s the 45-21 loss to Connecticut. There’s the 42-0 home shut-out to Temple. But the worst might have been just last weekend, when the Bulls lost at home, 20-3, to Ball State. The same Ball State team that couldn’t beat EMU or Liberty earlier this season.

Last meeting: Being in opposite divisions in the MAC, these teams haven’t played in nearly five years (it will be five years on Friday). EMU won the last meeting, on November 19, 2005, in Amherst, by a decisive 38-14 score. Éric Deslauriers set new EMU career records with his 21st and 22nd touchdown catches, and EMU never trailed.

All-time series: EMU and Buffalo have only played three times, and believe it or not, the Bulls have never beaten the Eagles. They played for the first time in October 2001, with EMU winning in Ypsilanti 24-20. In September 2004, EMU won another close game, 37-34. Then came the aforementioned 38-14 win at UB Stadium.

Coach: Jeff Quinn, in his first year as a head coach, can best be described as a Brian Kelly disciple. In college he played on the offensive line — he was a Division III third-team All-American — and wrestled, winning two CCIW championships. In the mid-1980s he was an assistant at DePauw University and later Ohio Northern University, before joining Kelly’s staff at Grand Valley State in 1989. For the next 21 years he worked as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Kelly, moving with him from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan to Cincinnati. As a result, Quinn had the unusual experience that his first two games as a head coach were both bowl games; he coached Central Michigan in the 2006 Motor City Bowl (beating Middle Tennessee 31-14) after Kelly had departed for Cincinnati, and he coached Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl (losing 51-24 to Florida) after Kelly had already left for Notre Dame.

Offense: The Bulls are struggling to score, averaging just 12 points per FBS game; by comparison, EMU is averaging 20.4 points per FBS game. In fact, Buffalo ranks dead last in FBS points per game. They run the ball on about 60% of their plays, and their number one running back is redshirt freshman Branden Oliver, who has gained 298 yards on 102 rushes (2.9 yards per carry) but no touchdowns. Others who have seen significant carries this fall include sophomore running back Jeffvon Gill (250 yards on 54 carries; 4.6 yards per carry), sophomore quarterback Jerry Davis (210 yards on 86 carries; 2.6 yards per carry), true freshman quarterback Alex Zordich (150 yards on 62 carries; 2.4 yards per carry). Of Buffalo’s four top rushers, only Zordich has made it into the end zone (twice).

Turning to the Buffalo passing game, Jeff Quinn has had difficulty settling on a starting quarterback. Sophomore Jerry Davis won the offseason competition for the starting spot, but after the loss to Northern Illinois he was benched in favor of true freshman Alex Zordich. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Zordich wasn’t much of an improvement, posting — if Yahoo! Sports is to be believed — quarterback ratings of 13.5, 69, 22, and 2.8 in his four starts, throwing one touchdown and six interceptions. Late in the first quarter of the Ball State game last Friday, Zordich was hit hard during a run, and he suffered a broken rib which has ended his season. So Davis is expected to start against EMU this Saturday.

For the season, Jerry Davis has a 53.9 quarterback rating, completing 103 of 232 (44.4%) for 1263 yards (5.4 yards per attempt), 12 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Those numbers are bolstered by the game against Rhode Island; subtracting that out to look only at FBS games, he has completed 82 of 197 (41.6%) for 961 yards (4.9 yards per attempt), 8 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, dropping his rating to 43.1. Yikes!

Top receivers for the season include junior wide receiver Marcus Rivers (44 catches for 617 yards and 4 touchdowns), junior wide receiver Terrell Jackson (42 catches for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns), redshirt freshman wide receiver Alex Neutz (14 catches for 214 yards  and 2 touchdowns), and junior wide receiver Ed Young (12 catches for 135 yards and 4 touchdowns). No one else has more than 7 catches, more than 95 yards, or any touchdowns for the Bulls.

Defense: Buffalo’s defense is the third-best in the MAC in yards per game, but ninth in points per game. Their defensive statistics remind me a little of where EMU’s defense was last year. They appear to have a good passing defense, but that may be partly because teams are running the ball against them so much; 58% of their opponents’ plays have been runs. All in all, they’ve got a fairly average MAC defense, not bad, but not necessarily better than Western Michigan or Ball State.

Keys to watch:

  • Does EMU’s bad defense give Buffalo’s struggling offense a chance to get going?
  • Can EMU’s offense avoid the turnovers and failed 3rd downs that have plagued them for much of the season?

Predictions: The spread favors Buffalo by about 7 points, but I think that’s based partly on past performance of the teams: Buffalo won the MAC in 2008, and EMU was winless in 2009. Looking at 2010 performances, I don’t see how Buffalo can win by more than about 3 or 4 points, and I’d definitely take EMU +7 for this game. Even with Zordich the Bulls offense was weak, and without him they’ve got nothing. EMU clearly has the more potent offense, but also the weaker defense. I’ll predict a 65% chance that EMU wins, with a likely final score of about 24-17.

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