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Interviews with Football Frenemies: Buffalo Bulls Edition

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The Bulls are looking for their second straight 10-win season in 2019.

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Northern Illinois at Buffalo Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Buffalo Bulls are looking for their second wins of the season on Saturday night.

Both programs are coming off victories over FCS opponents; the Nittany Lions a 79-7 demolishing of Idaho and Buffalo a 38-10 win over Robert Morris.

Saturday’s matchup will be the first time the two programs have met since 2015 and a lot has changed then for both programs. To learn more about the Bulls, we reached out to Steve Helwick of Hustle Belt, SB Nation’s site dedicated to MAC athletics.

Black Shoe Diaries: Buffalo lost a ton of talent from last year’s 10-win team. How has that impacted the expectations for this year’s team?

Steve Helwick: Buffalo’s expectations dropped a bit after the departures of QB Tyree Jackson, WR Anthony Johnson, ILB Khalil Hodge, and other talented seniors, but the Bulls still field a solid team. This Buffalo squad is still expected to compete in a wide open MAC East, which features the conference favorite Ohio. Outside of Ohio, Buffalo is probably the strongest team in the division and the Bulls remain loaded at several positions including running back and offensive line. Jackson’s absence from Buffalo greatly impacts the quarterback position, and the Bulls are easing in freshman Matt Myers to take over the significant role. Under Lance Leipold, Buffalo is expected to qualify for bowl eligibility once again, although achieving 10 wins in the regular season will be much more difficult this time around.

Black Shoe Diaries: Coach Leipold has been tremendous everywhere he’s been. What are the usual keys to the success for his teams?

Steve Helwick: Before Lance Leipold was hired by former Buffalo athletic director Danny White in 2015, Leipold dominated at the DIII level, winning six national titles in eight years at his alma mater Wisconsin-Whitewater. He took over a 5-6 program at Buffalo and it took three years before he first finished a season .500 in 2017. In 2018, Buffalo finally took a giant leap under Leipold by recording its best season in program history. The area Leipold has really succeeded in at Buffalo is player development. It took time, but the freshmen and sophomores from Leipold’s first two seasons molded into stars by 2018. In particular last season, the veteran offensive line was the position group which really bolstered the team from average to a MAC contender. Although he’s a former quarterback, Leipold utilizes his offensive lines to build the foundation of success for his programs.

Black Shoe Diaries: Buffalo has one of the best RB duos in the nation. How do you think they’ll perform against a talented PSU defense?

Steve Helwick: The rushing attack will be the strongest facet of Buffalo’s game in Happy Valley this Saturday. Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks combined for 165 yards in the opener and the duo produced nearly 1,900 collective rushing yards last season. Patterson is an agile halfback and quick cutter, while Marks is adept as trucking defenders and shedding tackles. Both backs possess a tremendous amount of speed and will be expected to carry the load of Buffalo’s offense Saturday. Penn State’s defense, especially its front seven, is dangerous and will be the greatest test Buffalo’s offensive line runs into this year. Yetur Gross-Matos and Micah Parsons are the two playmakers I expect to limit this Buffalo rushing attack. Overall, I’d expect the Bulls to produce about 170 yards on the ground with about 140 coming from Patterson and Marks.

Black Shoe Diaries: Who are some key players on offense and defense to watch outside the running back duo on offense? Who are some to watch in defense?

Steve Helwick: Offensively, tight end Zac Lefebvre is an interesting name to watch on the Bulls. Buffalo’s First Team All-MAC tight end Tyler Mabry transferred to Maryland this offseason and his successor played a key role in the 2019 season debut. Lefebvre caught just two passes for 43 yards but both receptions resulted in Buffalo touchdowns. One of them was a 3-yard connection in the end zone and the other involved Lefebvre escaping coverage on a 40-yard streak pattern. With Buffalo losing a bevy of its receiving threats from a season ago, Lefebvre looks to assume the role as one of the favorite targets of Matt Myers. Defensively, keep your eyes fixated on outside linebacker James Patterson. He is the sophomore twin brother of Jaret and finished second on the Bulls in tackling as a freshman in 2018. Patterson is a solid run stopper at the line of scrimmage and will be Buffalo’s best bet in limiting the Nittany Lions from a dominant outing on the ground.

Black Shoe Diaries: What needs to go right for the Bulls to win Saturday’s game?

Steve Helwick: Quite a bit of cards would need to fall in place in order for Buffalo to pull this one out in front of nearly 110,000 fans of the opposition. Buffalo has to establish a strong passing game, which was the Bulls’ greatest struggle against Robert Morris, completing just 5-of-10 passes. Additionally, the defense needs to create plenty of early three-and-outs and/or turnovers in the first half to keep Buffalo within striking distance. Lastly, the Bulls need to win the battle in the trenches. If Penn State’s run defense folds and allows over five yards per carry, that’s a gateway into a Buffalo upset.

Black Shoe Diaries: Whats your final score prediction? Who will be the star of the game for Buffalo?

Steve Helwick: Penn State improves to 2-0 with a decisive 42-17 victory over Buffalo, which remains somewhat close through the first half. For the Bulls, the star of this game is defensive end Taylor Riggins. Without Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates on the Nittany Lions’ o-line, Buffalo’s pass rush may still do some damage and Riggins could produce a few sacks and tackles in the backfield throughout the evening.

We’d like to thank Steve once again for his time and for answering our questions, to learn even more about the Bulls, make sure to check out Steve’s writings on the Bulls at Hustle Belt.