This week is the Battle of I-75 between the Bowling Green State Falcons and the Toledo Rockets. The Falcons have not beat the Rockets since Black Friday, 2009. As a result of the streak, it is now Toledo who leads the all-time series by a margin of 40-39-4.
As cliché as it is to say, this is one of those games where you can throw the records out the window.
That should be music to the Falcons ears, as they enter play at 1-4 on the season with four straight loses and zero wins on the season against bowl subdivision teams.
The Rockets travel to Bowling Green as winners of four straight games and while the Falcons look to be competing for the MAC cellar, Toledo has looked to be the class of the conference thus far.
Both teams are polar opposites at quarterback as well.
For Toledo, Mitchell Guadagni is the unquestioned starter as a senior and a potential all-MAC selection. With just over 900 yards passing, Guadagni has a 7:2 touchdown to interception ratio, and his quarterback rating is amongst the best in the nation, ranking 35th in the NCAA as of last week.
The spot of intrigue going into the game for Falcon fans is the decision by first-year head coach Scot Loeffler to pull Boston College transfer Darius Wade early in the blow out loss to Notre Dame. Wade had started the first five games for the Orange and Brown while winning MAC East offensive player of the week honors in Week 1. However, the Falcons had been plagued by his costly interceptions in back to back weeks leading into the Notre Dame game, and he did not have the greatest of starts agaisnt the Irish, forcing the staff to make a move.
The mobile Grant Loy, who lost out to Wade for the opportunity to start in training camp, put together some of the best Falcon drives of the season in relief. While he didn’t lead them to points, he showed the ability to keep the offense on the field by converting on third downs.
It could help the Falcons future to start Loy, as Wade is a graduate transfer senior who was in position to start only because of Matt McDonald being declared ineligible for the 2019 season by the NCAA.
Unfortunately, a foot injury may rob us of seeing one of the MAC’s best running-back battles.
Falcon star back Andrew Clair missed last week with a foot injury. It is the same injury that kept him out of the week two contest against Kansas State, as well. When healthy, Clair is one of the top playmakers in the MAC as is evidenced by his back-to-back third-team all-league selections entering this year.
Clair is listed as day-to-day and has been in uniform at practice, but one must wonder just how effective he can be even if he is healthy, if at less than 100 percent.
If Clair can’t go, the Falcons will turn to Bryson Denley and Davon Jones, another Boston College transfer. The duo combined with Wade and Loy’s mobility make for a more than respectively run game for BGSU.
Bryant Koback enters play second in the MAC at rushing, by just one yard behind Western Michigan’s LeVante Bellamy. He is just two touchdowns behind Bellamy, eight to six. The case coudl be made he’s the best MAC back, as he has managed to build those numbers while having a higher yards per carry average than Bellamy with ten fewer carries.
Guadagni is the Rockets second leading rusher with 292 yards on the season for a mark which tops the Falcons leading rushing Davon Jones, 264. In fact, the Rockets third leading rusher Shakif Seymore is just four yards behind Jones.
Two of the MAC’s best receivers will be across the field from one another. Toledo’s Bryce Mitchell is third in the MAC with 365 yards across just 15 receptions, good for a 24.3 per catch average.
BGSU’s Quintin Morris has emerged as their most consistent threat. The hybrid receiver/tight end is tenth in the MAC with 310 yards but third overall with 26 receptions. He could produce even better numbers if Loy plays and continues to improve the offense.
For Toledo, Desmond Phillips and tight end Reggie Gilliam add to a solid air attack.
Unfortunately for Bowling Green after Morris, there has not been much. The Falcons have struggled to find the big play or the ability to finish drives. Julian Ortega-Jones is another big body for BG while RB Marlow is emerging out of the slot for the Falcons. Expect the Falcons to throw to their backs often.
The Rockets offensive line has been exceptional. The unit allows Guadagni time to pass and allows Koback lanes for his productive season. Not bad for a unit who lost all-league center Bryce Harris to injury in training camp.
The Falcons offensive line has played better than one would think when seeing the stat sheets of games against strong defenses like Notre Dame and Kansas State. The offensive line is 17th nationally in sacks allowed per game, led by center Jack Kramer.
Falcons linebacker Brandon Perce is sixth in the MAC in total tackles and helps anchor the Falcons defense with captain David Konowalski. The Falcons defense has been porous thus far this season, failing to hold any FBS opponents under 35 points. On the bright side? The Falcons have shown a solid pass rush attack, which could come in handy in trying to counter a big play Toledo passing attack.
Safety Saeed Holt leads the Rockets in tackles with linebacker Jordan Fisher among the MAC’s most underrated, but the Rockets defense remains a unit that has not held an FBS team under 21 points in a game this season.
On special teams, Bryson Denley for the Falcons has been among the MAC’s most consistent returners this season. Antonyo Sotolongo is as good as they get in kick coverage.
While the possible foot injury may rob us of an epic tailback matchup, we should get one heck of a punter matchup as Bailey Flint leads the MAC in average yards per punt while Matt Naranjo has been the MAC’s most worked.
Don’t overlook kickers in a rivalry game. BGSU’s Nate Needham has had an uneven season at just 1-of-4 on field goals and had one blocked last week. Evan Davis is 7-of-8 with a long of 46 for Toledo.
Another underrated factor is which team will best be able to keep their cool? Often in a game like this, the least penalized team wins so it will be essential for both squads to limit their extra circular activities on Saturday.
Falcons head coach Scot Loeffler will be making his debut in the rivalry while Toledo coach Jason Candle has never lost to BGSU.
The Falcons are celebrating 100 years of football by wearing special throwback helmets as they try to throw it back to the days when they would beat Toledo.
With all the pomp and circumstance around the game, expect a large crowd to flock to Doyt Perry Stadium to support their Falcons. With Toledo being just up the road and perhaps on the verge of a special season, expect a partisan crowd.
The noon kick-off may be needed to keep some of the dislike to a minimum as these fan bases do not enjoy one another’s company.
It is appearing more and more like the Falcons won’t have much to play for this season, so ending Toledo’s streak would seemingly make their season.
Most anyone would pick Toledo coming into this matchup but heated rivalries’ like this have a way of surprising.
I am not saying that I expect a Falcon upset, just that you shouldn’t be surprised if it’s a close game late.