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Bowling Green shows evidence of midseason turnaround in 34-18 win at Central Michigan

By improving to 4-4, Falcons tie highest win total since their 2015 MAC championship season.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

No program in the Mid-American Conference had been hurting for a fruitful season longer than the Bowling Green Falcons. Holders of the longest bowl drought in the MAC, things looked dreary for Bowling Green as the team stumbled to a 1-3 start with an overtime loss to an FCS program.

But MAC play has been a different story for Scot Loeffler’s team. Bowling Green established its offensive presence to defeat Akron, the Falcons sharpened their defense to upend Miami (OH), and they finally got both units working harmoniously in a 34-18 road win over Central Michigan on Saturday. After pulling off its third MAC win in four outings, Bowling Green is 4-4, tying its highest win total in the last seven seasons.

Efficiency was the story of Bowling Green’s offense. Quarterback Matt McDonald has displayed this attribute throughout the season, wielding a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16-to-3. The senior shined Saturday by completing 18-of-21 passes for 253 yards, including two touchdown strikes to Tyrone Broden.

The Falcons’ offense is typically known for its presence through the air, but Bowling Green also established a reliable ground attack through running back Jaison Patterson. He became the first 100-yard rusher for the Falcons this season, breaking away for 5.6 yards per carry on 18 attempts. Bowling Green also hadn’t experienced a 100-yard receiver prior to Saturday, but Odieu Hilaire snapped that streak by recording 105 yards on four catches.

Bowling Green RB Jaison Patterson attained 100 yards for the first time in his college career against Central Michigan in a 101-yard outing.
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While Bowling Green produced impressive numbers on offense, Central Michigan wasn’t too far behind. The Chippewas employed a rotating quarterback system in the first half between starter Daniel Richardson and backup Jase Bauer, but they eventually settled on Bauer’s hot hand for the entirety of the second half. In the redshirt freshman’s most substantial action to date, he amassed 185 passing yards and demonstrated his mobility in a 108-yard rushing showcase.

But the difference between the offenses could be described by one word — turnovers. Bowling Green remained free of such errors, while Central Michigan handed the ball to the Falcons on four occasions in the second half alone. Trailing 17-10, Bauer was strip-sacked on a 4th down inside the Bowling Green 10-yard line, which served as a momentum swinger. Although Central Michigan forced a punt after the miscue, the Chippewas never regained possession due to a muffed punt, and Bowling Green cashed in for a field goal which rewrote the score to 20-10.

The Chippewas pierced into Bowling Green territory on their ensuing possession but upon crossing midfield, defensive end Karl Brooks smacked the ball out of Bauer’s hand and outside linebacker Demetrius Hardamon scooped the ball off the turf. Hardamon raced 45 yards to the end zone to hand Bowling Green a commanding 27-10 lead with under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The defense made one final statement in the turnover department on a wild play in the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Walter Haire secured an interception off the back of a Central Michigan lineman in the midst of being blocked. In addition to a spectacular pick, Haire recorded one sack and two tackles for loss in the victory.

Sacks were prevalent regardless of which offensive line took the field, and both teams accumulated six. Brooks, the instigator of Bowling Green’s lone defensive touchdown, registered three sacks in Mount Pleasant to move his season total to 7.5 — already matching his sack output from his 2021 All-MAC campaign. The masterclass performance moved Brooks into a tie for first place for most sacks in the FBS this season.

For Central Michigan, defensive ends LaQuan Johnson and Thomas Incoom led the raid in the backfield with 3.5 sacks, and collectively, the team produced 12 tackles for loss.

After falling to 0-3 at home against FBS competition this year, Central Michigan (2-6, 1-3 MAC) is now on the brink of bowl ineligibility. While the offense had no problem moving the sticks against Bowling Green, some of the other season-long issues persisted for the Chippewas. Jim McElwain’s team is tied for the worst turnover margin in the country at -11, and despite fielding the FBS’s leading rusher in Lew Nichols in 2021, getting consistent showings from the running backs has been a struggle. Marion Lukes led all backs in rushing yards with 16 on seven attempts, causing Central Michigan to be inefficient on first and second downs.

For Bowling Green, the 2022 season seemed like a lost campaign a third of the way through, but the resilient Falcons have witnessed quite a turnaround in the month of October. Just two weeks ago, Bowling Green ranked bottom five in total defense and passing defense alike, but after holding opponents below 20 in consecutive weeks, the unit has shown an evident midseason transformation. With both sides of the ball finally clicking for Loeffler’s squad, the Falcons enter their lone bye week of 2022 before midweek #MACtion commences Nov. 2 against Western Michigan.