Here are five things learning from the Bowling Green Falcons improbable rivalry victory against the Toledo Rockets in the Battle For I-75:
Loeffler Era Has Signature Win
The Bowling Green Falcon program has been through a lot in recent years, going thorough an athletic director change, several off-field troubles, and mass transfers... not to mention the on-field struggles.
When Scot Loeffler was hired this off-season, there seemed to be momentum around the program as the recruiting improved and experienced staff in place helped provide optimism for growth.
It was momentum which carried through the season opening win against Morgan State, but the momentum seemed lost during loses to Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Kent State and Notre Dame. Many of them blow outs.
I had previously mentioned that a win over Toledo would make the season for the Falcons, as they had tohe potential to end nine years of misery, and that is just what happened Saturday.
The Falcons played the first place Rockets, winners of nine straight rivalry games, and the presumed MAC front runner. Not only did they play better than the Rockets, they won wire-to-wire. They flat-out dominated the MAC favorites en route to winning the Battle of I-75 Trophy.
A senior class who has never beat Toledo now has its defining moment on the road to recovery from the downturn that was the Mike Jinks years. Regardless of what happens next, when this team has their reunions in ten or twenty years, they will be known as the team who ended the streak against Toledo and pulled the upset.
Short of winning four of their last six to qualify for a bowl game (which is no longer a herculean task), this bunch will not play in a bigger game this year.
Since Day 1, Coach Scot Loeffler preached the importance of this rivalry. He saw numerous players unable to buy into his message leave the Falcons program. Now on Saturday we saw a group that has bought in, and played as a unit.
The result was a victory that felt therapeutic in a way, as a form of healing from those down years.
The Falcons are Scot Loeffler’s team and they are undoubtedly headed in the right direction.
Grant Loy Is The Quarterback For BGSU Going Forward:
Grant Loy made his second career start against Toledo in relief of Darius Wade, who was benched due to ineffectiveness, and came away with a big win in his first real start. (His first career start came in a gimmick role last season at Central Michigan.)
He finished 14 of 21 passing for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but really made a difference on the ground, rushing 19 times for 149 yards and another touchdown. He average 7.2 yards per carry and broke a long run of 56 yards.
While Wade was mobile, he wasn’t THIS mobile.
Loy’s ability to move the pocket or make something out of nothing as an improviser was pivotal in giving BGSU an advantage on offense. Perhaps more importantly, he played with fire and passion showing tremendous leadership fitting of a game of this magnitude.
Loy seems positioned to start for the duration of this season as the Falcons aim to find out what they have in him moving forward. He may not be as effective moving forward when opposing coaches see the film from this week but there is a lot to work with here.
It’s likely that he will battle Matt McDonald next year in camp to be the long-term starter in Bowling Green.
For Loy, like Loeffler, he now has his defining moment as a Falcon: A former walk-on who stepped in and upset the heavily favored Rockets.
Defining Day For Falcons “D”-
The Falcons defense had shown signs throughout the season prior to this week.
They dominated Morgan State in week one and they forced turnovers against Louisiana Tech but they were asked to stay on the field far too long, far too often and their results suffered.
Throughout it all they featured an underrated pass rush.
That showed on Saturday as the Falcons defense had five sacks, and chased Rockets starter Mitchell Guadagni from the game. Bowling Green caused a lot of havoc plays as well, forcing four fumbles (recovering one) and picking up an interception.
The defense would hold Toledo to only 132 yards rushing total, with MAC Offensive Player of the Year candidate Bryant Koback being held to 60 of them. Overall, they allowed only seven points for an offense which is known for its explosiveness.
Nico Lautanen, a redshirt senior, had two sacks. David Konowalski, another redshirt senior, had a sack. Jamari Bozeman, yet another redshirt senior, added the interception with two pass breakups.
For these players, they came into a Falcon program accustomed to winning and stayed the course throughout coaching changes and loses. They have been part of such much maligned units over the past five years.
On Saturday they were rewarded for the dedication to the cause with a defining moment by beating Toledo.
Guadagni Banged Up:
Rocket signal called Mitchell Guadagni left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Prior to his exit Guadagni was 17 of 20 for 194 yards a touchdown with another 40 yards rushing.
Without Guadagni, former Illinois transfer Eli Peters was two of seven for 33 yards and a pick. Former Elite 11 QB recruit Carter Bradley went 4 of 8 for 33 yards in relief of Peters, as the Rockets struggled to get anything going. Both Peters and Bradley were sacked by an aggressive Falcon offense.
During today’s media availability head coach Jason Candle did not have an update on the status of his star signal caller.
It is unclear as to who the Rockets would turn to in case of an extended absence. It was Peters who replaced Guadagni due to injury last season but Carter Bradley replaced Guadagni earlier this season when he was injured. Both saw action Saturday.
Regardless of who would replace Guadagni, losing a senior quarterback who has been amongst the nation’s top quarterbacks this season would be a significant blow to the Rockets’ season.
However, it is an absence that they have become familiar with in recent years due to the numerous absences of Guadagni.
Falcons Victory Opens The Door For Chaos In Standings:
For what it is worth, the Falcons victory likely ends any chance that we see a MAC team ranked in the top 25 this season.
Bowling Green will enter play next week just one game back of MAC East leader Kent State. BGSU, Ohio and Miami all have 1-1 conference records with Buffalo and Akron at 0-2.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that Bowling Green could make a run in the MAC East. With Grant Loy helping the offense to find some consistency and the defense perhaps turning the corner, there is a chance of the Falcons riding this momentum to become a contender.
In the MAC West, Toledo’s loss puts Ball State to the front at 2-0 with Central Michigan, and Western Michigan at 2-1. The Rockets are tied with Northern Illinois at 1-1 with Eastern Michigan in last at 0-2.
Entering this past week Toledo looked like the class of the MAC. They were a unanimous selection Hustlebelt power ranking this week and had recently flexed their muscle against Western Michigan.
Their defeat opens the door in the MAC west for Western Michigan and surprising schools like Central and Ball State. It puts an added significance on this week’s game in Muncie, Indiana as Toledo travels to play the MAC West leading Cardinals.
A Cardinals win will put them a whole two games ahead of the Rockets, nearing the MACtion portion of the conference schedule.
It is very probable that Toledo is still the best team in the conference but as Bowling Green showed this week in such grand fashion, anything can happen.