After a week off, the Bowling Green Falcons (1-4, 0-1 MAC) will travel to South Bend, Indiana to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-1), who enter play ranked ninth in the nation. The Falcons haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since upsetting Northern Illinois in the 2014 MAC Championship game.
Notre Dame last played a MAC school when it beat Ball State 24-16 last September in a close game at Notre Dame Stadium.
The huge test this Saturday comes a week before the Falcons' much-anticipated rivalry matchup with Toledo.
The doldrums of a rebuilding year in Bowling Green have set in following the team’s 62-20 defeat to rival Kent State, but there are still numerous reasons to watch this week’s game.
This week’s matchup features some interesting tie-ins. Bowling Green defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was at Notre Dame from 2014 thru 2017 as their defensive coordinator. Irish fans do not have fond memories of him and his tenure, but he remains friends with Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
It stands to be a rude homecoming of sorts for VanGorder, whose young defense just allowed 62 points and 633 yards to Kent State. Now they must face a rolling Notre Dame offense who put up 66 points in a victor over New Mexico back in week two.
Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Polian was a rumored finalist for the head coaching job at Bowling Green this off-season, which went to Scot Loeffler. Loeffler is no stranger to coaching in South Bend after spending time at Michigan and Boston College, rivals of the Irish.
Also, Irish assistant Jeff Quinn was the head coach at Buffalo from 2010 thru 2014.
Notre Dame had a short-lived college football playoff appearance a year ago. An undefeated regular season earned them the opportunity to be dismantled by the eventual champion Clemson Tigers. The Irish picked up where they left off with wins over Louisville, New Mexico, and Virginia. Their only blemish came on the road to top 10 ranked Georgia, 23-17. The Irish are outscoring their opponents 153 to 74 on the season.
Brian Kelly, the former Central Michigan coach, showed that reports of his demise entering last season were greatly exaggerated. (Interestingly enough, Kelly has a 1-1 all-time record vs BGSU.)
The last time the Irish had 600 total yards was in a 2006 bowl game against Ohio State but could have a chance this week with this offensive lineup.
Irish Quarterback Ian Book has made some good reads this season (pun intended). Book has solidified the QB position in South Bend to the tune of 993 yards on 63 percent passing. He has eight touchdowns to two picks.
Running back Tony Jones Jr. is averaging a nice 69.8 yards per game with 289 yards on 48 carries to go with four touchdowns. He also serves as a solid receiving back. Jafar Armstrong, one of the Irish’s top playmakers, is still out with an injury sustained in week one. Jahmir Smith will backup Jones.
Chase Claypool has two touchdowns on the season and 286 yards to reach the Irish, he is however unlikely to play this week due to injury. It should be a good week for Brian Kelly to hold him out.
Cole Kmet looks to continue Notre Dame’s tradition of tight ends which includes Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas, and John Carlson in recent years. Kmet has played in just two of Notre Dame’s games but has 13 receptions and a touchdown already. Chris Finke gives the Irish a third solid receiving threat and could be in for a big week against the Falcons D minus Claypool. He also serves as a talented returner. Lawrence Keys is a Sophomre moving up the targets list in South Bend. Michael Young is a burner to keep an eye on the receiver position.
The Falcons defense is making great strides at getting to the quarterback, especially as captain David Konowalski rounds into form after missing last season with an injury. The Falcons presently lead the MAC in sacks. They will be tested by an Irish front led by RT Tommy Kraemer, a junior all-American candidate. Liam Eichenberg is an Outland Trophy candidate at left tackle and has 18 straight starts. Robert Hainsey is having another strong season at guard after starting all 12 games a year ago.
Defensively Clark Lea is making himself into a hot name on the coaching circuit by calling the Irish D. It should be another good week for Lea and his unit as Bowling Green has had their share of struggles on offense. The Irish have not allowed a team to score more than 30 points in a game since Lea was hired 17 games ago, don’t look for that streak to end this week.
End Julian Okwara, is the brother of Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara. He is a much more ballyhooed draft prospect with many experts projecting him as a first round, after being a preseason All-American. He had three sacks in their victory over Virginia last week.
While Okwara gets a lot of the national love, fellow lineman Khalid Kareem is probably the second best defensive lineman that the Falcons will face this season after Okwara. Kareem is a national award candidate himself.
With Okwara and company on the prowl, the Falcons will need their offensive line to continue their good work in protecting QB Darius Wade, as they enter play having allowed the fewest sacks in the MAC. Wade’s mobility doesn’t hurt their ability to avoid sacks.
Daelin Hayes suffered an injury last week and was lost for the season.
For Notre Dame, Asmar Bilal is their most experienced linebacker, going on his 13th career start while fellow backers Drew White, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are entering the fifth career starts. Owusu-Koramoah leads the Irish with 26 tackles.
The defensive secondary is deep and experienced, even with corner Shaun Crawford banged up and unlikely to play. Jalen Elliott is entering his 31 career start, and teams with another senior at safety in Alohi Gilman. Gilman, a starter of 17 straight, may be the more talented of the two as he was named a 2nd team preseason all-american, and to the Thorpe and Nagurski Award watch lists.
Troy Pride Jr. will make his 11th straight start at corner.
For all the big names on the Irish roster, it is likely that you will have to tune into the first half to see them as the expectation is that the Irish should be able to acquire a lead large enough for them to rest their many stars. (Be ready, Rudy.)
The Falcons will need to find some play-makers on offense.
Expect receiver/tight end hybrid Quintin Morris to continue his strong season serving as Wade’s go to receiver and safety valve as he has had 16 receptions on the season. Slot receiver RB Marlow will look to pick up where he left off last week against Kent State, when he had six receptions.
The Falcons will look to star tailback Andrew Clair to hit a few big runs. Clair, who has been banged up this season, is the Falcons best play maker and offers that home run ability that their other backs don’t. If Clair can have himself a day with some big plays, the Falcons could hang around in South Bend.
Davon Jones and Bryson Denley provide depth to spell Clair.
In addition to Konowalski, linebackers Kholbe Coleman and Brandon Perce have had quietly strong seasons.
The linebackers will be asked to do more in coverage this week against a team who likes to throw to their tight ends.
The secondary will be tested by the speed of the Falcon receivers but don’t be surprised if a lot of NBC viewers learn Jamari Bozeman’s name for the Falcons.
Look, it will likely take a near perfect game for the Falcons to stay in the game.
BGSU will need to limit their penalties and avoid costly turnovers, especially from the quarterback position where they had two interceptions in their last game.
Regardless of the challenge, this weekend serves as a tremendous opportunity for the student athletes on Scot Loeffler’s squad. They will get the chance to play in a historic venue, in front of 77 thousand people with even more viewing on television from the national broadcast.
They will get to show their worth against four and five star recruits as they try to scratch the paint on those iconic Golden Dome helmets.
Regardless of the outcome Saturday, this will likely be on that the players will someday tell their children and grandchildren of.