Arguably, two of the best teams in the Sun Belt and the MAC will compete once again this Saturday. The Troy Trojans (9-3) will have a home-like game against the Buffalo Bulls (10-3) in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl. Troy and Buffalo will face each other after coming close to securing the top spots of their respective conferences. Both the Buffalos and the Trojans come into this game with a balanced offense and defense. Here are the major factors going into the 2018 Dollar General Bowl between the Bulls and the Trojans.
Buffalo’s fast and efficient passing game versus Trojans’ pass rush happy defense
In one offseason, Buffalo has become one of the most potent and efficient offensive teams in the nation. While they are not as explosive as some of the other top offenses such as Oklahoma or Washington State, they are highly consistent. The Bulls rank 28th in the nation in points per game (34.8) and 11th in offensive efficiency (74.8). quarterback Tyree Jackson, the 2018 MAC Offensive Player of the Year, and wide receiver Anthony Johnson lead the high-power Bulls offense. Buffalo has the capability to be explosive anywhere on the field with their fast, speedy receiver in Johnson. The Bulls’ offensive philosophy is to stay composed and to spread the ball through multiple different route settings. Johnson is a potential NFL caliber receiver, who has accounted for 52 receptions for 944 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Buffalo will spread the ball all over the field and strongly emphasize their running game ranked 45th in the nation (195.8). This will give the Troy defense much to work with as they must be aggressive and smart. This Trojans defense is ranked 23rd in the nation in points allowed per game (21.2) due to their balance of pass rush, stopping the run, and slowing down the passing game. Their defense ranks tied for 12th in the nation in total sacks accounted for with 36. Linebacker Hunter Reese has accounted for 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Defensive end Jarvis Hayes has accounted for 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Hayes will need to remain consistent in his pass rush but also play fast to cause confusion in Buffalo’s high-intensity offense. Reese will need to play both aggressive pass rush but also play smart zone coverage on short pass packages.
Troy RB B.J. Smith v.s. Buffalo LB Khalil Hodge
On the other side of the ball, the Trojans have a balanced offense that eats up the clock and finds holes in the defense throughout the game. Troy’s offense ranks 56th in the nation in rushing yards per game. This is due to the aggressive running of running back B.J. Smith and efficient blocking of the offensive line. Smith has carried the ball 198 times for 1,090 yards (for an average of 5.5 yards per rush) and 12 touchdowns. Trojans head coach Neal Brown is a coach who is an easily expose a weakness before a game as during the game. Buffalo has a potent defense that can stay in a tough enduring game. Troy will need to use a similar offensive strategy that Northern Illinois used to score 20 points in the final 16 minutes of the 2018 MAC Conference Championship game.
The Bulls showed a rare moment of weakness against Northern Illinois despite having a defense that is 32nd in the nation in total yards allowed per game (350). Having a long time off in-between this game and the conference championship has given the Bulls the opportunity to prepare for Troy’s rushing game. One of the best players to slow down the efficiency of the Trojans rushing game is linebacker Khalil Hodge. The senior linebacker has accounted for 139 total tackles (7th highest in the nation). Hodge will need to play smart and stout in order to stop the Trojans efficient running game of Smith. He will need to avoid the offensive line schemes in order to make efficient tackles needed to slow down Troy.
Which Quarterback will be more consistent and efficient?
Both quarterbacks need to play efficient and mistake-free football in order for either offense to be productive. Jackson and Sawyer Smith have the ability to drive the ball deep down the field consistently. Their offensive schemes not only slow down the pace of the game but also to make efficient plays. This season, Jackson accounted for 205 completions (out of 372 attempts) for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He also rushed for seven touchdowns this seasons due to his 6’7 height as a big target to tackle. Jackson can make the big plays but he often makes difficult throws by only completing 55% throughout the season.
Smith came into this season as a backup to Kaleb Barker but took over after Barker tore his ACL halfway through Troy’s season. Smith has done well becoming a productive signal-caller for the Trojans’ 58th scoring offense (29.8 points).
Through a short season, Smith has accounted for 113 completions (out of 185 attempts) for 1,349 yards, 10 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Like Jackson, Smith doesn’t make the most accurate passes with only a 61.1% completion percentage. Smith averages 7.3 yards per completion and Jackson averages 7.7 yards per completion. Troy’s offense consists of many screens and predetermined plays that focuses the pressure away from the quarterback. Buffalo’s spread offense gives Jackson much of the load to bear but also the freedom to make the offensive production elevate. Troy will need to avoid mistakes in their playcalling but also not be predictable for Buffalo’s defense to read. Buffalo’s Jackson will face one of the most talented and collaborate defenses they’ve faced all season. If given the opportunity to make distinctive throws, Jackson must be smart with his throws and not be impatient against this talented Trojans defensive backs.
Bulls and Trojans set for a colossal matchup on Saturday
This will be the first-ever matchup between Buffalo and Troy. This will be the Trojans’ 8th bowl appearance in program history and the 3rd in a row. The Bulls will appear in their 3rd bowl appearance in bowl history and the first since 2013. This matchup between two top teams from the Sun Belt and the MAC will be televised on ESPN at 4 pm ET this Saturday.