2018 Dollar General Bowl Preview: Troy vs Buffalo

Troy (9-3) vs Buffalo (10-2)

When: Dec. 22, 6:00 pm CT

Where: Ladd Peebles Stadium, Mobile

TV: ESPN

Spread: Buffalo -1.5

Series: First Ever Meeting

 

History

The Trojans are playing a Mobile bowl game for the third time in their 18 year FBS school history while Buffalo is making its third bowl appearance ever in its 29 years at this level.

The Bulls are 0-2 in the postseason with their last trip being a 49-24 loss in the 2013 Idaho Potato Bowl. Troy is 4-3 and is looking to win its third bowl game in as many years.

A win for Troy would give the Trojans three straight seasons of at least 10 wins for the first time in the program’s entire football-playing history.

Not only is this year’s Buffalo team the first in school history to reach 10 wins, but it had not ever reached nine before, either. The Bulls have won at least eight games just three times.

Both programs are enjoying heights never before obtained and hoping to cap off the season with a bowl win.

Buffalo’s Offense vs Troy’s Defense

This is a matchup many are ready and waiting to see. Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson has the size (6-foot-7, 245 lbs) and the arm to push the ball downfield but is lining up across a team that is in the midst of one of the most dominant three-year stretches a Sun Belt defense has ever seen.

The Bulls are as balanced as they come, utilizing the top freshman running back combo in the nation to compliment the arm of Jackson.

Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks have 946 and 805 rushing yards respectively and have combined for 25 rushing touchdowns. Those 25 rushing touchdowns are more than 84 teams have, including Troy.

As a team, Buffalo is fourth in the MAC with 195.9 rushing yards on 4.6 yards a carry per game.

The Bulls have only faced three top-40 teams in rushing defense this year, though. In those games, Buffalo is gaining only 134 yards on the ground per game.

Troy’s run defense is 29th in the country with 130.9 rushing yards given up a game. Creating havoc is the Trojans’ specialty, sitting in the top 15 nationally is sacks and tackles for loss.

As for Jackson vs the Troy secondary, the Trojans might be feasting. Jackson has the tools but is still fairly raw. Consistency isn’t exactly a word used to describe the junior quarterback.

He’s completing 55.1 percent of his throws and has only reached 60 percent three times this year. Jackson has also tossed 11 picks, throwing multiple interceptions in three games.

Troy has played a high-risk-high-reward style in the secondary the past few years, giving up its fair share of yardage but also forcing turnovers in volume. Troy is tied for seventh nationally in interceptions this year with 17.

All-Sun Belt safety Cedarius Rookard leads the way with four interceptions while 10 different players have picked off a pass.

Can Troy Score When it Needs to?

Buffalo is scoring 34.8 points per game this year but in the small sample size we have of the Bulls playing top-40 scoring defenses they are putting up just 25.7 points per game. Against those teams (Eastern Michigan, Army, Northern Illinois) Buffalo went 1-2.

Troy’s defense has kept them in every game this season sans the season-opener and will likely do the same here. Whether or not the Trojan offense can return the favor still remains to be seen.

Sawyer Smith took over at quarterback in October for the injured Kaleb Barker and Troy shockingly lost to Liberty in his first start.

The offense under Smith can basically be boiled down to handoffs to BJ Smith and go routes on the outside. Smith showed off the arm strength against South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Southern, hitting on a number of deep balls to kickstart the offense.

When the injury bug struck the wide receiver room, though, the offense came to a sputtering halt. Troy entered the Texas State game without receivers Damion Willis and Tray Eafford while Deondre Douglas was limited.

The Trojans somehow walked away with a 12-7 win. The next week, without Willis and Eafford, Troy found the endzone just once in a 21-10 loss to Appalachian State.

However, for the first time in a long time, the receivers are completely healthy. Troy has been night-and-day with and without the top targets, which is good news for Neal Brown’s team.

Willis is looking to cap off his career with another exhilarating bowl performance. He had his break-out game in last year’s New Orleans Bowl, catching 11 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns in Troy’s 50-30 win over North Texas.

Combine the receivers with BJ Smith, who had a school record five straight 100-yard rushing performances earlier this year, and Sawyer should be fairly comfortable on Saturday.

Buffalo’s defense has been a roller coaster this year. In the last four games, Buffalo has allowed 14, 52, 14 and 30 points.

Prediction

As with most of Troy’s games in 2018, this will likely be decided by what the Trojans can do with the football. One key factor, though, is special teams. Kicker/punter Tyler Sumpter has been efficient as a place kicker (18/24) and has a big leg as a punter (three 70+ yard punts).

Troy’s defense combined with Sumpter’s leg will limit what Buffalo can do offensively and the Trojans should be able to mix up the offense better than they’ve been able to do since the Georgia Southern game. 27-24, Troy

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