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UB eyes MAC East title in matchup with Ohio

RADIO.COM logo RADIO.COM 12/3/2020
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The University at Buffalo football team's 70-41 win over Kent State last weekend put the Bulls in control of their own destiny for the remainder of the 2020 campaign. At 4-0, and with just two games left in this shortened regular season, UB can clinch the Mid-American Conference East Division this upcoming Saturday, if they can get win over the division-rival Ohio Bobcats out in Athens, Ohio.

Sitting at 2-1, Ohio will only play five games in the regular season this year after their matchup with Miami (OH) back on Nov. 17 was canceled. While winning the MAC East is a long shot for the Bobcats, they can still play spoiler (again) for UB.

Last season, Ohio bested the Bulls 21-20 at UB Stadium, dropping Buffalo's conference record to 0-2 at the time. Despite the Bulls' great finish to 2019, that early hole they dug themselves was too deep to get out of and get into the conference championship game. Ohio also handed the Bulls their only regular season MAC loss in 2018, a 52-17 drubbing in Athens that snapped a five-game winning streak for Buffalo.

The win over Kent State last week seemingly avenged the heart-breaking loss UB suffered to the Golden Flashes in 2019, a 30-27 defeat in which the Bulls gave up 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Despite all that's riding on the game for Buffalo (a division title, spot in the MAC Championship game, etc.), one wouldn't be crazy to think the Bulls may also be seeking some revenge again this week.

"As we progress through this year, the margin of error on some things opens yourself up for defeat, but if we can play well and clean things up, we can play with anyone in our league," Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said in his weekly press conference via Zoom on Tuesday. "That (loss last season) kind of fuels the fire as [the players] watch film. But again, you have to focus on who's out there now."

One player who Ohio will obviously have to focus a lot of its attention on is Buffalo's Jaret Patterson. The running back set the college football world ablaze last weekend when he rushed for a school and MAC record 409 yards and eight touchdowns.

The junior's historic performance matched the FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a single game and he was just 18 yards shy of matching the FBS single-game record for rushing yards. In just four games this season, Patterson has accumulated 920 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. As the junior continues to move up the UB record books every game this season he's also begun to even come up in Heisman Trophy conversations.

Ohio boasts the best scoring defense in the MAC this season, giving up an average of just 16.7 points per game (Buffalo ranks second, averaging 24.5 points against per game). However, the Bobcats' rushing defense ranks in the bottom half of the conference, eighth to be exact, averaging 194 yards on the ground against per game. Buffalo's top-ranked run game, which has accounted for 21 touchdowns already this season and averages nearly 324 yards on the ground per game, will likely have to carry the Bulls on Saturday. Buffalo's passing offense, while at times has been solid, hasn't been quite consistent enough this year and could run in to some trouble against Ohio's pass defense, which ranks third in the MAC.

The big matchup to watch for will be the Ohio defense against Buffalo's offensive line. While the unit as a whole has performed well, the Bobcats haven't gotten to the quarterback too often this season, registering just four sacks through three games. That won't bode well for Ohio going up against the Bulls' offensive line that hasn't given up a sack yet in 2020, or in the last eight games dating back to last year.

On the defensive side for the Bulls, they'll need to worry about a dynamic Ohio offense. While not nearly as fast-paced and as high scoring as Kent's unit was last week, the Bobcats can still put up points, averaging 34.3 per game this season.

Quarterback Kurtis Rourke, a redshirt freshman from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, has had a good start to his first full year under center for the Bobcats, throwing for 386 yards and three touchdowns through the first three games. Rourke has reached 100 passing yards in a game only once this season though, throwing for 231 in a 30-27 loss to Central Michigan in the season opener. In the last two games (both victories), Rourke has only thrown for a total of 155 yards.

Similar to Buffalo, Ohio's biggest strength on offense is its rushing attack. De'Montre Tuggle, No. 24, will be the one to watch for in the Bobcats' backfield. The senior has already rushed for 403 yards and six touchdowns this season. Last week, Tuggle ran for a career-high 185 yards and three touchdowns in the Bobcats' 52-10 win over Bowling Green.

Ohio's offense will also face the challenge of having to keep up with Buffalo's offense, which ranks first in the MAC in points per game, averaging 50.8 through four weeks. Despite missing multiple starters each game this season, the UB defense has also played very well.

Since joining the MAC and the FBS in 1999, UB has won the division and played in the conference championship game only twice, 2008 and 2018. The Bulls have only one conference title, 2008. A win on Saturday over Ohio would put Buffalo in a spot it's rarely been in and give the team another chance to play for a conference title in Detroit, Michigan; that's something Jaret Patterson hasn't forgotten about amidst all the hype and attention currently surrounding him and this program.

"Finish strong. Don't let up. Don't let the foot off the gas," Patterson said Tuesday. "Let's finish this thing the right way and let's get to Detroit."

Kickoff between the Bulls and Bobcats from Peden Stadium in Athens, OH is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 5. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. You can also listen to the action, with pregame and postgame coverage on the radio home of the UB Bulls - ESPN 1520.

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