Bowling for a Victory
The Bowling Green Falcons will finally enter a matchup with a positive feeling — the feeling of riding a one-game win streak. After a disastrous start to 2017, all Bowling Green needed was a win to boost its confidence. Look at the tail end of the 2016 season.
The Falcons didn't earn their first win over an FBS program until November, but after the victory, Bowling Green created an impressive three-game win streak to conclude the season. Bowling Green started 2017 with an 0-5 record, but last week's victory over Miami (OH) reminded America that the Falcons are still a competitive team with the potential to upset several of the MAC's top teams.
Mike Jinks' team charged into Oxford and stole a 37-29 road victory over the RedHawks last week. (Side note: this has been the second 37-29 game the Falcons have been involved in this year, which sounds like a scorigami.)
A 93-yard scoop-and-score ultimately won the game for the Falcons. This play, a major 14-point swing, was Bowling Green's second touchdown of the fourth quarter. Another factor which contributed to the victory was winning the turnover battle 2-1. The interception and fumble acquired by the defense were cashed in for 10 points.
Before last Saturday, Bowling Green's maximum scoring output against FBS competition was 23. Most importantly, the offense showed competence versus Miami, reverting to its late-2016 form.
The Bobcats' stranglehold on the MAC East suffered a great setback in Week 6. On a day where no MAC result was predictable, Ohio suffered an upset on its home turf, losing to Central Michigan 26-23 in a game that wasn't actually as close as the score indicated.
After scoring its final touchdown with five minutes remaining, Ohio failed to stop Shane Morris and Central Michigan on three third downs on the Chippewas' final possession of the afternoon. The Bobcats have demonstrated inability to hold onto the ball all season long. Saturday was their worst performance yet in the turnover department, fumbling four times and throwing one interception.
Ohio's special teams had also seen better days. Louie Zervos' 50-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half was blocked and returned for a Central Michigan touchdown, inching the Chippewas within one point at the midway mark.
The loss to Central Michigan was Ohio's first bad loss of the season as the 44-21 result against Purdue (3-2) looks more respectable now. The Bobcats were coming off of a 58-50 win over UMass — a team Ohio should not have yielded 50 points to nor defeated by just one possession. After playing at an inconsistent level in 2017, the Bobcats must limit their costly errors in order to defend their MAC East title.
Players to Watch
James Morgan, QB, Bowling Green
Freshman quarterback Jarret Doege missed the Miami game with a back injury, so Jinks is riding with second-year starter James Morgan under center. Morgan (45.9% completion this season) only connected on 11-of-25 attempts, but when he hit, he hit big. The signal caller racked up 222 yards through the air — over 20 yards per completion and threw a go-ahead touchdown to Teo Redding at the beginning of the fourth quarter, obtaining a lead his team would never relinquish. Morgan is a high-risk, high-return type of passer. He's not afraid to scavenge down the field and test his skills against opposing coverages. Morgan has struggled with interceptions in the past, but he tossed three touchdowns to make up for his lone pick on Saturday. And yes, 3-of-11 of Morgan's completions ended up in six points for Bowling Green.
Teo Redding, WR, Bowling Green
Redding starred in a one-man show against Miami. The senior receiver accounted for 66.67% of the receptions, 85.65% of the receiving yards, and 66.67% of the touchdowns for Bowling Green's passing offense last week. He finished with eight catches, 197 yards, and two touchdowns, serving as Morgan's main contributor. Although Redding has seen playing time in all four seasons as a Falcon, his 197 yards against Miami more-than-doubled his previous career high of 72. With Ohio's passing defense ranking among the nation's worst (276 yards per game), this game could be the perfect opportunity for Redding to finally finish above the century mark in consecutive games.
Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio
Rourke beat out the more experienced Quinton Maxwell several weeks ago for the starting quarterback position. The sophomore's mobility unquestionably makes him one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the conference has seen in a while. But, Rourke's four turnovers against Central Michigan were concerning. Part of his struggles are due to the ineptness of the offensive line. Rourke was pressured all game by Chippewa defenders and has now been sacked 10 times this year. When the quarterback is not facing immense pressure, he has shown incredible playmaking ability. Rourke rushed for over 100 yards in the past two games and boasts nine rushing touchdowns (including two hat tricks) in his first year suiting up for the Bobcats. Ohio's quarterback is tied for fourth in this category, sitting at the same level as esteemed triple option quarterbacks TaQuon Marshall of Georgia Tech and Zach Abey of Navy in the statistical category.
Quentin Poling, ILB, Ohio/Chad Moore, OLB, Ohio
These are the tackling machines. Poling might be the best linebacker in the conference. Two weeks ago, in the 58-50 win over UMass, Poling tallied a career-high 19 tackles — his seventh game surpassing the double-digit tackle mark. The 6-foot defender certainly not the biggest guy on the field, but he has incredible wrap-up ability and misses few tackles. Poling leads a linebacking corps that has given Ohio the reputation as a sturdy defensive team over the past few years. The former First Team All-MAC selection has earned countless MAC East Defensive Player of the Week awards, dating all the way back to his freshman year.
Alongside Poling on the defense is outside linebacker Chad Moore. Moore ranks second on the Bobcats with 38 tackles this season, trailing Poling's 52. But unlike Poling, Moore has intercepted two passes this season, one against UMass and the other versus Central Michigan. Moore and Poling serve as great complements to each other on defense, providing opposing offenses with multiple linebackers to avoid.
Keys to the Game
Bowling Green: Throw like there's no tomorrow
Yes, for the first time this season, Bowling Green's rushing attack looked great against Miami. Two rushers, freshman Andrew Clair and senior Josh Cleveland, gained a combined 238 yards on the ground. Still, the Falcons' rushing offense averages a measly 130 yards per game (98th in FBS). Ohio's strong point is its rushing defense, especially with the stacked linebacking corps featuring Poling and Moore.
But this season, Ohio has covered receivers like a broken umbrella in a downpour. It's been bombs away for opposing quarterbacks. Purdue's David Blough (235 yards, 11-of-13 passing, 3 touchdowns) had a field day tossing long touchdowns against the Bobcats, as did Massachusetts' Andrew Ford (390 yards, 5 touchdowns). James Morgan loves aiming down field, and after his success with Teo Redding last week, why not try it again? Morgan is equipped with Scott Miller and Datrin Guyton as well, forming one of the best receiving trios in the conference. And once the passing game is opened up early, and if successful, Bowling Green can try running down the clock by testing its finally-functional rushing game.
Ohio: Show offensive efficiency, no egregious mistakes
Bowling Green finally made a team pay for an egregious error last week. The Falcons returned Miami's red zone fumble 93 yards for a game-clinching score to win by eight points on the road. After an alarming performance by Ohio where the team committed four turnovers, the Bobcats must correct these errors in order to operate an effective offense. Against Purdue, Ohio's two consecutive possessions with fumbles ultimately removed them from the competition.
However, in the shootout victory against UMass, Ohio remained mistake free. And as a result, the Bobcats offense looked better than ever and posted a surprising 58 points — the second-time Frank Solich's team has scored over 50 points this season. When the line is not pressuring Rourke into quick decisions, the offensive unit for Ohio may actually be among the MAC's best. Running back A.J. Ouellette (three straight 100 yard games from Week 3-5) has returned from his injury-shortened 2016 in impressive fashion. Add Rourke to the rushing attack, and Ohio fields an offense more than capable of extinguishing Bowling Green's struggling defense.
Date & Time: Saturday, October 14, 3:30 PM EST
Location: Doyt Perry Stadium — Bowling Green, OH
Spread: Ohio (-10)
ESPN FPI Matchup Predictor: Ohio has a 73.8% chance to win
Series history: Bowling Green leads this crossover MAC series 40-26-2. Ohio won the 2016 edition 30-24, but in the previous four matchups, the Falcons annihilated the Bobcats by a combined 117 points.
What will happen?
Although Bowling Green showed plenty of promise in its effort to improve from 0-5 to 1-5 last Saturday, the Falcons are still the inferior team in this matchup. Ohio's defense will likely outmatch Bowling Green's improved offensive unit after holding its own in the loss to Central Michigan. Last season, the Bobcats fared 4-1 in games after a loss, bouncing back immediately after facing difficulty. It's hard to see the MAC East favorites falling to 1-2 in the conference, especially with Rourke's elusiveness and dual-threat playmaking abilities — which will be a nightmare for Bowling Green's 127th-ranked yards per game defense. Ohio wins convincingly and covers the spread, placing the Falcons on the verge of bowl ineligibility.