Ohio’s season has taken an unfavorable turn since the dawn of midweek games. In consecutive weeknight outings, the Bobcats dropped two home contests to put their bowl hopes on life alert. Ohio has attained bowl eligibility every year since 2009, but it must win both of the remaining games on the schedule to continue supporting the streak.
The bad news for the Bobcats is they’ve already played their final home game at Peden Stadium — Tuesday’s overtime loss to Western Michigan. But luckily for Frank Solich’s squad, the two remaining opponents are the only two MAC programs that are guaranteed to finish the year below .500 — Bowling Green and Akron. Solich is one win away from becoming the MAC’s all-time winningest coach and he has a golden opportunity to bring that achievement to fruition Tuesday at Doyt-Perry Stadium.
Bowling Green is 3-7, but the Falcons appear much improved over last year’s edition of the team. In Scot Loeffler’s first season, he shocked the conference by upsetting Toledo in 20-7 fashion in mid-October. While the Falcons have registered a trio of wins, they’ve looked massively uncompetitive in each of their other seven games. Bowling Green’s closest loss is to Central Michigan by 18 and it has fallen by over 40 points on four occasions this season. The Falcons’ midweek debut in 2019 did not end up favorably. They were shut out of a single appearance in the end zone in a 44-3 bashing from MAC East champion Miami (OH).
But the Falcons have an opportunity to improve upon their 3-2 home record and win a second-straight on their home turf. If the Toledo game is any indication, this Bowling Green defense can catch fire and control a game. In all three Falcons’ wins this season, they’ve held opponents to seven points or fewer.
Ohio counters the Falcons’ defense with one of the better offenses in the conference. The Bobcats average around 30 points per game and are in the final of stretch of having star mobile quarterback Nathan Rourke under center. Rourke has delivered his services to the green and white over the past three years, and he still has potentially three opportunities to close out on a legendary Ohio career. As a runner, Rourke has surpassed 75 yards in each of his past five games, totaling 718 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. The senior is fifth in rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks this year after leading the FBS in the category two seasons ago.
As a passer, Rourke is completing 60% of his passes and is 333 yards away from tying his single-season high. He threw two touchdowns on 20/29 passing a week ago, delivering the game-tying score in the final seconds of regulation to Tyler Tupa. While Rourke is on pace for a career-high in passing yards, Ohio has yet to have a receiver breakout as the clear number one option. Isiah Cox leads all Bobcats with 29 receptions and 479 yards and is one of many frequently utilized options in this offense. Lately, Ohio has increased its tight end usage and targeted Ryan Luehrman more often. Luehrman, a 6’4” red zone threat, caught four passes for 52 yards last week. He scored a touchdown, but most importantly was the recipient on the successful play where offensive lineman Hagen Meservy did a cartwheel.
Similar to the passing game, Ohio swaps in several runners to power its ground attack. Rourke, a certified expert at running the speed option, is the team’s leading rusher, but O’Shaan Allison leads all running backs with 577 yards and two touchdowns. De’Montre Tuggle, the team’s short-yardage and red zone back, has also molded into a strong contributor as a freshman. The power runner has nine touchdowns on the season and averages more than five yards per carry.
Bowling Green started Boston College quarterback Darius Wade to open the season, but Grant Loy has primarily taken snaps for the Falcons this season. Like Rourke, Wade is talented as a runner and has over 400 yards and four touchdowns to show for it. But in the pocket, he averages 5.3 yards per attempt and has thrown 10 interceptions this year compared to five touchdowns. Loy operates with a relatively inexperienced receiver corps, still looking to fill the void left by recent alum and Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie receiver Scott Miller.
In the rushing department, it’s been a difficult season without Andrew Clair manning the background. Clair is still nursing a foot injury and it is unknown if the junior will be back for Tuesday night’s matchup against Ohio. Meanwhile, Bryson Denley is carrying the backfield with 463 yards and three touchdowns this season. Denley broke out for his first 100-yard performance of his career last Wednesday and can serve as a threat in the receiving game. The running back is second on the Falcons in receptions and managed to record a 100-yard receiving game in the team’s major upset bid versus Toledo.
Denley and Loy will face an Ohio defense which ranks 97th in average rushing yards allowed, but in a similar manner to last year, the Bobcats are improving in that aspect of the game as the season progresses. Last week against Western Michigan, they limited LeVante Bellamy to 2.6 yards per carry, neutralizing the Broncos’ run game and forcing them to win through the air. Given Bowling Green’s struggles through the air this season, Ohio needs a similar defensive gameplan heading into Tuesday.
Bowling Green is bowl ineligible for the fourth consecutive season, a sequence which immediately follows the Falcons’ streak of three consecutive MAC title game appearances (2013-15). While the Falcons aren’t competing for the postseason, it will be an emotional night at Doyt-Perry Stadium on national TV for senior day. Bowling Green is a youthful team, but still, seniors such as free safety Jamari Bozeman (56 tackles, 8 passes defended) will make a grand exit from their home venue on midweek MACtion.
Ohio will play the role of spoiler to that, as winning out is the only option to extend its season into December or January.
Time and Date: Tuesday, November 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Doyt-Perry Stadium — Bowling Green, OH
Spread: Ohio (-18)
ESPN FPI: Ohio has 85.5% chance to win
All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 40-28-2
Last meeting: Ohio 49, Bowling Green 14 — October 20, 2018
The Bobcats have won three-straight meetings over the Falcons. Bowling Green’s last win, a 62-24 decision in 2015, capped a four-game winning streak for the brown and orange. Despite Ohio’s recent dominance over Bowling Green, the Falcons still hold a considerable lead in the series after preventing Ohio from recording a single victory from 1982-95.
Ohio has three MAC losses and all of them are by exactly three points. The Bobcats have been in a handful of tight games this season, as five of their conference matchups were decided by one possession. Tuesday night in Doyt-Perry likely will break this trend as six Bowling Green losses in 2019 have been by four touchdowns or greater.
Ohio’s offense has the ability to light up the Bowling Green defense due to the many talents of Rourke and a solid supporting cast in the skill position players. After consecutive brutal losses to end their home slate, the Bobcats will have a fire lit underneath them, and this one won’t be close. Frank Solich gets his MAC-best 111th win in blowout fashion.
Prediction: Ohio 45, Bowling Green 14