UB takes on Ohio with MAC East title in sight

The Bulls can clinch a trip to the MAC Championship game with a win on Wednesday night

Jon Simon
November 13, 2018 - 12:07 pm

Photo: Paul Hokanson - UBBulls.com


Before the 2018 season began, many predicted that Buffalo and Ohio would be at the top of the MAC East Division. Now, 10 games into the season, both teams are right where many expected them to be with the Bulls (9-1, 6-0) in first place in the division and the Bobcats (6-4, 4-2) tied for second with Miami (OH).

On Wednesday night, UB heads to Athens, Ohio to take on the Bobcats in a highly anticipated match up that will be featured on ESPN2. With a victory, the Bulls would clinch the MAC East Division title and earn a spot in the conference championship game on November 30th at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

“It’s played out in a way that we have a great opportunity to go down [to Athens] and football team that we knew was going to be good,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said at his weekly press conference. “We hoped if we played well enough to this point that this would be potentially an important game and it’s turned out to be that way.”

Ohio gave UB a little bit of breathing room after they lost their second conference game of the season last Wednesday to Miami (OH). If Ohio came into this week’s game against the Bulls with just one loss, the winner would get first place in the division. However, because of Ohio’s loss, the Bulls need to only win one of their last two games of the regular season to clinch the division title. However, settling for “good enough” isn’t the mindset this UB team has.

“We have to stay focused on playing our best,” coach Leipold said. “We can’t let up. You want to be able to control your own destiny and your future and where you want to be. For us to go down to Athens, play well and find a way to win a football game is going to be very important to us and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Wednesday night’s game could be the Bulls’ toughest test yet this season. Ohio boasts one of the top offenses in the conference, leading the MAC in scoring, rushing and total offense.

Quarterback Nathan Rourke is the leader of the Ohio offense. Through 10 games this season, the Oakville, Ontario, Canada native has thrown for 1,932 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also leads the MAC in passing efficiency with a 62.3-percent completion rate.

You can also add Rourke to the list of dual-threat quarterbacks the Bulls will have faced this season. The junior ranks sixth in the MAC in rushing yards per-game (65.3), fifth in total rushing yards (653) and has scored eight touchdowns this season using his legs.

“He could be the best all-around quarterback in the conference,” Leipold answered when asked about Rourke. “They’re going to run some speed option plays with him. He’s elusive as a passer, it seems like he’s always escaping the first guy and he keeps plays alive. That’s the type of player and competitor he is. He’s a very accurate passer. His ability and touch on the deep ball is very impressive.”

Along with Rourke, Ohio has a pair of red-shirt senior running backs in A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons that rank among the top rushers in the MAC as well. Ouellette and Irons are third and fifth in the MAC respectively in total rushing yards and rushing yards per-game this season.

Aside from the aforementioned trio, six other Bobcats have rushed for positive yardage this season. Ohio’s offense boasts a lot of depth at the receiver position as well, having 13 different players catch a pass so far this year.

“They have a lot of weapons,” Leipold said. “I think their group of running backs is very, very good. They have size and speed; everyone brings a different style of running. The versatility and depth at the receiver position is the next component that’s been added to their offense that has made them even more dangerous than in years past.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Bulls defense matches up with the high-powered Bobcat offense. There could be an “unstoppable force meets immovable object”-type dynamic with UB leading the conference in total defense and Ohio boasting the MAC’s top scoring offense.

While the Bulls defense is set for another dogfight, the UB offense could potentially have another high-scoring game. In the last two weeks, the Bulls have scored a total of 99 points and appeared to be clicking on all cylinders.

Anthony Johnson being back at 100-percent health has seemed to give the UB offense a huge confidence boost. The senior receiver was limited for about a month with a leg injury earlier this season, but has made a monumental impact since returning to the lineup. In the last three games, Johnson has caught six touchdowns and two weeks ago in the win over Miami (OH) he set a school record for reception yards in a game with 238.

Johnson and the rest of the UB receiving corps may be relied on heavily on Wednesday night. Ohio ranks second-to-last in the MAC in passing defense, but are second in the conference in defending the run.

The passing game has been successful throughout most of the season for UB. Quarterback Tyree Jackson is just one touchdown pass away from his 25th of the season, which would tie him with Drew Willy (2008) for the second-most touchdown passes in single season at UB. Joe Licata holds the school record with 29 in 2014.

UB’s freshman running back duo of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks will have a tough test in Ohio’s run defense, but the pair of rookies have risen to the occasion all season long and have shown their ability to be a solid one-two punch in the Bulls backfield.

“They’ve been incredible this year,” Leipold said. “Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks compliment each other so well in their running styles. Jaret got off to a great start last week. His balance, his ability to make people miss, all those things you start to see come into play. When those two are healthy we feel really good about what’s in the backfield.”

What’s also incredible is the two-year turnaround the UB football program has had. In 2016, the Bulls finished 2-10. Now, just 23 months later, they’re 9-1 and are one win away from the program’s second-ever outright MAC East Division championship.

“I think when you walk in the room and be around the team, you get a sense of their excitement,” Leipold said.

Kickoff on Wednesday night is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. You can listen to the full game, along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.

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