A regular season finale just doesn’t get much better than this with huge implications for the Mid-American East Crown at stake in the national spotlight.
Bowling Green (6-5, 5-2 MAC East) and Ohio (8-3, 6-1 MAC East) both have made a ton of progress since their last meeting and with that a big chance for an extra special season.
Last year about this time these squads, both with 3-8 records. faced off on a cold, windy day, in Bowling Green, Ohio to finish out a tough 2021 campaign. Bowling Green won that day 21-10 but both left the field with a lot of work to do to make 2022 better.
Fast forward to today and both teams have done just that, changing their fortunes. For Ohio, it’s simple: win and they are the MAC East champs.
For Bowling Green, they win the division with a victory over Ohio coupled with a Buffalo Bulls loss next Saturday to the Kent State Golden Flashes.
We take a look at where both teams are at heading into the contest.
- Time and Date: Tuesday, November 22, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time
- Network: ESPNU
- Radio/Streaming: Both teams can be heard via the Varsity Network App.
- Location: Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio
- Weather at Kickoff: 47 degrees and with light win and low chance of precipitation per Weather.com
- Spread/Total: Ohio are 6.5-point favorites, per ESPN.
- Note: Ohio is undefeated this season at their homefield, “The Frank,” with a 5-0 record.
Getting to Know The Falcons
Bowling Green has won five of its last seven games, including several quality wins and two blowout losses to Kent State (40-6) and Buffalo (38-6) where seven turnovers played a big role in the lopsided outcomes.
The Falcons come into this one riding high though after a 42-35 win over rival Toledo with the go-ahead score coming with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The offensive is led by quarterback Matt McDonald, who threw for a career-best 395 yards last week against the Rockets. McDonald is in the midst of a breakout year with 21 touchdown passes against just five picks. McDonald’s 21 touchdown passes are tied for second in the MAC and his 2,422 passing yards are fourth-best in the league.
But McDonald hasn’t done it alone, with plenty of options in the passing game this year led by wide receiver Odieu Hilare, this week’s MAC East Offensive Player of the Week. Hilare made all manner of explosive plays against Toledo last week with eight catches for 246 yards and two scores against the Rockets’ highly-regarded secondary.
Wideout Tyrone Broden came off the field on the last series of the game versus Toledo last week with an injury but if he is full go against the Bobcats he will bring a significant height advantage to the contest at six-foot-seven versus Ohio’s five-foot-nine cornerbacks.
Bowling Green has gotten the tight ends involved in the offense with 2021 all-MAC tight end Christian Sims and fab freshman Harold Fannin Jr. combining for 53 catches for 517 yards. Look for Fannin Jr. to also be a factor in the running game around the red zone and short yardage where he has four rushing scores on the season.
Running back Ta’ron Keith has also been a factor in the passing game with 274 yards and four scores, including the game winner last week on a 42-yard romp through the Rockets defense.
As for the running game, Bowling Green ranks 11th in the MAC with 1,162 yards, but they do have some threats out of the backfield with Jaison Patterson leading the squad 543 yards while Ta’ron Keith has added 187 yards.
Defensively, the Falcons have wreaked havoc on opponents on a national level throughout the year, coming into the contest tied for 5th in the nation in both sacks with 30 and turnovers with 22.
Ohio’s talented offensive line will be strongly tested by one of the MAC’s best front sevens, led by future first team All-MAC and NFL prospect defensive linemen Karl Brooks. Versus Toledo, Bowling Green moved Brooks around the line of scrimmage and he terrorized the Toledo offense with two sacks and consistent pass rush, bringing his season sack total to ten which is sixth best in the nation.
In addition to a great defensive line, Bowling Green has playmakers at other levels of the defense. 2021 first team All-MAC linebacker Darren Anders is having another quality campaign while linebacker DJ Taylor has shined too, with 64 tackles and two interceptions.
Safey Chris Bacon has been a factor on the back end, leading the Falcons with 67 tackles and making a big play last week forcing a fumble in the red zone.
Getting to know the Bobcats
The ‘Cats come into this one red hot, winners of six straight. Over the course of MAC play, Ohio has matured into one of the best teams in the conference in all three phases.
Yet an injury to quarterback Kurtis Rourke’s knee late in the second quarter of last week’s win over Ball State injects some uncertainty into the ‘Cats championship run.
Whether Rourke will play this week is unknown at this time, at least publicly. At the weekly press conference, head coach Tim Albin did not rule Rourke out against the Falcons, pointing to some positive signs for Rourke’s return in that “he could put weight on it, had no swelling, and was walking without crutches.” Albin also indicated he would know more about Rourke’s status later in the week.
With Rourke questionable, Ohio may need to turn to backup redshirt sophomore CJ Harris to pilot Ohio’s offense. The start would be the first of Harris’ Bobcat career, with his most significant career game action coming last week in two-plus quarters of a meaningful play versus Ball State last week.
Harris, a six-foot-three, 215-pounder from West Bloomfield, Michigan, brings good size and a dual-threat skill set to the mix that works well within Ohio’s offensive scheme. A major feather in Harris’ cap based on last week’s performance is that he looked composed, taking care of the ball in the second half while helping the offense to a few scores. Harris also looked adept at running with the ball and was effective operating the option.
Harris is going to need that ball security and composure against the Falcons’ vaunted defense.
The good news for Harris and the Bobcats is that the new starter is surrounded by some All-MAC-level talent that should make his job easier. The running game has taken over games at times recently with some dominant offensive line play and career best production totals from RB Sieh Bangura, who racked up 145 and 148 yards the last two games.
If Ohio can continue to run the ball well, it will go a long way towards a victory.
When taking to the air, Ohio has one of the deepest, versatile, receiving corps in the MAC, led by wideout Sam Wiglusz whose 65 catches for 794 yards and 10 touchdowns have him headed towards an All-MAC nod at season’s end. Wideout James Bostic has turned in some explosive plays this year with a MAC-leading 19.2 yards per reception on 28 catches and wideout Jacoby Jones makes a highlight reel catch or run just about every week lately.
Defensively, the Bobcats enter the game playing some of their best football at all levels of the defense, holding four of their last five opponents to under 20 points while creating 12 turnovers during that span.
Ohio’s pass rush probably has the edge over Bowling Green who ranks 9th in the MAC in sacks allowed with 33. Figure linebacker Bryce Houston and/or defensive ends Jack McCrory and Vonnie Watkins to hassle McDonald in this one, with the trio combining for 12 sacks on the season.
The back end of Ohio’s defense put on a show last week in run support and at times in pass defense. MAC East Defensive Player of the Week safety Alvin Floyd led the way with 12 stops and an interception while cornerback Torrie Cox Jr. had nine stops, forcing a fumble while recovering two. Defensive backs Justin Birchette and Zach Sanders combined for five pass breakups, all clutch, coming on third or fourth downs.
What to Expect
This game will likely come down to who makes fewer major mistakes, with both sides having the tools to create costly miscues.
Ohio has more consistently played clean football this season than the Falcons have, with less turnovers and penalties, so the ‘Cats will probably win this matchup more often than not.
The X-factor is who starts at quarterback for the Bobcats. Kurtis Rourke has a track record this season of productivity and ball security with a sparkling 25-4 touchdown to interception ratio, tested against some really good front sevens like Western Michigan’s. If Rourke can’t go, what might happen in those areas with CJ Harris is less known.
That being said, Harris looked ready for his shot last week and should be able to succeed with his great surrounding cast.
Ohio 27, Bowling Green 17