Let’s call it the Who’s Left Bowl.
Seems appropriate. After all, the emphasis is on what players aren’t expected to play when Marshall (7-2) takes on Buffalo (5-1) at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the Camellia Bowl at Montgomery, Alabama.
Marshall’s mauling junior running back Brenden Knox has opted out after winning All-Conference USA first-team honors in 2020 and C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.
Joining him is senior linebacker Tavante Beckett, who was the 2020 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year.
And don’t forget offensive tackle Josh Ball, who was first-team all-conference.
That’s losing a lot … a whole lot.
Meanwhile, Buffalo got a scare when star running back Jaret Patterson injured a knee in the Mid-American Conference championship loss to Ball State. Who is Patterson? Only a 5-foot-9, 195-pound running back who leads the entire nation in rushing yardage per game.
But, apparently, Patterson is going to play. At least that’s what Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold says.
“He was working on the side today, fully dressed in the attire of everyone else,” said Leipold during a Zoom call on Tuesday. “And we expect him to be able and ready to go.”
But will Patterson be the same running back that rushed for 1,072 yards in six games with 7.6 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns? Ah, that’s the question.
“I guess go is go,” answered Leipold. “A little more rotation? Possibly. But we’re not going to put him out there if it’s not ... that’s a trainer, doctor ... that’s not a Lance Leipold decision. Just like any other player.”
All indications are Patterson will be close to 100 percent. And even if it’s less than that, the junior still will be pretty darned good.
Just ask Marshall senior free safety Nazeeh Johnson.
“They’ve got a really good running back in Patterson,” said the 5-10, 200-pound redshirt senior. “One of the top six in the nation. Their team rushed for 800 yards in one game, I think. And he had eight touchdowns.”
Buffalo beat Kent State 70-41, with Patterson rushing for 409 yards and eight touchdowns.
Impressed? Johnson is.
“His size doesn’t speak for how talented he really is,” said Johnson. “That man is explosive. He gets an open space and he just leaves just about everybody. He makes one cut and gets vertical. There’s a reason he’s one of the top running backs in the nation.”
But here’s the other side of the coin. Buffalo is not a one-trick pony. Quarterback Kyle Van Tease has completed 80 of 127 passes for 1,186 yards with seven touchdowns.
If that doesn’t sound like a lot, remember Buffalo leads the entire nation in rushing. Besides Patterson, the Bulls’ Kevin Marks Jr. has rushed for 603 yards on 77 carries (7.8 yards per attempt) with six touchdowns.
“The quarterback puts the ball on the money,” said Johnson. “Basically, they are a stretch zone team. They’re going to stretch, stretch and play-action pass. They’re going to throw the ball.
“So it’s another game where you’re going to buckle your chin strap and just be physical at the point of attack.”
The compelling question, of course, is besides Patterson getting injured, what did Ball State do to defeat Buffalo 38-28?
“I think one thing they did a good job on is they weren’t going to let us run outside,” said Leipold. “They did some things within their scheme. We had answers, but we didn’t execute the answers as well as we should have. I think that was one thing.
“We kept challenging ourselves to get the ball outside and keep selling things that way. Again, that was a tribute to them. There are some things we look back at the film and didn’t execute and didn’t call as well. That’s my responsibility.”
A good coach always falls on his sword, yet there were some extenuating circumstances.
As it turns out, Buffalo outgained Ball State 499 yards to 439, but had a field goal blocked, a fumble returned for a touchdown, an interception and two drives end on downs.
So which Buffalo team shows up? Good question. On the other hand, which Marshall team shows up? An even better question.
That alone should make this an interesting game to watch.
Buffalo will win 27-21.