Ball State football hosts bowl-contending Buffalo Thursday
All-time, the Cardinals lead 9-1 in the head-to-head series and are 4-0 at Scheumann Stadium
Buffalo has never won a game in Scheumann Stadium.
Ball State (2-8, 0-6 MAC) has a solid track record against Mid-American Conference east opponent Buffalo (4-6, 2-4 MAC), too, leading the series 9-1 all-time.
This year, however, Buffalo is chasing its third-ever bowl game appearance. Being two-wins shy of that mark, the Thursday night matchup is a must win for the Bulls.
Buffalo (27) - Ball State (18)
Buffalo (427) - Ball State (329)
Buffalo (25) - Ball State (36)
Buffalo (403) - Ball State (422)
“Buffalo is 4-6 right now, they have bowl hopes alive,” head coach Mike Neu said. “For them, this is do or die when they come here Thursday night.”
Each of Buffalo's losses this season have come within 10 points. Some were even closer, with losses against Army, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Akron coming within five points.
Buffalo has scored the third most points per game in the conference this season, mainly due to its strong passing attack. After sitting out for several weeks with an injury, sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson is back, throwing a career-high 406 yards in Buffalo’s win over Bowling Green last week.
While 10 different players have over 100 receiving yards this season, it’s clear who Jackson’s favorite target is – redshirt junior wide receiver Anthony Johnson. Johnson averages nearly 105 receiving yards per game, an individual best in the MAC.
It’s going to be left up to Ball State’s defense, which is ninth in the conference in pass defense, to stop the aggressive aerial play.
“Defensively, we’re going to be facing an explosive offense,” Neu said. “If everyone does their job and we stay away from the self-inflicted wounds, then I feel great about our chances.”
Offensively, Neu said Ball State has to sustain drives and execute more. The Cardinals, who focus on establishing the ground game, match up against a Bulls defense that gives up nearly 200 rushing yards per game, good for third-to-last in the MAC.
Redshirt freshman Drew Plitt will likely start at quarterback, but redshirt senior Jack Milas has the possibility to make another appearance like he did against Northern Illinois last week.
Ball State has been out of bowl contention for two weeks now, but the goal for the team remains the same.
“My goal is to walk out of here with another W before the season’s over,” redshirt senior Anthony Winbush said. “I’m just trying my best to help all of the seniors get out of here with another win.”
“Those guys have put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the last four or five years and have given a lot to the program,” Neu said about the seniors. “It’s been a difficult year, but we need to make sure that everyone is positive, everyone is bringing their best and we’ve got to send those guys out the right way.”
Thursday marks two months since Ball State has won a game, with injuries being the main culprit of its 2-1 season, turning into a 2-8 season by week 10.
Kick-off between Ball State and Buffalo is set for 7:02 p.m. on Nov. 16 at Scheumann Stadium.
What to watch — record books
For Winbush, there’s another goal on the back of his mind – tying the program’s all-time sack career record.
The career record (25) was set in 1995 by current defensive line coach Keith McKenzie and Winbush sits just one shy of that mark.
“It’s on both me and coach Mckendzies mind about me breaking the record,” Winbush said. “A lot of people told me that I can’t do it and just to prove them wrong and be able to set an actual record here, that would be amazing.”
Winbush has been limited in conference play, recording three sacks after starting the season with 7.5 in four games. While he said teams have been double-teaming him after the quick start, he’s ready to make his name a part of Ball State history against a Buffalo team that has only given up 13 sacks to opponents this season.