Central Michigan (4-4) at Buffalo (3-4) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: University at Buffalo Stadium (29,013) -- Buffalo, New York. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Central Michigan 2-2, Buffalo 3-1. Away Record: Central Michigan 2-2, Buffalo 0-3. Neutral Record: Central Michigan 0-0, Buffalo 0-0. Conference Record: Central Michigan 2-2, Buffalo 1-2. Series Record: Central Michigan leads, 5-1.
GAME NOTES: Following a bye week and the firing of head coach Jeff Quinn, the Buffalo Bulls will try to right the ship as they play host to the Central Michigan Chippewas in a Mid-American Conference clash at UB Stadium.
Central Michigan, after having won two games in a row, dropped a curious home contest to Ball State last weekend on a 55-yard game-winning field goal for the Cardinals with 17 seconds left to play. The Chippewas tied the score up at 29-29 late in the fourth thanks to a Cooper Rush touchdown pass and two-point conversion run, but the Cards ended up with the 32-29 victory.
Buffalo is coming off an open week, during which time the Bulls' athletic department announced the firing of Quinn, citing the team's performance on the field for the parting. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Alex Wood has been elevated to interim coach and will lead the Bulls, who are 3-1 at home this season.
Central Michigan and Buffalo don't have an extensively deep history, although the teams have still met six times on the field in a series that dates back to 1999. CMU holds the 5-1 series advantage, and last beat the Bulls in their most recent meeting on Oct. 3, 2009.
The Chippewas rattled off a pair of strong, one-sided victories over Ohio and Northern Illinois in back-to-back weeks, but just last weekend dropped the contest to previously one-win Ball State. It seemed the Central Michigan offense had gotten hot at the right time, but the team's defense was a bit lacking against the Cardinals, who let running back Jahwan Edwards run loose. Still, moving forward, the Chippewas have perhaps the best trio of skills players in the MAC when all healthy.
All three were on display last weekend against Ball State. Rush finished the game with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns, although his mistake-driven side showed itself in his two interceptions tossed. He has Central Michigan averaging 218 passing ypg and 23.8 ppg this season, and he has the help of top wideout Titus Davis, who was also on display last Saturday. Davis caught a team-best 10 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, which brings his season total to 502 yards and four scores on 31 catches. He and fellow receiver Jesse Kroll each have four receiving touchdowns.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect on the offense for CMU has been the team's run game, led by Thomas Rawls. Rawls has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season in just six games played (he missed a pair of contests earlier in the season due to injury), and has scored 10 touchdowns in that frame. He averages 167.8 rushing ypg for the Chippewas.
The offense, when clicking, has all the right tools to be extremely effective. It's the team's defense that hasn't been very effective this year, and has allowed opponents to score more than 30 points in three games. Against Ohio and Northern Illinois, the CMU defense allowed a combined 27 points to two potentially dangerous offenses. But the Cardinals managed 32 last weekend, so consistency is a huge problem.
Opponents are scoring an average of 24.8 ppg and are racking up 346.6 offensive ypg in eight games. Linebacker Justin Cherocci has seemingly done everything by himself with a team-best 78 tackles (32 more than Tony Annese, who is in second on the squad with 46). Joe Ostman and Blake Serpa have combined for 14 tackles for loss and five sacks, so they'll be looking to get after Bulls quarterback Joe Licata this weekend.
It seemed like a questionable decision for the Bulls to go ahead and fire Quinn in the middle of the season, when conference play had just begun. The coach, who had been with the program for five years, owned a 3-4 record this season, and was 1-2 in conference play. The team's other two wins came against FCS competition, but in a wide open MAC race this year, Buffalo could have turned things around with some top-notch offensive players. There is still plenty of time for it.
The Bulls are averaging 33 ppg and 475.9 offensive ypg behind Licata and star running back Anthone Taylor, who ranks 10th in the FBS with 926 rushing yards (even after his bye week) and is tied for 13th with nine rushing scores. The back has carried the ball 183 times in seven games, and has helped Buffalo to average 185.1 rushing ypg.
Licata had a breakout sophomore campaign, and is performing fairly well in his junior season as well, although seven interceptions through seven games is a bit too high. Licata has 1,892 passing yards and 18 passing scores, and has rushed for two touchdowns to boot. His 65.3 completion percentage ranks 23rd in the entire country. The offense hasn't been the issue this season in Buffalo.
Losing star linebacker Khalil Mack must have been more traumatizing to the defense than many originally thought, considering Buffalo allows 35 ppg to opponents and has only registered one interception this season. The opposition is having no issue whatsoever running the football against the Bulls, averaging193.4 rushing ypg and scoring 20 ground touchdowns so far. It's more than standouts Lee Skinner and Adam Redden can handle.
Skinner leads the team with 52 tackles, and has recovered two fumbles with three quarterback hurries. Redden has taken more of a Mack approach this year with a team-best 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. On paper, the Bulls should have a strong defensive backfield, but Boise Ross is the only one with an interceptions, and Courtney Lester is the only player with more than three pass breakups (he has nine this season).
This matchup in Buffalo between Central Michigan and the Bulls features two of the MAC's best offenses, including two of the best running backs (Rawls ranks fifth nationally with 1,007 rushing yards and third with 167.8 ypg) statistically in the entire country. So it will come down to whichever defense can force the other squad to make the most mistakes that could lead to points off turnovers. Buffalo is a strong team at home, and might need an adjustment period without Quinn at the helm. This one figures to be a high-scoring affair.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Central Michigan 34, Buffalo 30Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 25, 3:30 p.m. (ET)