Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, right, tackles Connecticut running back Max DeLorenzo (44) during a game in Buffalo, N.Y. in September. Mack is the leader of a Buffalo defense that allows just 22.2 points per game, second only to the Falcons (14.4).
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BOWLING GREEN — To win the MAC, the Bowling Green State University football team will have to beat Mack.
That may be an oversimplification, but University at Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack — the odds-on favorite to be named the Mid-American Conference’s defensive player of the year — is a large obstacle standing in the way of the Falcons’ MAC title hopes.
BG will have to handle Mack and his teammates on the Bulls’ defense if the Falcons hope to beat UB in today’s game, which kicks off at Ralph Wilson Stadium at 1:30 p.m., and claim the MAC’s East Division title.
Mack is the leader of a Buffalo defense that allows just 22.2 points per game, second only to the Falcons (14.4). Mack ranks 15th in the league in tackles with 82, but he tops the MAC in tackles for loss (16.5 for 94 yards) and sacks (12 for 79).
“He is a dominating player — people struggle to block him,” BG coach Dave Clawson said. “But if you say their defense is all about Mack, it’s really short-sighted, because they have a lot of other really good football players.
“Khalil creates so many dilemmas for you, because if shift the protection to him, you put a lot of guys on ‘islands’ away from him. If you don’t shift the protection to him, you risk going one-on-one with Khalil Mack.”
Senior center David “Chief” Kekuewa said the Bulls also use an unusual 3-4 front.
“They play a different front than we’re used to seeing, so that’s one thing we’ve been working on,” Kekuewa said. “They like to move guys around and blitz everyone.
“It’s not just [Mack]: Their whole defense is on point. They all do their job. It’s a team defense that doesn’t make many mistakes.
“I know we’re ready physically. We just have to be mentally strong.”
Much of Buffalo’s success has come from their ability to create turnovers. The Bulls have caused 12 fumbles and intercepted 14 passes and are one off the MAC lead with 26 turnovers caused.
“They do a great job [of creating turnovers],” Clawson said. “A lot of it comes from their ability to get a pass rush. They rush the passer very effectively.
“Part of it is their blitz package, part of it is their personnel. But they force quarterbacks to throw the ball under duress, and that creates easy interceptions for them.”
UB coach Jeff Quinn said he and defensive coordinator Lou Tepper, the former Illinois coach, have put an emphasis on pursuing ball carriers and quarterbacks to force turnovers.
“I think we have done a nice job of placing [Mack] in positions to put pressure on the quarterback,” Quinn said. “If you put Khalil Mack in a one-on-one matchup, he’s going to win more of those battles than not.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.