The Bowling Green Falcons begin a stretch of three consecutive home games on Saturday afternoon when they host the Murray State Racers at Doyt Perry Stadium. Murray State, who plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, is the Falcons' lone opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in 2013.
Murray State has been an enigma of sorts this year; it's hard to get a real read on who they are, primarily because the competition in their first three games has varied so wildly.
In their first game, the Racers played Missouri, who (like Bowling Green) is from the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The Racers lost to the Tigers, 58-14. They played their first home game of the season on the following Saturday and defeated Campbellsville, who is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Murray State won that contest 83-14 after scoring 41 points in the first quarter and 62 in the first half. Finally, the Racers played an FCS team for the first time in 2013 last weekend when they hosted Missouri State. Murray State improved to 2-1 by winning 41-38. The Racers scored just six first-half points but found the end zone with just 0:24 left to win the game.
In other words, their numbers -- both on offense and defense -- have to be taken with a grain of salt. One thing I will say is that the team can score quickly and often, so the Falcons should certainly take this challenge seriously.
Unfortunately, the Falcons will have to face this offense with a big piece missing on defense. According to the Toledo Blade's beat writer for BGSU, John Wagner, linebacker Gabe Martin is doubtful to play. Also, Darrell Hunter and Diontre Delk are both out, so others in the secondary will have to step up. Safety Josh Pettus is also potentially out (listed as questionable) after suffering a knee injury during a non-contact drill. However, defensive lineman Charlie Walker, who has not played since the season opener versus Tulsa, has been upgraded to probable for Saturday.
Also according to Wagner, the offense will be without Fred Coppet. Coppet suffered a hip injury at Indiana, and the severity is as yet unknown.
One more plug for Wagner -- yesterday, he posted a must-read Q&A session with Murray State beat writer Ricky Martin. Martin goes into some very good detail about the Racers, including information about what you'll see from both their offense and defense on Saturday.
I won't rehash all of that, but I will provide some numbers that may give some perspective about Murray State.
Total offense: vs Missouri (79 plays-297 yards); vs Campbellsville (83-637), vs Missouri State (55-364)
Rushing offense: vs Missouri (36 plays-123 yards); vs Campbellsville (44-313); vs Missouri State (22-92)
Passing offense: vs Missouri (23 comp./39 att.-174 yards); vs Campbellsville (30/39-324); vs Missouri State (24/33-272)
Giveaways: vs Missouri (0 fumbles, 3 interceptions); vs Campbellsville (0, 0); vs Missouri State (2, 0)
Total defense: vs Missouri (87 plays, 694 yards); vs Campbellsville (72-289); vs Missouri State (99-578)
Rushing defense: vs Missouri (45 plays, 358 yards); vs Campbellsville (27-52); vs Missouri State (68-366)
Passing defense: vs Missouri (28 comp./42 att.-336 yards); vs Campbellsville (20/45-237); vs Missouri State (20/31-212)
Takeaways: vs Missouri (1 fumble, 0 interceptions); vs Campbellsville (2, 2); vs Missouri State (0, 2)
Time of Possession: vs Missouri (30:41 vs 29:19); vs Campbellsville (28:18 vs 22:42); vs Missouri State (18:00 vs 42:00)
If you look at the above team numbers, it would appear that Murray State is more dangerous via the pass on offense and more vulnerable via the run on defense. Against the two Missouri teams, they combined to give up 724 rushing yards on 113 carries. And that's just in two games. MSU beat writer Martin also notes that the Racers' secondary is their best defensive weapon, so my guess is that you're going to see the Falcons run the ball. A LOT. Travis Greene should get plenty of carries, as should Ronnie Moore and Andre Givens. Matt Johnson will likely play a complementary role on Saturday.
Against MSU's offense, Bowling Green will clearly have to focus on Mississippi transfer quarterback Maikhail Miller. Miller is completing two of every three attempts (57 of 86 so far) for 657 yards and nine touchdowns. He has also run 21 times for a net gain of 95 yards.
Miller's primary throwing target will be Walter Powell. Powell is one of the premier players in the entire FCS. At just 6 feet tall, he should not provide size matchup problems, but he is fast. In three games, he has 18 catches, 240 yards and seven touchdowns; last year, he came very close to triple digits in receptions. Powell is also a threat in the return game. He's got a 41.8 average on four kickoff returns, one of which went for a 98-yard touchdown. Even without that, he has a very respectable 23.0 average on his other three returns. He also has a 16-yard punt return among five he has attempted this season.
Presuming that the Falcons have cleaned up some of the issues they had at Indiana with continuity on offense, I don't think they'll have much problem moving the ball or scoring against Murray State. The big concern about this game is whether or not BGSU can possess the ball enough to keep Murray State off the field and the Falcon defense fresh. That was a problem last week against the Hoosiers, and so it's very possible that the Racers could run up some points if Bowling Green cannot put together sustained drives.
Fans at every FBS school want to believe that FCS opponents are "gimme" wins and that the final score shouldn't be close, but as we have repeatedly seen over the last few years (and most notably, this year), that assumption is often faulty. As in most FBS vs. FCS cases, Bowling Green should win this game; however, Murray State is very capable of pulling an upset. In particular, their offense should not be taken lightly.
My official game prediction? MSU keeps this uncomfortably close for a quarter, maybe even a half, and then the Falcons exert their will and pull away in the second 30 minutes, much like they did against Tulsa and Kent State.
Final score prediction: Bowling Green 45, Murray State 17