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2021 Week 4 Preview: Bowling Green Falcons @ Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Bowling Green is showing signs of progress with its first win in two years, but overcoming Minnesota won’t be easy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Bowling Green at Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, September 25 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Network: ESPNU

Location: TCF Bank Stadium — Minneapolis, MN

Spread: Minnesota (-31)

ESPN FPI: Minnesota has 97.8% chance to win

All-time series: Minnesota leads, 2-1

Last meeting: Minnesota 42, Bowling Green 17 — September 6, 2008


Setting the scene

For the first time since 2019, Bowling Green enters a football game on a win streak. The Falcons nearly upset South Alabama in Week 2, but the coveted win finally transpired against Murray State in Week 3. Now, the Falcons hope to put together one more promising showing before MAC play kicks off. Not too many coaches dominated against MAC teams in the last decade like Minnesota head man P.J. Fleck. The former face of Western Michigan looks to remain unbeaten in non-conference play and take down Bowling Green for the Gophers’ third consecutive victory.


Bowling Green Falcons outlook

It was a moment Bowling Green’s locker room waited nearly two years to come to fruition. The Falcons finally left a football game without the dejected feeling of defeat for the first time since Nov. 2, 2019. Their 10-game losing streak finally snapped when scoring 17 unanswered second half points to topple FCS foe Murray State, 27-10 at Doyt-Perry Stadium.

Although the Falcons’ 10-game skid concluded, the team currently enters Minnesota with 10 consecutive road losses. Bowling Green is a long-shot to take down the 2-1 Gophers, but Scot Loeffler’s team has shown tremendous signs of progress.

The most evident area of improvement has been the defense. Last year, Bowling Green finished second-to-last in the FBS allowing 45 points per contest. This season, no team has managed to even drop 40 on the Falcons. Since falling 38-6 to Tennessee on opening Thursday, Bowling Green has tightened up its defense to yield just three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Penetrating backfields has been a noticeable strength of the defense. Led by outside linebacker Darren Anders, Bowling Green checks in at 37th in the country in tackles for loss.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Bowling Green at Tennessee
Bowling Green’s scoring defense has improved from 45.0 PPG in 2020 to 23.3 PPG through three games in 2021.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Opponents are only completing 55 percent of passes on the secondary, which is holding teams to 178 passing yards per game. Quarterbacks haven’t enjoyed much success against the Falcons, combining for just one touchdown and two interceptions on Eric Lewis’ defense.

But the caliber of Bowling Green’s quarterback play has skyrocketed when compared to 2020. Last season, Matt McDonald completed 43.9 percent of his passes and finished with one touchdown and six interceptions. In 25 more attempts, McDonald already has 16 more completions and one more touchdown pass. His accuracy catapulted to 71.4 percent and that alone has injected life into a dormant Bowling Green offense.

Not all is greener, however. Last year’s rushing attack averaged 184 yards per game to check in at 47th in the country. But the Falcons haven’t established anything on the ground through three games. Only three other programs register fewer rushing yards per contest than Bowling Green’s 57. Halfback Terion Stewart, who posted 295 yards in three games in 2020, is still searching to shatter his 2021 season-high of 16 rushing yards.


Minnesota Golden Gophers outlook

When First Team All-Big Ten running back Mohamed Ibrahim went down with a gruesome season-ending injury in Week 1, the Minnesota’s season trajectory turned toward doom. After all, Ibrahim was in the midst of his ninth-straight 100-yard game as the focal point of the Golden Gophers’ offense.

While Minnesota still misses the presence of the star running back, the Gophers have recovered nicely. They’ve won back-to-back games while receiving a significant boost from the ground attack. Trey Potts stepped into Ibrahim’s role to record 178 yards on Miami (OH) and another 121 on Colorado — combining for five rushing scores in the two victories. Minnesota’s massive offensive line, the “Minnesota Movers”, plays a major role in paving the way for running back success. Shedding blocks from the linemen, especially 6’9”, 380 pound right tackle Daniel Faalele, will be no simple task for Bowling Green.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Quick Lane Bowl - Minnesota v Georgia Tech
Minnesota right tackle Daniel Faalele won’t be the easiest obstacle to overcome when Bowling Green counters the Gophers’ rushing attack.
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Minnesota is running the ball so effectively that the passing game has become an afterthought. It’s interesting to see the Gophers rely so little on the passing game after Tanner Morgan took home All-Big Ten honors after passing for 3,253 yards, 30 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 2019. Morgan is only averaging around 20 attempts and 160 passing yards per game, but he’s reliable when called upon and remains free of any interceptions this season.

Defensively, Minnesota made noticeable strides from Week 1 to Week 2, and again to Week 3. The Gophers are fresh off recording one of six shutouts in the FBS this season. Colorado’s defense was fully clamped up by Minnesota, finishing with -19 rushing yards, 82 passing yards, and just six first downs in Boulder last Saturday. Minnesota’s pass rush had been a work in progress for years, but it recorded four sacks last Saturday. Colorado running back Jarek Broussard broke off for one 8-yard run. In the Buffaloes’ 20 other rushing attempts, not a single one traveled more than five yards. Transfer inside linebacker Jack Gibbens was highly responsible for this performance, serving as the team leader with six tackles, including one stop in the backfield.

The secondary allowed Ohio State to fire touchdowns from 38, 56, 70, and 61 yards in a single half in Week 1. Since, there has been notable refinement within that unit. Colorado only completed 50 percent of attempts on the Gophers’ defense, which broke up four passes in the shutout.


Prediction

Bowling Green is on the rise, and the Falcons might cause some upset scares in MAC play, but asking them to take down Minnesota feels too hefty of an ask at the moment. Through three games, this Falcons team looks like a noticeable upgrade over the last two years of the Scot Loeffler era, and they already accomplished one of their primary 2021 goals of snapping that daunting losing streak.

But Trey Potts should be ready for another 100-yard rushing game. Minnesota’s offensive line will possess a clear upper-edge in the trenches and the Golden Gophers’ relentless defense from last week should make a return. This one will be over by halftime, and P.J. Fleck rows the boat to his second MAC win of the year.

Prediction: Minnesota 41, Bowling Green 6