2020 Game Preview: Buffalo

WHO ARE THEY?

Buffalo is led by Lance Leipold, who similar to Kansas State’s Chris Klieman, made the jump from dominating a lower level and transitioning to FBS football. Leipold spent 8 seasons at DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater and won 6 national titles and 95 percent of his games.

The first few years were rough, but Buffalo is coming off their best two seasons in program history, including a 10-win season in 2018 and an 8-win season last year that included an overtime loss against Ohio with two missed field goals and a missed extra point and a blown 27-6 lead in the 4th quarter against Kent State.

Leipold’s staff at Buffalo is largely coaches who were with him at Whitewater, including offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and defensive coordinator Brian Borland.

There are some ties between the two staffs. A few are familiar with coaching in the state of Nebraska in Leipold and assistants Chris Simpson and Scott Fuchs. Fuchs, Simpson and Leipold all coached at Nebraska-Omaha, much like K-State offensive line coach Conor Riley. Fuchs also coached at Wyoming under Craig Bohl, just like Wildcat linebacker coach Steve Stanard.

Kansas State offensive line coach Conor Riley

Kansas State offensive line coach Conor Riley

THE OFFENSIVE NUMBERS

Buffalo runs a spread offense, typically in shotgun formation and a pistol alignment with 3 receivers and an H-back. They will also play two true running backs in split-gun or two tight ends/H-backs. In short yardage, they will go under center and run I-Formation with a fullback.

After featuring a 50-50 run-pass split in Leipold’s first three seasons, the Bulls have evolved into a run-based team, mainly using inside and outside zone, read-option and a few power concepts mixed in, too. In 2018, they were 60-40 run and last year that jumped to 70-30 run with the 10th best running game in the country in terms of yards per game (just over 250 yards per game).

The Bulls offense was only ranked 69th in the FEI and 85th in the SP+ advanced metrics last year. In the SP+, the run game was only ranked 70 and the pass game only 96th. They did have a solid success rate at 36th nationally, but they were way down at 125th in explosiveness.

For explosive plays, 16.4 percent were 10+ yards and 5.3 percent were 20+; K-State was 20.1 percent and 5.8 percent respectively. In 2018, the offense was their strength, ranking 14th & 47th in the FEI/SP+ metrics.

Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson

Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson

THE OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL

Buffalo has the best college running back that many fans have never heard of in junior Jaret Patterson. In his sophomore season, Patterson rushed for 1,799 yards and 19 touchdowns while also catching 13 balls for 209 yards. He finished 1st team All-MAC, and during one stretch, had eight straight 100-yard rushing performances. Patterson has already appeared on some preseason All-American lists and is being discussed as a potential draft pick after his junior season.

The Bulls featured a second 1,000-yard rusher in Kevin Marks and the two are often on the field together. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease wasn’t used often in the run game, and ran for only 64 yards, but he did score six touchdowns and was used mostly around the goal line.

At quarterback, Buffalo returns two players that played last year. Junior Kyle Vantrease started the last eight games of the season and threw for 1,193 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Sophomore Matt Meyers started the first five games and threw for 602 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. Meyers was used a bit more in the running game during his time, rushing for 94 yards in those five games.

Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease

Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease

The Bulls’ passing game ranked only 122nd in the country. Senior wideout Antonio Nunn is the biggest receiving threat, earning third team All-MAC honors with 49 catches, 687 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Daniel Lee returns as the second-leading receiver with 23 catches, 284 yards and one touchdown, while big senior tight end/H-back Zac Lefebvre caught 21 balls for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulls like to throw a lot off play action and will try to stretch the field vertically.

The Bulls lost three of their five starters on the offensive line, including 1st team All-MAC selection Evin Ksiezarczyk and 2nd team All-MAC selection Paul Nosworthy. 2nd Team All-MAC selection Kayode Awosika returns at right tackle and Mike Novitsky returns at center. The Bulls also brought in transfer offensive lineman Keith Woetzel from UMass, who started 34 games for the Minutemen.

THE DEFENSIVE NUMBERS

Buffalo is coming off one of their best defensive seasons ever, ranking 24th in the FEI and 45th in the SP+. In the SP+, the Bulls were 20th in rush defense, 96th in pass defense, 21st in success rate allowed and 109th in explosive plays allowed. They were also 35th in defensive havoc rate (tackles for loss, interceptions, pass break ups and forced fumbles). The Bulls feature a 4-3 base defense that often morphs into a 4-2-5 look against spread formations.

Buffalo safety Tyrone Hill

Buffalo safety Tyrone Hill

THE DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL

The Bulls did lose their top two tacklers and four of their top six, including a trio that earned 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team All-MAC defensive honors. They also lost four of their top seven in terms of havoc plays.

Still, Buffalo returns two First Team All-MAC defenders and two Second Team All-MAC defenders.

Leading the way on defense is first team All-MAC defensive end Malcolm Koonce, who tallied 33 tackles and led the Bulls in havoc plays at 14. Fellow defensive end Taylor Riggins was also first team and finished with 48 tackles and 10.5 havoc plays.

Safety Tyrone Hill was second team All MAC and finished with 71 tackles and 13 havoc plays, along with OLB Kadofi Wright, who was also a second team All-MAC selection.

Linebacker James Patterson (twin brother of running back Jaret) returns with 40 tackles and 7.5 havoc plays a year ago, while fellow returning linebacker Tim Terry recorded 42 tackles last season.

Safety Cory Gross and cornerback Aapri Washington are returners in the secondary. The Bulls brought in Brenden Pyne as a graduate transfer, a linebacker that led Brown in tackles in the Ivy League and transfer linebacker Keith Woetzel makes the jump from FCS Lehigh after leading them in tackles for three straight seasons.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES

Buffalo’s special teams unit has been a weakness under Leipold, finishing 100th nationally four of five seasons and 119th or worse the last two seasons. Punter Jackson Baltar returns after averaging 37.2 yards per punt and kicker Alex McNulty returns after finishing 10 for 15 on field goals and 40 of 42 on extra points. Ron Cook is the leading returner averaging 22 yards on 5 kick returns and 6.7 yards on 10 punt returns. The Bulls had no returns for touchdowns in 2019.

Kansas State Wildcats

Kansas State Wildcats

DY’S SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

I will begin by thanking ksu_Fan for his help on the numbers and personnel. He is amazing at producing that kind of research and he has always been and will continue to be an asset for us.

We will preview and attack each game on the schedule like this throughout the remainder of the offseason.

Kansas State defensive end Khalid Duke

Kansas State defensive end Khalid Duke

My first assessment of Buffalo and this contest is that the Bulls will be the toughest non-conference game on the slate for Kansas State this year and it probably isn’t particularly close. They’ve been a bowl team for two straight seasons, have some elite returning players and are a mere inches away from coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons.

Vanderbilt is the power five opponent, but an argument can be made that they were one of the worst power five teams in all of college football last year and not much above Kansas on the scale.

The Bulls lacked explosion on offense a year ago, but returning nearly all of their skill players and one of the best players in America should cure that to an extent. Offensively, being as run-heavy as they are, it’ll be a change-up and a bit of a deviation from what K-State will see the rest of the year and challenge the Wildcats’ defensive front that will be breaking in a lot of new faces.

Kansas State offensive lineman Cooper Beebe

Kansas State offensive lineman Cooper Beebe

Defensively, Buffalo was fantastic a year ago. They’re losing a decent chunk of that production, but at the same time, they were full of standouts and many of them still make their way back for another season in upstate New York.

That will make it a challenge, who will have four different players (most likely) make their first career start when the Bulls make it to Manhattan.

To no surprise, there should be a huge edge on special teams for the Wildcats.

I think this game plays as a big challenge for Kansas State for about three quarters and they create a little comfort late but not a ton.

PREDICTION: KANSAS STATE 30, BUFFALO 19

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