Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
Kickoff: 6 PM Central Time Saturday, December 22nd
TV/Radio: ESPN; Troy Sports Radio Network
Live Stats: stats.statbroadcast.com
Odds: Buffalo Bulls -2; O/U 51.5
The Troy Trojans (9-3) are making final preparations for the Dollar General Bowl on December 22nd. It’s their third straight bowl appearance, and they hope to make it their third straight bowl win. For their opponent, the Buffalo Bulls (10-3), this will be their third bowl appearance and they haven’t won one. But that’s history, and it won’t make any difference in this game.
These two teams are as closely matched as any bowl teams this year. Both teams just missed being their conference’s champ, and both teams want to avenge that loss. Buffalo is a two-point favorite, but Troy will have homefield advantage since thousands of their fans will make the trip to Mobile. It should be a good game.
Both teams have good defenses. Troy held opponents to just 21.2 points per game this year while Buffalo limited their foes to 24.7. Buffalo allowed 349 yards per game and Troy allowed 345.
Troy has a 33-yard advantage in rushing defense while Buffalo has a 31-yard advantage in pass defense. All the other team defensive statistics are similarly close.
The one disparity that does jump out is that Buffalo’s senior linebacker, Khalil Hodge (MAC first team all-conference), has 139 tackles which is 69 more than anyone else on the team. He is someone to watch out for.
The similarities continue on offense. Both Buffalo and Troy like to jump out to an early lead. Troy outscored their opponents 237 to 142 in the first halves of their games this season, while Buffalo outscored their opponents 278 to 153 over the same span. The differences were in how they scored those points.
Troy averaged 386 yards, 29.8 points per game; Buffalo averaged 417 and 34.8. Troy passed for 206 yards per game and Buffalo had 221. Troy averaged 179 yards rushing to Buffalo’s 195.
Troy’s passing game took a setback when Kaleb Barker got injured in game six and Sawyer Smith took over at the quarterback position. Smith has been improving every game, and the extra prep time ahead of the bowl game should really help him. Damion Willis, Smith’s favorite target, should also be back in the lineup.
Troy’s premier running back, B.J. Smith, was a little slow getting started but got stronger as the season progressed. He has 1,093 total yards and averages 91 yards per game with five games over 100 yards. He and Willis were both selected to the Sun Belt All-Conference First Team.
Buffalo’s quarterback, Tyree Jackson, was both the MAC Offensive Player of the Year and first team all-conference. His favorite receiver, Anthony Johnson is also first team all-conference and a Senior Bowl invitee.
There’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball for both teams, but Buffalo has the advantage in offensive production and are thus favored to win the game.
B.J. Smith will have to have a good day for Troy to win this game. If Troy gets behind and has to rely on their passing game to catch-up, they may never do it. Sawyer Smith takes a little too long to get rid of the ball, and Buffalo can take away the deep ball with a strong pass rush. Troy then usually becomes predictable with screen passes to the outside, and Buffalo will be waiting.
But if B.J. Smith hits his average of 5.5 yards per carry, and Sawyer Smith unleashes some deep balls to Willis, the Trojans may take control because Buffalo doesn’t do well at playing catchup either.
If it comes down to field position, Troy has the advantage with their punter, Tyler Sumpter, who can flip the field in favor of Troy. He’s boomed sixteen punts over 50 yards this year and his longest was 79 yards. He lofts them high in the air, allowing good coverage and limiting opponents to only a six-yard average return.
I think the month off will make a big difference for Troy. They had some nagging injuries in the last half of the season that really hurt them. Hopefully, they’ve healed and will be at 100% this Saturday.
I expect the score to be in the low twenties for both teams at the half. If it is, Troy’s defense will be the better of the two in the second half, and Buffalo will have trouble getting to the red zone. Troy will then be able to run the ball, grind up the clock, keep Buffalo’s offense off the field, and Troy will win 31-28.