- Time and date: Tuesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPNU
- Location: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
- Spread: Toledo (-15)
- ESPN FPI: Toledo has 90.6% chance to win
- All-time series: Toledo leads, 42-40-4
- Last meeting: Toledo 49, Bowling Green 17 — November 10, 2021
- Current streak: Toledo, 2 (2020-21)
Setting the scene
It’s the Battle of I-75. One of the MAC’s most fiercest rivalries writes another chapter Tuesday night. It’s a rivalry amplified to the point where Toledo has a decommissioned rocket from the US Army on display outside of the Glass Bowl, and if it were lit, would land at the 50-yard line at Bowling Green’s Doyt Perry Stadium.
The Battle of I-75 Trophy is on the line for the two institutions separated by less than 25 miles. Recently, Toledo has dominated the series with 11 wins in the last 12 meetings. Because of the Rockets’ recent success over their rival, they now hold the advantage in the all-time series.
Toledo already clinched a coveted spot in the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green remains alive in the MAC East race, but the Falcons are focused on becoming bowl eligible for the first time in seven years. So as rivals like to do, Toledo hopes to deny Bowling Green any chance at qualifying for the postseason during Tuesday night MACtion at the Glass Bowl.
Bowling Green Falcons outlook
Bowling Green (5-5, 4-2 MAC) is almost there. The Falcons entered last Wednesday with a 5-4 record, hoping to utilize homefield advantage to lock up bowl eligibility for the first time in seven years. Instead, disaster struck in a multitude of ways. Bowling Green was boatraced in 40-6 fashion to Kent State, and the Falcons showed glaring issues on both sides of the ball.
The offense moved the ball well, but an 0-for-6 showing on fourth down and three turnovers caused the scoreboard output to be quite alarming. On the other side, the Falcons yielded 415 yards to Kent State with neither the run defense or pass defense gaining a significant edge. Now, they look to amend those issues and get back to the level of execution which guided the team to a 4-1 start in MAC play.
Bowling Green’s midseason success was largely due to defensive improvement. The Falcons launched a three-game win streak by holding Miami (OH), Central Michigan, and Western Michigan to a combine 40 points. Bowling Green has All-MAC caliber talent scattered throughout its unit, but everything defensively starts with the Falcons’ assertive defensive line.
Defensive end Karl Brooks is one of 16 FBS players with eight sacks on the season and the soon-to-be second-time all-conference selection also has 13 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in a loaded résumé. Defensive tackle Walter Haire typically commands plenty of attention too, posting 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as the interior anchor of the line.
But when the pressure doesn’t arrive, Bowling Green doesn’t have the best counter to opponents’ passing attacks. The Falcons are 104th nationally by allowing 257 passing yards per game and they yield the sixth highest completion percentage in the FBS. Deep post and corner routes have been a lingering issue for the team all year, so they’ll need stronger man-to-man coverage to prevent Toledo from winning due to the playmaking of deep threat Jerjuan Newton.
On offense, Bowling Green can best be described as methodical. The Falcons don’t produce explosive plays or 100-yard running backs and receivers on a regular basis, but they can pick apart defenses on underneath routes and medium pickups from the run game. After registering 195 rushing yards in the last two games of October, Jaison Patterson has taken over as the No. 1 back in the run game. In the pass game, Ta’ron Keith plays a more significant role as one of four Falcons with 25 receptions this year.
Outside of Keith, the passing game is mainly sparked by the trio of Odieu Hiliare, Tyrone Broden, and tight end Christian Sims. Hiliare has emerged as the top target in his first year as a Falcon, securing 44 catches and 466 yards through 10 games, while Sims has made his presence felt lately with season-highs in receptions (6) and yards (68) against Kent State. Quarterback Matt McDonald is enjoying an efficient season as their facilitator with 17 touchdown passes and four interceptions on a 63 percent completion rate. While McDonald has been smart with the football, the offensive line needs to provide a stronger shield for their quarterback, as he has absorbed 21 sacks in his last five games after only taking five sacks in his first four outings.
While McDonald is usually the one guiding the offense, Bowling Green may need to lean more heavily on the run game this time out, as Toledo exhibits a top 15 pass defense while the run defense has struggled at times.
Toledo Rockets outlook
Toledo (7-3, 5-1 MAC) is assured two things. One, the Rockets will finish with a .500 or better overall record for the 13th consecutive season, and two, for the second time in that span, they will participate in the MAC Championship Game. For a conference with impressive parity, Toledo locked up a bid to Detroit quite early, thanks to securing key tie-breaking wins over MAC West foes Eastern Michigan and Ball State.
But there’s still more to compete for. Toledo can become the first MAC team with nine regular season wins since 2018 Buffalo and the program aims to keep the Battle of I-75 Trophy within its facilities.
Last week, the offense returned starting quarterback Dequan Finn who missed the win over Eastern Michigan with an injury. Finn is one of the more dynamic playmakers in the conference. Sometimes he dominates with his mobility, as demonstrated by his 530 rushing yards (11 short of the team-lead) and eight rushing touchdowns in 2022. But other times, like last week against Ball State, his rocket arm is the defining element of his game. He posted a season-best 301 passing yards on 21 completions, connecting for three touchdowns in the comeback win.
Finn’s primary target is Jerjuan Newton, and the two often connect far from the line of scrimmage, as demonstrated by Newton’s 17.5 yards per catch. Newton leads all receivers with eight touchdown grabs, but tight end Jamal Turner isn’t far behind with seven. Turner was the recipient of Toledo’s fourth quarter go-ahead score last Tuesday, and the 6’6” tight end is seeing an increase in touches as of late. Look for these two complementary weapons to be Toledo’s gameplan in solving Bowling Green’s struggling pass defense.
Finn also plays a significant role in the run game as the team’s leader in rushing yards per contest, and he’s able to maintain a 5.7 average thanks to his aversion to sacks. Toledo hasn’t allowed their starting quarterback to be taken down more than twice in a game this year, so something has to give against Bowling Green’s seventh-ranked pass rush which tallies 3.3 sacks per game. The Rockets’ line will also pave the way for the rotating running back trio of Micah Kelly, Jacquez Stewart, and Peny Boone, who collectively, propel Toledo to the 42nd best rushing offense in the land.
The strongest aspect of the Rockets is their passing defense, however. Toledo forced Ball State to 2.1 yards per attempt and a 37 percent completion clip last Tuesday and ultimately won the game due to high-level play in the secondary. This has been a consistent theme throughout the season as Toledo is situated at 14th in both opponent completion percentage (55.3) and passing yards surrendered per game (179.9). Cornerbacks Quinyon Mitchell and Chris McDonald have been lockdown throughout the year, and they’ll look to continue their success against a Bowling Green offense which prefers checkdowns than deep shots. Mitchell will be a name to watch, as he leads the squad with 13 pass breakups and single-handedly won the Rockets a game against Northern Illinois in October with four individual interceptions.
Elsewhere on the unit, Toledo’s defensive line can be a cause for concern for opponents. Jamal Hines only trails Karl Brooks when it comes to active MAC players in the sack department, and Hines picked up a crucial one in the final minutes to rewrite his total to 5.5 on the season. Defensive end Desjuan Johnson will be another focus for Bowling Green’s offensive line with 3.5 sacks on the year, but Toledo has an affinity for sending blitzes from anywhere. Even Maxen Hook and Zachary Ford have been subject to action in the backfield this season, and if the blitzes are effective Tuesday night, Toledo should be in for another stellar defensive outing.
While Bowling Green has risen to the occasion to defeat viable opponents such as Marshall, the Falcons have not adopted the consistency they’d like to see on either side of the ball. Bowling Green’s defense certainly has the capability of taking over a game when everything clicks, but there are far too many times it has let the opposing passing attack feast on the secondary.
Toledo’s offense exudes big play potential as Dequan Finn averages 12.8 yards per completion. But even though the Rockets operate with plenty of downfield threats at Finn’s disposal, Bowling Green must be cautious about dropping seven or eight, because then Finn can win this game through his mobility. That gives Toledo an edge when it possesses the ball and on the other side, the Rockets’ phenomenal pass defense can prevent Bowling Green from keeping the margin on the scoreboard close at the Glass Bowl.
Prediction: Toledo 34, Bowling Green 16