During his time as coach of the Bobcats, Frank Solich has been Buffalo’s kryptonite.
Solich is 9-6 against the Bulls all-time and 6-1 at home. The last time Buffalo came to Peden Stadium was in 2018 when Ohio sent the Bulls back to New York with a humiliating 52-17 defeat.
But Saturday’s game could yield the best version of Buffalo that Solich’s seen yet. The Bulls are undefeated (4-0, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) and led by one of the best running backs in the nation. Buffalo has the best offense in the MAC (50.8 PPG) and the second-best defense.
Luckily for Solich, he has the first best.
“Our guys have really risen to the occasion,” Solich said. “ If you look at what they’ve accomplished these last two games I think it has been somewhat special because of all of the adjustments they’ve had to make.”
Ohio’s defense was the closest it has been to full-strength during the Bobcats’ 52-10 win over Bowling Green on Saturday. After missing half of the season, redshirt juniors Kai Caesar and Alvin Floyd returned to the field. Caesar’s size and leadership had been missed among the defensive line and Floyd provided instant production to the secondary with an interception in the second quarter.
“At kickoff, I was a little jittery because I’m like ‘it’s my first game of the season,’” Floyd said. “And that pick oooh that was exciting to get that.”
Ohio is playing its best defense at the right time. After struggling against Central Michigan, the Bobcats have a conference-high five interceptions, matching last year’s total for the entire season.
The Bobcats have been impressive these last two games, but one must take into account that their showings have come at the expense of the two worst offenses in the conference. Bowling Green’s quarterback Matt McDonald has thrown only one touchdown (against Ohio) and six interceptions this season, while the Zips haven’t been much better.
Buffalo’s offense will pose a much bigger threat to the Bobcats.
Bulls running back Jaret Patterson is second in the nation in rushing touchdowns with 16. What makes that stat even more impressive is that he’s only one behind Alabama’s Najee Harris, who has played four more games than Patterson.
Last week Patterson made national news after tying the FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a game (eight) against Kent State and setting the MAC record for rushing yards in a game (409). Solich understands the problem Patterson can pose against the Bobcats, but isn't interested in making him out to be an offensive boogeyman.
“They’re not overly complicated in what they’re doing with him (Patterson) in the running game,” Solich said. “But what they’re doing they’re doing it really really well.”
While the matchup between the MAC’s best offense and best defense will be at the forefront, the battle between Ohio’s offense and Buffalo's defense could be more intriguing.
If the Bulls were to have one weakness, it would be its defense. The Bulls easily handled Kent State and Northern Illinois but gave up 41 and 30 points respectively. Ohio proved on Saturday that it has the weapons to light up a scoreboard.
Running back De’Montre Tuggle rushed for 185 yards on 15 carries and once again emerged as the leader of the offense. The Bobcats will need him to have another big game, considering there will again be questions at quarterback.
Starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke was knocked out of Saturday’s game after landing hard on his left shoulder in the second quarter. Solich said Rourke’s condition is something to monitor and that it's most likely backup quarterback Armani Rogers will get the start.
Rogers did a fine job of running the offense but he only attempted three passes. The Bobcats will have to threaten the Bulls through the air if it wants any hopes of freeing up Tuggle.
“We haven’t had a chance to develop his (Rogers) passing game as much as we would like,” Solich said. “But he’s gotten a ton of them in practice and he’s a very good thrower and we think that’ll be displayed when it comes time for him to be in the ballgame again.”
Ohio’s matchup against the Bulls will be the toughest of the season, but make no mistake the rewards are worth it. If Ohio defeats Buffalo it’ll be one win away from a trip to the MAC Championship game. If Buffalo wins, however, the Bulls will win the MAC East.
“Obviously it is a challenge to them,” Solich said. “But our guys have always accepted the challenge as well.”