Buffalo Doesn't Even Need To Pass
Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks Jr. are comically good
Buffalo passed 12 times against Bowling Green on Tuesday night. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease (who used to be a punter!) completed seven of those 12 attempts for 74 yards, on the way to a 42-17 win over the Falcons. I’m extremely comfortable in saying that had Buffalo not passed a single time against Bowling Green, the final score is the exact same, if not more slanted towards the Bulls.
Now it is worth noting that Bowling Green employs Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder (who missed yesterday’s game), meaning that I could also score at least two touchdowns on this defense, but I’m not going to let that distract me from what really matters here: Buffalo’s rushing attack is obscene.
Specifically, it’s time to talk about the two-man backfield of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, because they just combined for 391 yards on 46 attempts (8.5 yards per carry) against what is ostensibly a Division I defense. The amount to which Bowling Green should be considered a football team is up for debate. The talent of these two football players - paired with the meanest offensive line in the MAC - is not. This is the best run game in America.
A lot of it does come back to pure talent, which I likely don’t harp on enough on this newsletter. Scheme matters a lot, as does coaching, but everything gets a whole lot easier when you have two running backs that can trade off being the best player on the field depending entirely on which one is out there. I mean, Patterson rushed 31 times for 301 yards. You can draw up brilliant blocking schemes all day, but having a guy that can do that is always going to basically guarantee at least a solid rushing attack, even in a bad system.
Luckily for us, the consumers, head coach Lance Leipold and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki have a perfectly fine scheme, meaning that Patterson and Marks are able to showcase their immense talent in a well-built and well-blocked offense.
It’s a whole lot of fun to watch. Buffalo doesn’t do a ton of outside-the-box thinking, relying mostly on the kind of base zone running schemes that a lot of teams use, but there are some pretty neat wrinkles in there that we’ll get to in a little bit. At its core, this is a lot of what you’re going to get from this group. Buffalo loves 12 personnel because it doesn’t really have any use for more than two receivers on the field. Most plays will have a motion attached like this one and usually the run is going to go with the motion, as it does here.
Interestingly, there’s not really a ton of inside running in this system. My assumption is that it’s a personnel decision, given that neither running back is especially big, but I have no way to actually prove that. Regardless, most of Buffalo’s running and the vast majority of its successful running is going to the outside on a variety of zone looks. Here, with the faster back, Marks, in the game, Buffalo is blocking down across the board, with the play side tackle and guard looking to seal off the inside to create a lane in the C gap, while the motioned tight end is kicking out the edge defender.
With seven blockers on the line on basically every play, and the back side edge player usually left unblocked, defenses are essentially forced to put eight in the box just to match this rushing attack. That’s very difficult for pretty much any modern defense, especially because it doesn’t actually seem to slow down this rushing attack.
That, is because of Patterson. Marks is the straight line speed runner, but Patterson makes his living in close quarters with his footwork and vision. Bowling Green has eight, almost nine defenders in the box here and it absolutely does not matter. The play call doesn’t matter, the blocking doesn’t matter, the only thing here is Patterson. When he’s on the field, loading up the box is only going to make things worse, because you won’t have anyone left in the backfield to tackle him when he inevitably slips into the secondary.
Having him in the offense really ties it all together. Marks is a supremely talented player, but the thing that makes all of this go is Patterson’s quickness and ability to cut against the flow of the play. Outside zone blocking here again, with that 12 personnel and motion to the play side, which the defense has already caught on to, even on just the first drive of the game.
Seeing that motion, the deep safety shifts into the box to help set the edge, assuming that Patterson is headed straight for that C gap. He isn’t. Buffalo sells it hard, but the tell is in the back side tight end, who cuts inside of the edge defender to seal him off, opening up a lane on the back side C gap, with almost every linebacker and defensive lineman completely out of the play as they sell out to get to the play side C gap. The last remaining outside linebacker is too busy keeping contain on the quarterback, so Patterson darts into the defense completely unabated for six points.
Using its strength in running with the flow of the line, Buffalo is able to create some pretty nasty misdirection with both Patterson and Marks, even though Marks isn’t quite as quick on the cuts. With Patterson, Buffalo can just show essentially the same exact look, while directing him to a different gap.
With Marks, you have to get a little bit creative. To do that, Buffalo put out one of my favorite plays that I’ve seen all season. It only went for a few yards, but the design here is just lovely. This is a counter play, designed to look like outside zone for just long enough to force linebackers to bite down and get into the strong side C gap.
Allow me to explain. The entire line is blocking down, as they would on an outside zone to the field. Buffalo is really selling it by moving two tight ends to that side, using the outermost to kick out an edge defender and the inside tight end to create an inside seal, as they would on a run into the C gap. Even in the backfield, the initial handoff sell is that of a run into that C gap. Marks steps hard to that side and Vantrease opens to the field. As a defender, you’d have to be crazy to think that this is going anywhere else.
Then, Marks just stops. He cuts back in the other direction, as you would on a counter. As he does that, the center - who was lightly blocking down but mostly staying untangled - pops out and pulls to the edge so that he can seal off the unblocked edge defenders and push him inside, leaving a wide open lane for Marks to the outside. It doesn’t quite work because the back side safety makes an outstanding play to sniff this out, but the idea behind it is just wonderful. Buffalo is going to notch a massive touchdown on this design at some point this season.
For now, though, it can be pretty happy grabbing those big gains on plays like this one, swapping out that second tight end for a second running back, using him as the lead blocker and opening up the field for Patterson to score on another outside zone, this time to the expected gap.
I could watch this running game all day long.
Up next: What to watch, week 12