Camellia Bowl Preview: Can Marshall’s Defense Stop Buffalo’s Offense?

After losing out on conference titles, Marshall and Buffalo meet in the Camellia Bowl on Christmas Day, looking to wrap up otherwise successful seasons with a win. The Thundering Herd (7-2, 4-1 Conference USA) take on the Bulls (5-1, 5-0 Mid-American Conference) in Montgomery, Alabama in a game that will kick off at 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm local time on ESPN. Marshall is favored over Buffalo by 4.5 points at Bovada, while the total for the game is set at 54.5 at the sportsbook.

Marshall and Buffalo both had big winning streaks this season. The Thundering Herd won their first seven games of the season, but they come in with losses in their last two games, including a Conference USA championship game defeat to UAB. Meanwhile, the Bulls won their first five games of the season, but they fell to Ball State in the MAC title game.

Who will take the win in their holiday showdown? Here’s a look at both teams, along with some factors that could be pivotal to the outcome and to how bettors should make their picks.

Marshall Thundering Herd Preview

Marshall’s defense has been one of the best in the nation, paving the way for a run that saw the Thundering Herd ascend to the top 15 of the polls before their disappointing finish.

Marshall is tops in the FBS in points allowed per game at a measly 12.6, and they are third in yards allowed per game at 277.7. Against the run, the Thundering Herd have been especially stingy, allowing only 88.9 rushing yards per game. which is second only to Georgia. Marshall does not force a lot of turnovers, but they don’t bend very often. Leading the way on defense is linebacker duo Tavante Beckett, who has 90 tackles this season, and Eli Neal, who has 70 tackles. Defensive lineman Darius Hodge has 56 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks. Notably, Marshall has amassed over 450 assisted tackles this season.

Offensively, the Thundering Herd are led by running back Brenden Knox, who has run for 887 yards and nine touchdowns. Knox had five 100-yard games in a row at one point, but he has been limited down the stretch and has not scored in any of Marshall’s last three games. Redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells (1,977 yards, 18 touchdowns, 9 INT, 60.9% completion percentage) has not played like a freshman too often this season, but he had a five-interception game in a 20-0 shutout loss to Rice on December 5. That loss ended Marshall’s unbeaten season, and it was an especially stunning one given that Rice was a 24.5-point underdog going into the game. Wells is also somewhat effective with his legs, rushing for 175 yards and two touchdowns on an average of 3.7 yards per carry.

Buffalo Bulls Preview

Buffalo was almost unstoppable on offense in their first five games, rolling through the MAC until they reached the title game, where they fell 38-28 to Ball State.

A key in their loss to Ball State was the fact that star running back Jaret Patterson was held to a season-worst 47 yards on 18 carries. Not only that, but Patterson injured his right knee in the third quarter and had only one more carry after that. The Bulls only scored one touchdown in the second half and could not overcome a two-touchdown halftime deficit against the Cardinals, who outscored them 28-7 in the second quarter to lead 35-21 at halftime.

Patterson, who has run for 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns, leads the nation in rushing yards per game. Buffalo coach Lance Leipold has said that Patterson is available to play against Marshall, but if he is limited, Kevin Marks, Jr. is the next man up. Marks has run for 603 yards and six touchdowns, and he averages 7.8 yards per carry to Patterson’s 7.6, so he has been productive as well.

Led by Patterson, who posted an astounding 409 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-41 win over Kent State (after having run for 301 yards and four touchdowns in the previous game against Bowling Green), the Bulls lead the FBS in rushing yards per game, averaging 309.2. They are also third in the FBS in points per game at 47.8 and tenth in total yards per game at 508.7. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease showed off his arm against Ball State, going 29 of 42 for 365 yards, and he may well need to do so again against Marshall with Patterson’s status a big question mark. Buffalo’s biggest threat in the passing game is Antonio Nunn, who has 33 catches for 535 yards and two touchdowns. Trevor Wilson has only 14 catches, but he averages a team-leading 22.1 yards per catch and has three touchdowns, which also leads the team.

Defensively, the Bulls are led by another Patterson, Jaret’s twin brother James. James has 54 tackles this season and has posted double-digit tackles in three games. Defensive end Malcolm Koonce has 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks, while true freshman defensive tackle George Wolo has made an immediate impact, registering 25 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks. Buffalo allows 23.8 points per game and 379.2 yards per game, including 161.3 yards per game on the ground.

Betting Information

Odds via Bovada

Spread: Marshall +4.5 (-110), Buffalo -4.5 (-110)

Moneyline: Marshall +160, Buffalo -180

Total: Over 54.5 (-110), Under 54.5 (-110)

Key Trends & Odds

  • The 22 points that Marshall allowed to UAB in the Conference USA title game is the most they have allowed this season. The last two games are the only games this season in which they have allowed 20 or more points.
  • Buffalo’s 28 points against Ball State was a season-low for them. Their previous low had been 42, which the Bulls scored against Miami (Ohio) and Bowling Green. Buffalo’s team total for this game is 27.5 (O -150, U +110).
  • Marshall has scored a combined 13 points in their last two games after averaging 37.4 points per game in their first seven games. Their team total for this game is 25.5 (O +105, U -140).

See Bovada for updated lines and odds.

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Ryan
A sports enthusiast, Ryan helps cover sports betting news from around the country, highlighting some of the more interesting events going on in the USA.