Bowling Green sits at 3-1, sitting behind both Ohio and Buffalo at third int he MAC East with a game in hand coming into Wednesday night’s contest against the Broncos. If you expected that to be the case, you probably work for the Bowling Green football team. T
he Falcons desperately need results to show people outside of the football facility the program is headed in the right direction, as their MAC wins have all come against teams who are in dreadful form, and a Week 2 loss to FCS Eastern Kentucky very nearly derailed the season early. Respect where it is due though; since that loss, the Falcons are 4-2 with their only losses to Mississippi State and Buffalo.
Western Michigan has not had the same fortune this season.
The offense was could charitably be called “under construction” after the losses suffered in the 2021 offseason, while the defense returned a core but lost some high performers. The stage was set for a step back, the question was how far back.
The answer has proved to be “pretty far”.
The offense scored 37 points in a win against Ball State and 23 in a loss to Eastern Michigan, but in every other contest against an FBS team, the Broncos have scored fewer than 20 points.
No matter how the season has unfolded for each team, they meet at Bowling Green Wednesday night, with both teams coming off wins. Bowling Green played their most complete game under Scot Loeffler against Central Michigan last week, while an impromptu change of quarterbacks seemed to be what the doctor ordered for Western Michigan in their win over Miami. WMU still controls its own destiny in the MAC West and needs this game to make that matter, while BGSU can legitimately enter the MAC East conversation with a win due to Buffalo’s Tuesday night loss.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty:
- Time and Date: Wednesday, November 2nd at 7:00 pm ET
- Network: ESPN2 (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Doyt L. Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio
- All-time series: The Bowling Green Falcons hold a 32-20-3 series lead over the Western Michigan Broncos. This is the second meeting between Tim Lester and Scot Loeffler. Lester and the Broncos won 49-10 in 2019.
- Odds: Bowling Green is favored by 4.5 points and the game has an over/under spread of 47.5 points, per OddsShark.
The Western Michigan Broncos through Week 9:
Two major changes were made before the Miami game for the Miami game. The obvious change was starting true freshman Tre Bourguet over Jack Salopek and Mareyohn Hrabowski.
The second one is perhaps more relevant; Tim Lester took over the offensive game planning and assistant coach Eric Evans called the plays from the booth, with input from Lester. Offensive coordinator Jeff Thorne, normally up in the booth, was on the sideline to talk to the players after they came off the field.
In the ten days since the last game, the coaching staff has had extra time to evaluate the quarterbacks and land on the starting quarterback for this game. Salopek has a chance to get healthy and earn the starting job back, and Bourguet can get more comfortable with the first-team offense after helping run the scout team for much of the season. There is no indication of who will start the game.
Turnovers and sacks might tip the scales in favor of Bourguet. The last time we saw Salopek he threw five interceptions against Ohio and has been sacked heavily all year. He’s been brought down 22 times on 213 dropbacks. Bourguet on the other hand did not turn the ball over and got rid of the ball.
The running backs haven’t been immune to changes either. Sean Tyler has been a steady contributor with the ability to hit the home run occasionally, but his counterpart La’Darius Jefferson has been suspended indefinitely for an off-the-field violation of team rules. Expect Tyler to transition to more of a feature back, occasionally off the field for Zahir Abdus-Salaam.
Against Bowling Green, Tyler needs to be productive. The Falcons can be pushed around at the point of attack a little bit, but they excel in passing situations. It will be critical for Tyler and the other backs to be tough runners and take five yards when three are easy. Staying out of third and long and scoring points to keep the running game a viable option will neutralize the Falcon's best defensive asset.
The Bronco defense had their best game of the season when they held the RedHawks to ten points. Brett Gabbert was slow to get going after returning from an injury and the pass rush kept him uncomfortable when in passing situations. The defense was able to take advantage, but they shouldn’t depend on a quarterback to be out of rhythm to be effective.
The Bowling Green offense has had its struggles but last week quarterback Matt McDonald only threw three incomplete passes. If the Broncos allow that to happen, the Falcons will score 38 points again. McDonald did take six sacks so defensive end Andre Carter and linebacker Corvin Moment should have some opportunities to be disruptive. Those two combine for 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss.
The unit needs to force McDonald to beat them through the air, which he might. He’s a solid quarterback in the MAC and spreads the ball all over the field. He needs a running game to support him though. In their last two wins, running back Jaison Patterson ran for a combined 195 yards. In the loss to Buffalo, he was held to 42 yards. The front seven for the Broncos need to duplicate the Buffalo game and take the running game away to force third and long.
The Bowling Green Falcons through Week 9:
The Bowling Green Falcon offense does an interesting thing with their wide receivers. They use them to run the ball. Non-running backs have a total of 28 rushes for 152 yards and three touchdowns. The 28 rushes are spread across six receivers, but the touchdowns are not. Harold Fannin Jr. is listed as a tight end, but is clearly their goal-line back, utilized as more of a H-back or fullback whenever he is on the field. He has one rush for 24 yards and four others that total six yards and three touchdowns.
Aside from running the ball with wide receivers, they run the ball with running backs too. Jaison Patterson averages 4.8 yards per rush, which is fourth among players that lead their team in rush attempts.
On paper, the Bowling Green offense and the Bronco defense are a pretty even matchup, but Matt McDonald’s ability to spread the ball around to the open receiver could tip the scale. The Falcons have four receivers or tight ends with at least 15 catches. The most impressive part is that all of them have at least two touchdown catches. Odieu Hiliare leads the team with 25 catches and 374 yards with four touchdowns.
McDonald hasn’t been a high completion percentage passer in his career which makes his Central Michigan performance surprising. It’s not likely to happen again, but his receivers are strong, and the defensive backs for WMU have struggled at times. He takes care of the ball with a 16-3 TD to INT ratio, and no lost fumbles.
Running back Ta’Ron Keith is an interesting piece that’s rare in the MAC. He has 55 touches this season, 31 rushes and 24 caught passes. No other player listed as a running back is close to 50 percent of his touches being passing receptions. He’s efficient too, currently sixth in the MAC for running backs in yards per touch, with the five players in front of him only reeling in 24 catches as a unit. He also has four touchdowns, and only Marion Lukes from CMU has that many in the players ahead of him on that very specific list.
The Bowling Green defense has very specific strengths that they have used well in their MAC games. They knock you behind the chains, then pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. They get the same effect out of building a lead, but the defense can’t directly control that.
They have 32 sacks in their eight games, giving them a reputation of being an excellent havoc group, with 15 players notching at least one sack. Defensive lineman Karl Brooks and outside linebacker Demetrius Hardamon lead the way with a combined 13 sacks. Hardamon is a pass-rush specialist with only 15 tackles total and 5.5 sacks.
They limit the opportunities the opposition has to score and limits the points that are scored when that occurs. The Falcon defense is one of the best in the nation in limiting points in scoring opportunities, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Low opportunities are good, but explosive plays can score before the drive registers as an opportunity.
One thing that is true, however: long drives are tough to sustain against this defense. WMU hasn’t been particularly explosive. This could be a good matchup for the Falcons.
This game is a true toss-up. Neither team holds a serious advantage no matter who has the ball and each has very specific strengths and weaknesses that neither can leverage consistently.
The Bronco offense hits enough big plays to stay in the game, but isn’t consistent when they can’t move the ball in one big chunk. Tyler is productive, but inconsistency in the passing game kills the offense.
No matter who the quarterback is for the Broncos third down is a struggle and the Falcons are able to get to the passer without selling out on the blitz. The Falcon offense is more consistent and McDonald is able to get the ball away to the open receiver. They do just enough at home to keep the MAC East dream alive.
Western Michigan 24
Bowling Green 28