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2019 Bahamas Bowl Preview: Charlotte vs. Buffalo

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Football in the Bahamas? Count me in.

Photo Credit- (@TheBahamasBowl)

BUFFALO BULLS (7-5, 5-3 MAC) vs CHARLOTTE 49ERS (7-5, 5-3 C-USA)

Date/Time: Friday, December 20th, 2:00 PM ET

TV: ESPN

Location: Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas

Betting Line: Buffalo -6.5 (O/U 54)

All-Time Series Record: First matchup between the programs


BUFFALO OUTLOOK

The Bulls hold the title of best rushing attack and best run defense in the MAC, both of which have proven to be the 49ers kryptonite in 2019. Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson have combined for 2,634 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season, with the latter ranking fifth in the FBS with 1,626 yards on the ground, and 940 of those yards coming in the past five games.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 22 Buffalo at Rutgers
Patterson (26) rushed for 298 yards and 6 touchdowns in the regular season finale.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lance Leipold’s defense ranks seventh in the nation in total yards allowed, giving up only 293 yards per game. Shutting down the opponent’s run game is a staple in Leipold’s game plan, and the defense spearheaded by safety Joey Banks and linebacker Matt Otwinowski has only allowed one team over 180 rushing yards all year.

Charlotte has faltered when the run game has been contained, sitting at 1-5 when rushing for less than 230 yards. The Bulls average 254 yards per game on the ground, boding well for Buffalo as the 49ers are 0-4 when giving up more than 225 or more. Expect the Bulls to look to take away the run game and force Chris Reynolds to beat them through the air.

Buffalo’s QB Kyle Vantrease has accounted for 12 touchdowns and just one interception through seven starts this season, with junior wideout Antonion Nunn being his favorite target. Vantrease has benefited from opposing defenses selling out to stop the run, and with such a potent rushing attack it’s easy to catch the opposing secondary with their hand in the cookie jar. The offensive line typically fails to receive credit as quarterbacks and skill players get the media attention, but this Buffalo O-line has paved the way for more than 3,000 yards on the ground while only giving up 8 sacks on the season, the second-lowest in the FBS.

“Everyone’s excited. We couldn’t wait. It was between Idaho and here, so we were pretty happy that we got picked here,” Junior tight end Zac Lefebvre said upon arrival to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. “Buffalo right now is about 30 degrees with snow on the ground everywhere, so coming down here is awesome.”

Substituting the cold and snow for clear waters and sandy beaches will undoubtedly be a relief for the Buffalo student-athletes, and the Bahamas Bowl matchup will be the curtain call for 15 seniors.


CHARLOTTE OUTLOOK

The first winning season in Charlotte’s young history warranted a trip to Nassau for the Bahamas bowl. What a way for the Will Healy era to begin, and what an excellent close to the collegiate careers of 19 seniors. Even with all the fun of a week away, there’s still one final game to be played.

“We are excited about this opportunity for our program, these players, and our university.” Will Healy said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Looking forward to a great trip and football game, but our goal has been to win bowl games, not just go to bowl games.”

Charlotte is riding a 5-game win streak, and while the offense has been lights out throughout the season, the resurgence of the defense has ultimately put this unit in control to secure the first bowl win in program history. The run defense, especially, must establish the line of scrimmage and turn in their best performance of the season to contain the thunder-and-lightning combo of Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson.

The Charlotte run defense ranks 11th out of 14 in C-USA giving up nearly 190 yards a game. There has been a late-season resurgence for this group, but the 49ers will need their A-game to position themselves for a win.
Credit - Charlotte Football

Even with the favorable location for a bowl game, there is inclement weather on the horizon with rain and winds up to 30MPH during game time. Those winds will almost eliminate the passing game, and will greatly impact all special teams. Both Charlotte and Buffalo share the trait of high-caliber rushing attacks, and with the addition of the weather it all boils down to who can limit the damage and get off the field on third downs.

Jeff Gemmell and Alex Highsmith spearhead the 49ers defense, with the latter ranking second in the FBS with 14 sacks on the season. This is a tall task for Charlotte, as Buffalo is the best statistical rushing attack the 49ers have faced all season, Clemson included.

Expect an extremely physical matchup in the trenches with both coaches entirely comfortable in turning around and handing the ball off to their workhorse. Senior Benny LeMay turned in his second consecutive 1,000 yard season, with 9 touchdowns on the ground and 4 through the air. LeMay has his work cut out for him against a defensive front ranking 4th in the nation in rushing yards allowed.

This is going to be a fun-filled week for the 49ers program, and to top it off with the first bowl victory in program history would be a fitting end to the first year under Will Healy.


PREDICTION & FINAL SCORE

With no common opponents for these teams, it’s easy to look to the stats as an aid for prediction. The reality is that both teams are hot right now, winners of five of their last six, and have a combined zero bowl victories in program history. That’s going to change on Friday, and with wind and rain in the forecast, expect an interesting matchup playing to both team’s strengths.

I truly believe this is an excellent way to kick off bowl season as two high-powered offenses clash both looking for their first bowl victory. Thinking this one is going to go down to the wire with the turnover battle playing a major factor. Expect aggressive play calls and decision making, and maybe even a two-point conversion for the victory. Charlotte 28, Buffalo 27