by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page
Each week, Voice of Bulls Football Paul Peck will preview the upcoming game.
Buffalo (4-1, 1-0) vs. Central Michigan (1-4, 0-1)
It’s #MACtion the rest of the way for the Bulls. The non-conference part of the schedule is over. They are the only Mid-American Conference team that went 3-1 against outside opponents. That’s generally rare for MAC teams, based on who they usually schedule. So there is no reason for any Bulls fans to be disappointed about where they are.
The Army game was a disappointment, especially to the fifth-largest crowd in UB Stadium history. To me, Army and their triple-option offense and the way the Black Knights play is such an outlier that it can be quickly forgotten. As Bulls radio color analyst Scott Wilson says, “take the game tapes and shoot them into the sun.”
So now the focus can shift to the goal that remains: Win the MAC East and play for the MAC Championship in Detroit. The next seven weeks, against similar MAC foes, will tell that story. Based on what we’ve seen in the first five games, the Bulls are well positioned for those goals to be reached.
Bull Session Trivia: This is only the third time the Bulls have played in Mt. Pleasant. The first time was 2008. That game featured a combined five UB & CMU players who are still playing professional football. Can you name the three Bulls & two Chippewas who, 10 years later, continue to earn paychecks playing football?
Bullseye On: Buffalo Offense
We talked so much about Army’s offense, we sometimes forget how it affected UB’s offense. Because each possession is so critical, there seemed to be some pressing by the Bulls offensive unit. That led to the mistakes and penalties that were critical in the loss. That won’t be the case this week, although Central Michigan’s very good defense will be a challenge…Tyree Jackson is going home, or at least as close as he’ll get this season. Muskegon, MI is two hours away from Mount Pleasant. With no more chances to play at Western Michigan, this is the game that should draw plenty of #3 wearing Bulls fans…Tyree will have to shake off a rare poor game. It’s hard to blame him for throwing deep as many times as he did, based on big play success the first four games. But he likely spent time this week with the coaches making sure he sees the whole field…Jackson’s 16 TD passes rank 5th in the NCAA. He’s thrown 25 TD passes in his last seven games…If you take an All-American receiver out of the lineup, it will affect your passing attack. Anthony Johnson was in for less than 10 plays against Army, as he nursed his hamstring injury. That allowed Army to play a different kind of coverage, take more chances and focus their attention on K.J. Osborn. Johnson’s status for this week will be a key to the game…Osborn continues to be amazing once he catches the ball. His footwork on the 53 yard screen pass TD was incredible. Osborn leads the MAC in touchdown catches, and ranks 5th in the NCAA…Osborn, Johnson and Charlie Jones are all averaging over 17 yards per catch, as the Bulls have scored 11 touchdowns of more than 22 yards…The Bulls have outscored opponents 61-10 in the first quarter…Central Michigan’s defense ranks first in the MAC, and first against the pass. That’s come against some tough opponents like Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas and Northern Illinois. The strength of the defense is the secondary, especially their cornerbacks. Sean Bunting and Xavier Crawford are physical, and play mostly man-to-man. The matchup with them and the UB receiver corps will be fun to watch…The Chippewas are only giving up 149 yards passing per game. That ranks 6th in the NCAA…The real leader of the defense is linebacker Malik Fountain. He had 15 tackles against Michigan State this past Saturday…Up front, defensive end Mike Danna is a terrific pass rusher who had four sacks against Maine. DT Nathan Brisson-Fast is aptly named. His quickness puts him 5th in the MAC in tackles for loss…As good as they are against the pass, the Chippewas are allowing 187 yards per game on the ground. Four backs have gone over 100 yards in a game this season.
Bullet Points: 24.3. That’s what WR Charlie Jones is averaging per catch. He’s got 9 receptions for 219 yards and 3 TD. Jones is one catch shy of qualifying for the NCAA rankings. If he did, Jones 24.3-yard average would rank 2nd in the country.
Bullseye On: Buffalo Defense
No more triple option! That’s a wish, and thankfully, a reality. It is such a challenge for any defense to stop. As Khalil Hodge said after the game, you have to forget everything you know about playing football for one week just to try and stop that. The Bulls run defense did a pretty good job, “holding” the Black Knights to 281 yards, 33 yards under their average…Now, the Bulls can go back to what they’re done well in the first four games. That’s rush the passer, and create turnovers. The UB defense is ranked 4th in the MAC, and is holding opponents to less than four yards per carry. They rank 23rd in the NCAA in turnovers gained, 20th in red zone defense and 34th in total defense…Chuck Harris did get credited for a sack against Army. It came on an intentional grounding play, and its Chuck’s 8th sack in his last 8th game. He continues to lead the MAC…James Patterson had a career-high 11 tackles. Joey Banks had a career-high nine tackles…With cornerbacks Cam Lewis and Devon Russell out, Aapri Washington and Roy Baker played extensively. Both showed that they can be counted on as key reserves and future starters…As good as CMU’s defense is, that’s how much their offense has struggled. They are last in the MAC in points scored, yardage and third downs. They are second-last in passing and rushing…A lot of that has to do with a change at quarterback. Tony Poljan started the first three games, and struggled. Tommy Lazzaro has taken over. He’s more athletic, is a better runner and makes quicker decisions. But he has taken seven sacks in his three games…RB Jonathan Ward is one of the MAC’s best. Last year, he ran for 1019 yards and caught 48 passes for 470 yards. But this year, through five games, he has just 182 yards and is averaging three yards per carry. Why? Folks in Mount Pleasant say that the lack of a passing attack has allowed defenses to stack the box with eight or nine defenders to stop Ward. They have also faced the nation’s #1 FBS run defense (Michigan State) and the #2 FCS run defense (Maine)…The Chippewas lost their top three receivers to graduation, so their wideout group is new. Julian Hicks leads with 14 catches, and he’s emerging as the top target…Central Michigan is one of the few teams that lists a fullback as a starter. Hunter Buczkowski is essentially an extra offensive lineman. He has no catches or runs this season.
Bullseye On: Middle Linebackers
This game features two of the best linebackers in the MAC. Both are classic middle linebacker tackling machines. UB’s Khalil Hodge leads the MAC with 67 tackles. That ranks third in the NCAA. Hodge had a career-high 20 tackles against Army, and is now tied for 6th on UB’s all-time tackle list.
Central Michigan’s Malik Fountain is second in the conference with 62 tackles. That’s 8th in the country. He had 18 tackles against Northern Illinois a few weeks ago.
Fountain was first team All-MAC in 2016, second team last year. Hodge was second team All-MAC in 2016 and first team last year. This head-to-head battle may determine who gets the first time honor this year. Both will also be in the running for MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Bull Session Trivia Answer: Drew Willy, Naaman Roosevelt & Ernest Jackson are the Bulls from that 2008 UB-CMU game who are still playing pro football. All three are in the CFL. Superstar Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Lions fullback Nick Bellore are both playing in the NFL.
Please join me, color analyst Scott Wilson, game host Brad Riter and postgame host Bob Gaughan for the broadcast on the Bulls Football Network. Our pregame show starts at 11:00am. You can hear it in Buffalo on ESPN 1520 and in Rochester on Fox Sports 1280. A link to the online broadcast is also available here and on the Tune In app.