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2021 Week 12 Midweek MACtion Preview: Bowling Green Falcons @ Miami RedHawks

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Bowl eligibility is in play for the RedHawks, which search for their third consecutive victory in the series vs. Bowling Green.

Bowling Green v Miami Ohio Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Tuesday, November 16 at 8:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPNU
  • Location: Yager Stadium — Oxford, OH
  • Spread: Miami (OH) (-17)
  • ESPN FPI: Miami (OH) has 88.2% chance to win
  • All-time series: Akron leads, 45-24-5
  • Last meeting: Miami (OH) 44, Bowling Green 3 — November 13, 2019
  • Current streak: Miami (OH), 2 (2018-19)

Setting the scene

It’s the battle of the birds Tuesday night in Oxford, OH. Miami (OH) controls its destiny for its second MAC Championship Game appearance in two years, and the heavily-favored RedHawks hope to dispose of Bowling Green before an all-important regular season finale vs. Kent State. A win sets Miami back in bowl season — a promising response to a 1-3 start.

Meanwhile, Bowling Green was not able to generate strong midseason and late-season results after its best non-conference showing since 2015. The Falcons are officially locked out of bowl eligibility, but an upset in Oxford could set the program on the right footing heading into 2022.


Miami RedHawks outlook

Miami enters Tuesday night after piecing together its performance of the season. The RedHawks dismantled Buffalo with ease in Oxford, extracting a season-high 45 points from the offense while limiting the Bulls to 18.

Quarterback Brett Gabbert has dealt with a multitude of injuries over the past two seasons, but the third-year starter is finally healthy and the numbers show. Gabbert completed 75 percent of his attempts for 351 yards and four touchdowns against Buffalo, and that performance was a follow-up act to a 492-yard, 5-touchdown showing at Ohio. He’s playing his best football since arriving on campus, and that says a lot about a quarterback who guided this team to a MAC championship two seasons ago.

Miami retains an offensive identity as a pass-heavy team and 65.5 percent of its offensive production stems through the air. The RedHawks’ 25th ranked passing attack is supported by a myriad of talented wide receivers. Jack Sorenson takes center stage as the FBS’s sixth leading receiver, and he comes into Tuesday’s matchup riding a streak of five straight 110+ yard games.

Miami-Ohio v Minnesota
Jack Sorenson has catapulted himself into 6th on the FBS receiving list after five straight 110+ yard games, including a 283-yard outburst vs. Ohio.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Mac Hippenhammer provides the RedHawks offense with a reliable second receiver, and the Penn State transfer has stepped up lately with three touchdowns in Miami’s two midweek games. But the emergence of Jalen Walker, who recorded season-highs in receiving yards each of the last two weeks, gives Gabbert enough viable options to the point where opposing secondaries must have depth. If the receiving trio isn’t enough, Miami enjoys heavy tight end usage by the goal line as proven by Andrew Homer’s five touchdowns on 12 receptions this year.

Chuck Martin’s team specializes in its potent aerial game, but the team experienced some success distributing the ball throughout the backfield last week. Miami doesn’t necessarily have a consistent No. 1 back, but four different tailbacks accumulated between 31 and 67 yards last Tuesday with a collective average of 6.5 yards per carry.

On the defensive side, the RedHawks gashed Buffalo’s typically-strong running game to just 3.1 yards per carry on 38 attempts. Miami possesses plenty of talent and depth on the defensive line, led by veteran end Kameron Butler. Butler tallied 2.5 a team-high tackles for loss last week and he is one of three RedHawks to tally at least 9.0 TFLs on the season — joined by defensive end Lonnie Phelps and outside linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

Despite applying pressure on a consistent basis, Miami hasn’t been able to turn that duress into consistent takeaways. The RedHawks entered their Week 11 matchup averaging under one per contest but the fortunate bounces finally went their way against Buffalo. Miami defeated the Bulls, 4-1, in the turnover battle by recovering a trio of fumbles and picking off a pass. Longtime safety Sterling Weatherford has been the main proponent of guiding this turnover effort with two interceptions and a fumble recovery this year.


Bowling Green Falcons outlook

Bowling Green’s promising start as a defensive stalwart took a sudden turn following a 2-2 start. The Falcons have dropped five of their six MAC contests and bowl eligibility is officially off the table for the sixth consecutive year.

When Bowling Green was 2-2 with a win over Minnesota fresh in the minds of the nation, the team was anchored by a relentless defense which consistently produced nightmare performances for opposing quarterbacks. Since, the defense has been shakier, allowing an average of 49.3 points per game over the past three games. Containing the run has especially been an issue as of late, and the Falcons are one of 18 FBS teams allowing over 200 yards per game.

But when it comes to stopping the run, there is still an All-MAC talent to lead the charge. Outside linebacker Darren Anders is tied for seventh in the country with 103 tackles on the season, and he’s on a tear at the moment with five consecutive games featuring double-digit tackles.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Tennessee
Darren Anders’ 2021 résumé includes 103 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 forced fumble.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The passing defense has taken a major step backward with the absence of Davon Ferguson. The starting cornerback suffered a season-ending injury, but he announced his commitment to return to Bowling Green in 2022. Prior to the injury, Ferguson produced open field tackles at one of the highest rates nationally. Without Ferguson shadowing the team’s top receiver, Bowling Green has allowed 270 passing yards in its last two games — well above its average of 190.5.

On the offensive side, Bowling Green must learn to recapture the magic of one outlier performance. In a bizarre game against Buffalo on Oct. 30, the Falcons posted 56 points which is more than double any other scoring output this season. What worked that Saturday afternoon for Scot Loeffler’s team? Mainly, it was the establishment of the run. Bowling Green exhibits a bottom 10 rushing offense, but on that particular day, the Falcons managed 170 yards out of Terion Stewart on 11 carries. As a team, they produced 221 yards and four touchdowns on an extraordinary average of 8.2 per attempt.

Quarterback Matt McDonald also delivered four touchdown passes that day and Bowling Green will need another strong performance from the Boston College transfer in order to emerge victorious again. Last week, he was limited to 65 passing yards and five of his 25 dropbacks resulted in sacks. Improved pass protection and finding openings downfield will be of utmost importance. Every time Bowling Green has scored 20 points this year, McDonald has totaled 200 or more passing yards. But the Falcons’ lowest three point totals of the year unsurprisingly featured sub-200 performances through the air.


Prediction

It’s a Miami offense trending in a favorable direction pitted against a Bowling Green defense which has regressed in recent weeks. Bowl eligibility is on the line for Brett Gabbert and the RedHawks, and the quarterback should produce impressive numbers to attain that feat. Miami’s slew of weapons has not been easy to limit, and the RedHawks are good for at least five touchdowns at home this Tuesday.

The Chuck Martin era continues its impressive turnaround to lock up a winning MAC record for the fourth consecutive year.

Prediction: Miami (OH) 38, Bowling Green 14