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2016 MAC Football Preview: North Dakota Fighting Hawks vs. Bowling Green Falcons

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North Dakota might be just what doctor ordered for Bowling Green.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week makes. This time last week, the Bowling Green Falcons and new head coach Mike Jinks were preparing to face the #5 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, in front of 107,000+ fans and a national TV audience. This week, the Falcons will be at home in the friendly confines of Perry Stadium, playing in front of approximately 15,000 people, while battling the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. You can watch the game online if your Internet service is fast enough to handle the stream.

Who? No not the Bison of North Dakota State who won the Division 1 FCS Championship for five straight years (2011-2015). That was Carson Wentz’s school. These are the Fighting Hawks, who used to be known as the Fighting Sioux until political correctness reared its head. The school went without a nickname last year after the former nickname was deemed offensive to Native Americans. This year, the Fighting Hawks adopted their current mascot and the new logo was unveiled last week on their helmets to poor reviews from students and fans.

New helmets worn by the 206 North Dakota Fighting Hawks
North Dakota Fighting Hawks Football Helmet
Courtesy of the North Dakota Athletic Department

The reviews on the field last week weren’t much better for North Dakota. The Hawks lost in their season opener to the Stony Brook Seawolves in New York, 13-9. Stony Brook used a late special team’s touchdown to secure the win over North Dakota last week. The Hawks are currently still ranked #25 in the STATS FCS Top 25 Poll despite the loss.

While Hawks were losing on Long Island last week, the Falcons were getting embarrassed by the mighty Buckeyes, 77-10. The Falcons actually had the lead after Falcon defensive back Brandon Harris intercepted a J.T. Barrett passes and rumbled 63 yards for a touchdown. It was 7-0, and I hope all the Falcon fans got a shot of that scoreboard in Ohio Stadium at that point?

The Falcon offense moved the ball in the first half but couldn’t finish drives. In the second half all they did was go 3-and-out over and over again and dig themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of. The Bowling Green defense couldn’t stay with the speedy Buckeye receivers, and couple that with the lack of a pass rush and you had the perfect storm for a blowout.

The only two positives from the Ohio State game for the Falcons is that 1) they came out healthy; and 2) they still have their goals of a fourth straight MAC East title and a MAC Championship in front of them.

The Falcons should find the Hawks a more hospitable opponent this week. Look for Jinks’ brand of the spread offense to begin to take shape for Bowling Green. If the Falcons struggle against the Hawks on either side of the ball on Saturday, it might foreshadow a long season for the brown and orange.

But if the Falcons come out and take care of business on Saturday, will we really know any more about them? All would really know at that point is that they are not nearly as good as Ohio State, yet markedly better than a FCS school.

Quick Game Info

Game Time, Date: This game is on Saturday, September 10, 2016; kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 pm (EST).

Location: The two will meet up at Doyt Perry Stadium (24,000) in Bowling Green, Ohio.

TV: This game will be available on the American Sports Network/ESPN3. (Mike Gleason Brad Jackson)

Radio: Available on the Falcon Radio Network. Click HERE to listen online at BGSUFalcons.com.

Online Streaming: Streaming on ESPN3.

Players to Watch

James Knapke (QB, BGSU) – After a decent first half last week, Knapke struggled mightily in the second half against the Buckeyes. His receivers had some drops, but Knapke was off the mark on other throws. Can’t put the blame on any one person for the debacle in Columbus, but Knapke will need to play better if the Falcons are repeat as MAC East champs. Back-up James Morgan played well in garbage time making me wonder if he won’t be the quarterback of this team in the not so distant future.

Fred Coppet (RB, BGSU) – As expected, the Falcon running game struggled against Ohio State’s front seven last Saturday. Coppet only had 12 carries for 44 yards against the Buckeyes. No matter who’s at quarterback, the Falcon offense will need to run the ball with some success to balance the attack. The Falcons have an experienced offensive line and you would expect Coppet to have more room to run this week against North Dakota.

Marquis Zimmerman (WR, BGSU) – The Falcon receiving core is mostly young and untested. The coaching staff is waiting to see who steps up among the young receivers early in the season. Starters Janarvis Pough (R-FR) and Deric Phouthavong (SO) managed just a catch apiece last week. Zimmerman came in late and caught seven passes for 43 yards in garbage time against Ohio State. At 5’ 10” and 146 pounds, Zimmerman is small but might just be the playmaker the Falcons need on offense.

Trent Greene (LB, BGSU) – While his fellow linebacker, Austin Valdez has gotten most of the attention, Greene has quietly become one of the best defenders in the MAC. He led the Falcons with 16 tackles last week, nine solo, against the Buckeyes. At 5’ 9“ and 214 pounds, he’s undersized for his position, but he is relentless in pursuing the ball. The Falcon defense isn’t as bad as the outcome of last week’s game and this week should give them an opportunity to prove it.

John Santiago (RB, North Dakota) – The Co-Freshman of the Year last season in the Big Sky Conference, Santiago rushed for nearly 1,500 yards , 2,159 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns last season as a true freshman. Was named a top 10 finalist for Mr. Football in Minnesota after his senior season in high school. He also returns punts and kick-offs for the Hawks and could be a significant challenge for the Falcon defense this week.

Cole Reyes (DB, North Dakota) – With eight total tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble, Reyes had himself a game last week against Stony Brook. He has great size for a defensive back at 6’ 2” and 215 pounds. It could be a different story this week for Reyes as he will face the up-tempo, pass-happy offense that the Falcons will run.

Prediction

Bowling Green will still be smarting from what transpired last week in Columbus. They’ve talked all week about how this game can’t get here fast enough. I think the Fighting Hawks are just what the doctor ordered for the Falcons.

Bowling Green 42
North Dakota 10