The Camellia Bowl is a matchup between two teams who were headed for huge seasons to only have things fall apart in the end. Playing in Montgomery, Alabama, Buffalo is a -5.5 point favorite against Marshall with an over/under of 54.5 in what could be one of the more exciting bowls between Group of Five teams.
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Buffalo cruised through its first five MAC games and then ran into what was seemingly a buzzsaw defense of Ball State in the title game. Despite averaging 46.8 points and more than 300 rushing yards per game, the Bulls were held to less than 30 points in a 38-28 loss.
COVID Hurt Marshall Down the Stretch
Marshall doesn’t have as explosive of an offense, but it won each of its first seven games by at least 10 points and then COVID-19 issues struck. The Thundering Herd didn’t score against a Rice team with a losing record and then had similar issues against UAB in the C-USA Championship Game.
The hope is that they’ll be a little closer to full strength after getting more than a week between the bowl and the loss to UAB.
The difference between these teams is that Marshall plays a bit more defense, allowing a nation-best 12.6 points and 277.7 yards per game. The offenses aren’t the best in C-USA, but they didn’t allow anyone to do anything until they had numerous players out because of COVID.
Maybe their best performance was the 17-7 win against an App. State team who scored more than 30 points per game and finished near the top of the Sun Belt standings. The question is if that defense can continue against Buffalo.
Bulls Can Run!
The Bulls have outlandish numbers even through only six games. Jarrett Patterson ran for 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns on 7.6 yards per carry while Kevin Marks added 603 yards and six touchdowns on 7.8 yards per carry.
Because of that, quarterback Kyle Vantrease didn’t have much to do, averaging 9.3 yards per pass for seven touchdowns and two interceptions. But again, as seen in the loss to a mediocre Ball State defense, if you contain Patterson, the offense loses its potency.
Vantrease threw for 365 yards in the loss, but Patterson had just 47 yards on 2.6 yards per carry. Buffalo will still score, but when they’re not averaging more than seven yards per carry, the offense is no longer elite and that’s where Marshall comes in, allowing just 2.7 yards per carry.
If its offense doesn’t work, Buffalo’s defense will need to step up, which isn’t a certainty despite what the numbers say. They’re allowing a solid 23.8 points per game but just over 161 rushing yards per contest. They also gave up at least 30 points in three of six games, meaning that average is a bit skewed against a couple bad MAC teams.
Marshall Balanced When Healthy
When healthy, Marshall had a balanced offense that scored against the majority of opponents. Similar to Buffalo, they focused on the ground game with running back Brenden Knox averaging 4.8 yards per carry for 887 yards and nine touchdowns.
Quarterback Grant Wells was fine, but he also threw five interceptions in the loss to Rice and averaged 7.9 yards per pass for the season. If Marshall gets behind early, it may have to focus on Wells and that may not work.
Both teams want to run the ball and control the clock and then that will open up passing lanes. If either team gets out to a two-score lead, it will have a massive edge and that lead may not go away.
Buffalo has the high-flying offense, but Marshall probably has the best defense it will have faced this season. The Herd are also a more well-rounded team which is usually easier to bet on for bowl games, assuming the COVID issues are over.
We certainly didn’t like the way Marshall’s last two games went. Buffalo also ran into an obstacle in their final game.
We’ll have to assume both teams show up and play their “A” game. If that happens, we like our chances with a balanced Marshall offense and stout defense. Considering the running games of both teams figure to play a role, we also think this game may squeak under the total.
Marshall +5.5 and UNDER 54
(Look for +6!)