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Q&A with SB Nation’s Bull Run

Here’s some insight to a matchup between two programs searching for their first bowl victory.

Marshall v Charlotte
The first-year head coach Will Healy is expected to ink an extension with the Charlotte 49ers in the coming weeks.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

On Friday, December 20th, the 2019 bowl season kicks off with the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl featuring a pair of 7-5 teams searching for their first bowl victory.

This is the inaugural meeting between the Charlotte 49ers and Buffalo Bulls, with the 49ers being 6 point underdogs. To learn more about the matchup, check out my collaboration with Bull Run’s Tim Riordan for our Q&A and predictions.


UNDERDOG DYNASTY - HUNTER BAILEY

Q1 - Looking at your team the x-factor which jumps out at me is Chris Reynolds, he’s efficient and productive through the air and quite a weapon on the ground. Heck, he’s even looked good as a receiver at times (Thinking the FAU game). What, if any, chinks are there in his armor?

A: The biggest knocks on Reynolds coming into this season was the ability to put the deep ball where it needs to be and his height at 5’10”. With a shorter quarterback, dealing with batted passes at the line of scrimmage is typical, but in Reynolds’ case, he has combated that with plenty of throws out of the pocket and even the occasional side-arm pass. It’s tough to highlight the chinks in his armor as he can hit both the short and deep throws, is a threat to rush for 100 at any time, and is the heart and soul of the offense. Reynolds has thrown 10 interceptions on the season, with 8 of those coming across the 50, and has committed five turnovers in the last three games. Ball security will be key as Buffalo is tied for 18th in the nation with a +13 turnover margin.

Marshall v Charlotte
Sophomore QB Chris Reynolds finished the regular season completing 62% of his passes for 2366 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 757 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Q2 - Speaking of the passing game I notice none of your receivers are getting a big lions share of the work. Obviously, Tucker is the big deep threat, but outside of that is there another who stands out as more key to your offense than the rest?

A: Victor Tucker is absolutely the deep threat, but he also has a knack for finding the soft spot in the coverage. The 49ers have had 4 receivers cross the 100-yard mark in a single game this season, but the main three who see the most targets are Tucker, Cameron Dollar, and Tyler Ringwood. Any of the three can pop off at any time, and I think that’s what makes the offense tough to stop. There isn’t a bonified second option, in my opinion, it really just depends on Reynolds’ progressions on the play. If you elect to not double Tucker, he can draw penalties and beat his man one-on-one, but if you do double, that leaves the door open for Dollar, Ringwood, and even LeMay to make plays in the passing game.

Q3 - Finally onto the running game, how would you describe the type of Runner UB will see in Benny LeMay?

A: Benny LeMay battled an Achilles injury and missed two games late in the season but has looked back to good health after rattling off two straight 100-yard performance to close the regular season. Buffalo will see a back with the power to run through you, and the speed to run around you. Benny is explosive at the point of contact and is a workhorse for extra yardage. He has made his mark this season with the emerging ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and before missing time had caught touchdowns in three consecutive games, totaling four on the season.

Q4 - Defensively you’re going to see Buffalo try to run the ball all day long, how have you fared against solid run-first teams this season?

A: The 49ers started the 2019 season with a red-hot offense, but the main problem was that the defense couldn’t get off the field. Appalachian State tailback Darrynton Evans headlined Charlotte’s defensive woes rushing for 234 and three scores, and the thunder-and-lightning combo of Napoleon Maxwell and Anthony Jones combined for 231 and four scores when FIU throttled Charlotte in the midst of their four-game skid. Will Healy’s first season did a complete 180 when the defense hit their stride, and the 49ers held Brendan Knox, C-USA’s leading rusher, to under 100 yards in their senior day victory. Buffalo presents a challenge with two backs over 1,000 yards on the season, both of which have more than 200 carries on the season and average more than 4.7 yards per carry. Even the QB Vantrease has 5 touchdowns in 7 games played. The 49ers front 7 must do their jobs or this one could be a track meet.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Charlotte at Western Kentucky
Alex Highsmith (5) was tabbed First-Team C-USA with his impressive senior season. Highsmith totaled 14 sacks on the year, tied for second in the FBS, only trailing Ohio State’s Chase Young.
Photo by Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prediction

Buffalo’s offense is going to put their head down and try to run straight through the 49ers defense. The Bulls haven’t played in a shoot-out this season, and I think the matchup with Charlotte is going to be just that. Buffalo is +13 in the turnover margin with Charlotte being -3. This battle will no doubt be won by whoever can take care of the ball and win the time of possession battle. The 49ers will need a solid performance from their O-line to get Benny LeMay and Chris Reynolds rolling, and with that, I’ve got the 49ers in a close one. Charlotte 31, Buffalo 30.


BULL RUN - TIM RIORDAN

Q1 - Vantrease took over following a loss putting UB at 2-3 and has since won 5 of 7 while throwing only one interception in that span. The Bulls run game has rarely been slowed this season, but if that were the case, do you think he could take the reigns and lead the team to victory?

A: Kyle Vantrease took over after Matt Myers was knocked out of the Miami game. He suffered an unspecified injury and was unable to return all season. At that point in time, UB had played an FCS team, Penn State, Temple, Liberty, and Miami. So three really good teams and another that was solid enough to get to seven wins.

If you don’t follow the program you may not be aware that KVT was the guy most people thought would be the starter this season. He was the most experienced Quarterback we had and Myers was a freshman. So while Myers might be physically a bit better built for the position KVT’s experience and familiarity with the system made it a pretty smooth change.

The coaches also tweaked the offense a bit for KVT. A lot of the passes that Myers was trying to throw just didn’t come out of KVT’s hands with the same zip. So the passing game changed a bit, to emphasize more short and mid-range passing that took advantage of Kyle’s intelligence. It was a good move and has made KVT a very efficient, albeit only moderately productive, passer.

The key to our offense is that you simply cannot ignore the running game. When we do succeed in passing it’s because teams are so focused on Patterson or Marks, our two 1,000 yard running backs, that they get sucked into the play action.

Buffalo v Miami Ohio
Vantrease (7) has led the Bulls to victory in 5 of his 7 starts this season.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Q2 - Patterson has 940 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in the past five games which is absolutely insane. It is clear that you can’t stop him, but Is there anything notable opposing defenses have done to contain him?

A: The only times I’ve really seen Patterson contained this year was from extreme box stacking by opposing teams. You have to totally sell out on the run if you want to stop the Buffalo running game.

There have been games where we were missing Zac Lefebvre, or he was not 100%. The Tight end is a big part of making out passing game work so when the running game was being shut down Buffalo needed that outlet. It also took some time for Daniel Lee to work himself in as a dependable receiver, taking some of the pressure off of Nunn.

Q3 - Buffalo gave up 24 straight 4th quarter points in a loss against Kent State but righted the ship to finish 7-5 with consecutive blowout victories. What does that say about the resiliency of Leipold’s team?

A: It says we’re really, really, really, really, really having troubles on special teams. Or kick returners team is bad at on sides kicks, our field goal unit is hit and miss, and our punt team has had issues blocking for the punter. Most of that Kent loss falls to all of our special teams falling apart at the same time. By the time Buffalo knew what was happening 14 of those points were on the board. Special teams also played a role in our loss against Ohio.

Q4 - UB has only given up 8 sacks this season while sacking opponent QB’s 38 times. How do you think the line will handle Alex Highsmith?

A: Highsmith is something else, and I would be lying if I said I was not worried about him in this game. He is probably going to be up against Evin Ksiezarczyk who is himself a first-team all-conference player. UB is also pretty good at blitz pickup on passing plays, so while I think “stopping” Highsmith is not something any team can do, Buffalo can hopefully limit the damage he does.

Buffalo v Bowling Green
Jaret Patterson (26) ranks 5th in the FBS with 1626 rushing yards on the season.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Prediction

The MAC as a whole really under-performs in Bowl games, and UB came up short twice in postseason games last year so while I’d like to say UB’s running game is going to give the 49ers fits, I’m a bit worried we will have a letdown again. Still, I’ve got the blue-tinted glasses on so let’s go with...Buffalo 27, Charlotte 21