Two teams seeking relevancy in the Mid-American Conference will square off Saturday when the Eastern Michigan University Eagles head east to face the University at Buffalo Bulls.
The East/West division matchup at UB Stadium will be the teams’ sixth meeting all-time with the Eagles up 5-0 all-time.
Combining for a 4-12 conference record in 2012, both teams have just one MAC Championship in EMU’s 38 years and BU’s 15 years in the conference.
EMU (1-3, 0-1 MAC) will have almost two weeks of preparation under its belt after having a bye last week. But the team had some things to work on following a 51-20 homecoming loss to Ball State University highlighted by a defense that allowed 543 yards against.
“We worked on every aspect whether it be tackling, covering, drops, eye progressions, [or] footwork,” head coach Ron English said.
EMU was victim to three touchdown runs by BSU that were all from at least 27 yards out and several passes that went for at least 50. English has been using practice to make sure plays like these are prevented at UB.
“We really spent a lot of time on individual drill work and reiterating some of our base concepts that we like to use all of the time,” English said.
On offense, the Eagles will be working with a passing game led by redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Benz, who threw for a TD, two interceptions and 212 yards against BSU.
Benz is completing 64.5 percent of his passes, which is third best among MAC quarterbacks and will look to break the 1000-yard passing mark this week as he currently has 872.
The Eagles will also be sporting a running game that seemed to have found its legs against BSU after a disappointing performance at Rutgers University the week before.
204 rushing yards in week four eclipsed EMU’s 38-yard performance the week before. Junior running back Bronson Hill put together 126 yards on the ground and sophomore and junior running backs Darius Jackson and Ryan Brumfield each ran in a TD to reinstate the running game.
The Bulls (2-2, 0-0 MAC) have won their last two games thanks to a strong, multidimensional offense of their own.
Last week UB trounced the University of Connecticut 41-12, a football team that was extremely competitive with undefeated University of Michigan the week before that only losing by three.
It was a monumental day for the Bulls defense, as well, letting up just 220 yards to the Huskies and only 27 yards in the second half.
“Now we’ve got to get ready and focus on preparing for Eastern Michigan,” UB head coach Jeff Quinn said. “We know that they’re a very solid football team.”
The UB running offense accounted for 153 of 330 total yards against UConn and was led by dual running backs senior Branden Oliver and sophomore Anthone Taylor. Although Oliver has 16 more touches than Taylor, both have two rushing touchdowns and 195 and 165 yards rushing, respectively.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata has thrown for only 769 yards thus far in the season, but has a big 6’3” wide receiver in senior Alex Neutz as a weapon who has 414 reception yards and four touchdowns.
“The kids are very confident and excited, but you have to do it week in and week out and that’s the mindset going into Eastern Michigan,” Quinn said.
Keys to the Game:
EMU running game vs. BU running defense: The Eagles ran for a season-high 204 yards against BSU two weeks ago, but are going against a Bulls defense that allowed just 27 rushing yards to UConn last week. Watch for how BU’s defensive line handles Hill and Jackson on the ground.
Special Teams: The Bulls junior kicker Patrick Clarke is four-for-eight on field goal attempts. EMU on the other hand has struggled putting up the three points as sophomore Dylan Mulder is just one-for-four on field goals. Keep that in mind if it comes down to one or two points late in the contest
Players to Watch:
EMU Junior TE Tyreese Russell: Russell has already surpassed his 2012 reception yard total with 230 through four games. Russell has only taken one TD to the end zone,— week one against Howard. If the Eagles’ running game falls through, it may just rely on Benz finding Russell to light up the scoreboard.
BU Sophomore QB Joe Licata: Although he has just one game with over 200 passing yards, Licata threw for three touchdowns last week. He could be a big asset for his team if he takes advantage of an EMU defense that has allowed over 500 yards to opponents in half of its games.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter @derrickvergo.