Before we dive into individual stats, I thought it might be interesting to delve into the one game Buffalo's played so far that might actually tell us something...their matchup against Pitt from a couple weeks ago, a game Pitt won, 27-16.
|% Close = 100.0%
|0.31||Points Per Play (PPP)||0.37|
|0.846||S&P (Success + PPP)||0.886|
|CLOSE GAME ONLY|
|3.09||Total T/O Pts||1.79|
|-1.39||Turnover Pts Margin||+1.39|
* It was the last play of the half, so the ending field position doesn't matter unless it was a TD...and it wasn't.
So what does this tell us? Well...Pitt's offensive numbers don't tell us much because, well, Pitt's offense obviously isn't in the same league as Mizzou's. One thing to note, though, is that the Panther Offense had its way with Buffalo on Non-Passing Downs. It was hard for Buffalo to leverage Pitt into passing situations, but the biggest problem for defenses against Mizzou is that Mizzou's as good in passing situations as most teams are in non-passing situations. Mizzou's 0.929 S&P on Passing Downs is pretty ridiculous (as is their 1.201 S&P in Non-Passing Downs).
In other words, Buffalo's performance against Pitt doesn't give me any reason to think Mizzou will be held in check in any way, shape or form.
Defensively, though, Pitt's pretty comparable to Mizzou--actually, they may be a smidge better depending on which Mizzou defense shows up at any given time. Buffalo's performance against Pitt was interesting. The vaunted (relatively-speaking) Buffalo passing game was fine, but not great. Drew Willy's official line was 21-for-34 with 223 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. I'll be impressed if he matches that on Saturday, but he could at least come close. Meanwhile, Buffalo was very efficient running the ball (a 65.5% success rate is quite high), but completely devoid of any big-play potential. James Starks and Brandon Thermilus combined for a nice 117 yards on 24 carries, but the name of the game is easy points, especially against Mizzou, and UB's RBs provided none.
I'll say this as succinctly as possible: Buffalo has an entirely nondescript special teams unit. That's better than having a bad special teams unit, but...yeah, there's not much here. Their punter only averages 39.0 yards per punt, but they haven't allowed much of any returns so far (which is a nice thing against Mizzou). They're 2-for-3 on FGs and have had decent-not-great returns in limited opportunities. Naaman Roosevelt is a potential weapon in the return game, but he hasn't broken loose this year yet.
Oh yeah, and Mizzou has the best special teams unit I can ever remember Mizzou having. This is worth another 3 points in Mizzou's favor.
Key Players for Buffalo
QB Drew Willy
This is the closest thing to an early pro tryout Drew Willy's going to get. You have to figure there will be some scout in attendance on Saturday, and if Willy can produce against what is at least an above-average defense at this point (though a defense that will likely be missing William Moore), he'll begin to get on pro teams' radar screens a bit. His line for 2008 (60-for-92, 792 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs) is quite impressive.
WR Naaman Roosevelt
Though he's now known as "that guy who caught the mini-Hail Mary", Roosevelt is also by far Buffalo's biggest weapon, and as I said early, easy points is the name of the game here. So far in 2008, Roosevelt has 18 catches for 351 yards and 3 TDs. This is no fluke either--he had 1500+ yards and 9 TDs in 2007. I can't figure he'll have a great game lined up opposite Carl Gettis, but if Buffalo has a prayer of winning, it's going to be because of Roosevelt.
DEs Andrae Smith and Mike Thompson
The blueprint for beating Mizzou is simple, really: have fantastic DEs, get in Chase Daniel's face, confuse him by dropping different people into coverage every play, hope to get lucky on a couple Curtis Lofton-style turnovers...et voila! Victory is yours. To follow that blueprint, Smith and Thompson (who have combined for 4.5 TFL's, 2 sacks and 5 QB hurries) will have to play better than they ever have in their lives. Good luck.
LB Justin Winters
Arguably the Bulls' best defender so far this season, the sophomore from Greenbelt, MD (which has a lovely mall and Honduran food restaurant!), has 28 tackles, a sack, and an INT in three games this year. He is the most likely guy on the team to produce the Curtis Lofton-style turnovers, but...no. It's not going to happen.
Fun note: in the most recent UB depth chart (pdf!), Winters is listed at 6'11, 202. I'm going to assume that's a misprint...though how awesome would that be??? Okay yeah, it's a misprint.
Okay, another fun note while we're at it: Buffalo currently has starters from New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, New Jersey, and...Australia. Good times.
Key Players for Mizzou
RB Derrick Washington
Buffalo touts its rushing defense, and the fact that they're giving up less than 100 yards a game on the ground is certainly impressive. But they've only faced one decent rushing team--Pittsburgh--and as I said in the preseason, I don't think as highly of LeSean McCoy as others do. Well, McCoy had 93 yards on 20 carries against Buffalo. I expect Washington put up that much in 12-15 carries, to be quite honest. But if the run-blocking is still suspect, and Buffalo can remove Washington from the equation...well...it still probably won't matter, but it could.
LB Van Alexander
Probably Buffalo's most impressive stat so far has been its 3rd-down conversion rate (55%). They get themselves into manageable third downs, and then Drew Willy finds somebody to move the chains. Chances are, it will be up to the Mizzou LBs to put a stop to any hope of a good rushing day for UB and leverage Buffalo into passing downs. I was going to say Sean Weatherspoon is the key here, but that's too obvious--so I'll say it's Van Alexander, who will likely see a lot of playing time and will probably be going at double-speed trying to make plays.
S Delstin Garward (Justin Garrett + Del Howard)
As is the case every week, they're the key simply because they haven't turned the corner in pass coverage yet. They were certainly decent on Saturday, but there was still a ridiculous breakdown on the last play of the first half, so all is not entirely well. Plus, with William Moore (probably) out, these two and Hardy Ricks will see even more PT than normal. Assuming the Mizzou offense is clicking, then the defense can have a breakdown or two and be fine, but I'd like to be confident in the secondary heading into conference play, and I'd like for Delstin Garward to show me something.
QB Blaine Gabbert
Why? Because if things go according to plan on Saturday (knock on wood), this could be his last opportunity to play for a while. The playcalling hasn't given him many opportunities to shine, but maybe he'll get to show off the right arm a bit on Saturday.
Buffalo's best quarter is Q1. Its worst is Q2. If Mizzou manages to get up early in this one--as is normally the case at home--then this one will be academic quickly. But there's a chance the Bulls make it a game through at least the first 15 minutes. We'll see. All I know is, Naaman Roosevelt is the Bulls' only proven big-play threat, and Mizzou is still very good at taking away a team's #1 weapon. If Gettis (and whoever else) shut down Roosevelt, Willy (who is not altogether mobile) will be facing many passing downs and a pass rush hungry after a couple of mediocre weeks. Without the big plays for UB, this one should get ugly. Mizzou 52, Buffalo 13.