CSJ 2020 Camellia Bowl Preview: Marshall vs. Buffalo

Marshall vs. Buffalo
When: Friday, December 25th, 2:30 PM EST
Where: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.
TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN

Two schools look to rebound after both lost their respective conference championship games in upsets. Marshall and Buffalo meet in this game on Christmas afternoon in Montgomery.

Marshall was a team that raced out to a 7-0 start but now have lost two games in a row, including losing the Conference USA crown at home to UAB.

Buffalo was also had an undefeated 5-0 start to their season but lost to Ball State in the Mid-American Conference title game.

Both teams excelled on offense and defense this season. Marshall led the nation in scoring defense (12.6), was second in rushing defense (88.9 yards/game) and finished third in total defense (277.7). The Thundering Herd ranked second in the league in scoring offense (30.6) and third in total offense (407.2). Buffalo leads the country in rushing offense (309.5), ranks third in scoring offense (47.8) and ninth in total offense (509.0). In addition, the Bulls rank second in the MAC in scoring defense (23.8) and total defense (379.2).

These two schools were both members of the MAC from 1999-2004 together with Marshall owning the series having won all their MAC meetings. Overall, the Thundering Herd have a 8-1 overall record against the Bulls.

Last year, Buffalo won its first ever bowl game versus another C-USA team in Charlotte in the Bahamas Bowl, while Marshall lost its first bowl game under Coach Doc Holliday and overall in the Gasparilla Bowl to UCF.

Marshall Thundering Herd (1st-C-USA East, 7-2 Overall, 4-1 C-USA)

Marshall won the 2020 Conference USA Eastern Division Championship, its first since 2014. The Thundering Herd has won eight division titles in school, including three C-USA Eastern Division (2013, 2014 and 2020) titles.

The Marshall offense is led by freshman QB Grant Wells, who leads C-USA in passing yards (219.7) and touchdown passes (18). He aslo ranks second in the league in total offense with 239.4 yards per game.

Junior RB Brenden Knox has 887 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

Wells, Knox, and the rest of the Marshall offense has been almost non-existant in the last two games against Rice and UAB. The Thundering Herd O hasn’t hit 270 yards in either of the last two game and will need to get back to its pace before the tailspin the last two games to win this game.

Defensively, Herd senior linebacker Tavante Beckett leads C-USA in tackles per game (10.0) and tops the nation in fumbles recovered (4). Redshirt junior DE Darius Hodge is third in the league in sacks (6.5) and sixth in tackles for loss (9.0).

Unfortunately for the Thundering Herd, Beckett, who won C-USA Defensive Player of the Year honors, opted out of Friday’s game to focus on the NFL draft. Still, Marshall had the nation’s second best rushing defense ( 88.9 yards/game) that should combate the Buffalo strong running game.

Key Player: QB Grant Wells

Wells has been the biggest reason Marshall has had a down turn in the offensive production the last two games. The redshirt freshman tossed five interceptions in a shutout loss in the regular-season finale against Rice and then completed just 8 of 24 pass attempts in the C-USA title game. UAB held Marshall scoreless in the first half and earned a 22-13 victory. Wells will need to get back to the form in had in the first seven games of the season if the Thundering Herd want to break the two game losing streak.

Buffalo Bulls (1st-MAC East, 5-1 Overall & MAC)

Buffalo went into the MAC title game as a heavy favorite over Ball State after going 5-0 behind the sterling running of RB Jaret Patterson. But the Bulls coughed up 35 first-half points and could not catchup in the second half of a 38-28 defeat to the Cardinals in Detroit.

Patterson, whose 301- and 409-yard games in consecutive weeks against Bowling Green and Kent State that put him on the periphery of the Heisman Trophy race, was held to 47 yards on 18 carries by Ball State. He also injured his right knee and was limited during the second half.

According to Bulls Coach Lance Leipold, Patterson plans to play in this game though.

Should Patterson’s injury linger and he not be able to play Friday, Buffalo’s rushing attack is still in good hands with Kevin Marks as a more-than-capable backup.

Marks, who is averaging 7.8 yards per rush, is the second-leading rusher for Buffalo with 603 yards and six touchdowns, meaning he is also over the 100-yard mark per game.

QB Kyle Vantrease has been an efficient passer for the Bulls, hitting 63 percent of his passes for 1,186 yards with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions.

The Bulls were led by WR Antonio Nunn who had a career-best 13 receptions for 182 yards against Ball State in the MAC title game.

The Bulls defense has not be a complete shutdown defense but has shown the ability to get turnovers.

Key Player: RB Jaret Patterson

With him coming off an injury last Friday in the MAC title the key will be early in the game to see if he has any lingering effects. Marshall as the second best run defense will be looking to shutdown the Bulls running attack so Patterson may need to be used in some of the short passing game to open them up. If he shows well early, the key then for the Bulls will be to ride the MAC’s top running back the rest of the game espeically if the Bulls get up early in the game.

Fearless Forecast:

Marshall historically has had Buffalo’s number but that last meeting in 2004 does not have a similar Bulls team. The way the Thundering Herd have looked in the last two games tells me something is off with the team and with just a week to prepare, I do not think their offense will get it figured out. I like the Bulls to win in a lower scoring game. Buffalo 24 Marshall 17