The Ohio Bobcats (3-1) are set to road trip about three hours northwest to Bowling Green Falcons (1-2) country for an early—but important—MAC East battle this week. Both teams enter the season as MAC East hopefuls and a win here has significant implications for the tiebreaker scenario, effectively putting the loser two games back of the winner after the first conference game of the year.
Last season, Ohio beat the Falcons to win its seventh straight MAC game and the MAC East crown.
Approaching the 2023 match, both teams are in different places with some new faces and this should play out differently for those changes. Also critical to the Falcon’s chances is adversity in the form of key injuries.
We will take a look at where each team is heading into this one and offer our prediction.
- Time and date: Saturday, September 23rd, 2023 3:30 p.m. Eastern
- Network: ESPN+ (subscription required)
- Location: Doyt L. Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio
- Gambling considerations: Ohio is favored by 13, with an over/under of 46, per DraftKings.
- Last Time: Ohio won 38-14 to secure the MAC East title on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.
- All-time series: Bowling Green, by a margin of 41-31-2
- Special Events: Homecoming and the Marching Band’s 100th year anniversary
Getting to Know The Ohio Bobcats
Ohio rides a wave of momentum into the contest after stunning the Big 12’s Iowa State Cyclones (1-2) last week at home in a 10-7 win.
The victory was the third of the season, coalescing a winning formula for the 2023 Bobcats: stifling defense complemented by clean offense and competent special teams.
The ‘Cats have played some of the best team defense in the MAC so far this year and are notable nationally with the sixth-ranked total defense in the FBS (245 yards per contest) and are in the top 10 nationally with only 10 points per game allowed on average (not counting a pick six).
In the past two weeks, the Bobcats defense made emphatic statements by allowing a total of just 10 total defensive points against the Florida Atlantic Owls on the road and Iowa State.
Perhaps most notable is the run defense, allowing only a combined 43 net yards against the Owls and ISU. More telling, the Cyclones came to Athens last week fully intending to establish the run but were shut down time-and-again, finishing with 1.7 yards per rush on 22 carries.
While the defensive success reflects a unit-wide effort, the heart of the group is in its linebacking corps including captains Bryce Houston and Keye Thompson. Houston leads the squad with 43 tackles and also has a sack, and an interception while winning MAC East defensive player of the week two times in the first three weeks.
Offensively, coming into the Iowa State game last week the ‘Cats major assignment was eliminating turnovers after giving up eight in its first three games. It was mission accomplished for Ohio by not allowing a single turnover for the first time this season which was critical to the 10-7 win in a defensive battle.
Heading to Bowling Green this week and with the defense playing lights out, Ohio’s offensive priorities include repeating that clean living so as to avoid easy scoring opportunities for the Falcons.
As we noted after the Owls game, it is not just that Ohio’s defense has surrendered very few points but a significant factor in the points allowed is offensive turnovers. Of the 40 points allowed, 13 points against LIU and the Owls were a product of turnovers in or near Ohio territory. San Diego State also cashed in late in the first half for a touchdown on a turnover.
That being said, the Bobcats’ offense returns a lot of talent from the MAC’s top scoring offense in 2022 and for the first time all season may have everyone back from injury for this game.
Quarterback Kurtis Rourke makes his third start in a row after missing most of the first two games with injury. Last week Rourke reconnected with his favorite target by the numbers in wideout Sam Wiglusz, who caught five passes for 53 yards and a score versus Iowa State.
What will help make Ohio’s passing game tough to stop in MAC play is the sheer number of playmakers including tight ends Tyler Foster and Will Kacmarek as well as wideouts Tyler Walton, Jacoby Jones, and Miles Cross.
The rushing attack has done enough of what it has had to do so far to get the job done but not especially explosive or efficient statistically on the whole with just two runs over 20 yards and 3.63 yard per rush average. Some of that is due to playing some strong defenses in Iowa State and FAU who are allowing under four yards per tote this season. Expect those numbers to rise as Ohio heads into MAC play.
The ‘Cats offensive line is keeping the quarterback pretty clean so far this year ranking in the top 20 nationally in sacks allowed with only three.
Getting to Know The Bowling Green Falcons
The Falcons (1-2) started the season with a mostly brutal first half against a very good Liberty Flames team, throwing three of its five interceptions on the day in the first two quarters of a 34-24 loss.
BGSU turned things around in Week 2 action against FCS Eastern Illinois, rolling up over 500 yards offensively while committing no turnovers en route to a decisive 38-15 win.
The Falcons followed that up by giving the number two-ranked Michigan Wolverines fits, intercepting JJ McCarthy twice in the first half alone while going into halftime down only 14-6 in an eventual 31-6 loss.
Heading into this week, BGSU will possibly face some significant adversity due to the physical toll of the last few weeks on its roster.
The key question going into this league-opening matchup is: who will be available at quarterback against the ‘Cats?
To start the season, the QB battle was never officially settled between Indiana Hoosier transfer Connor Bazelak and Camden Orth. Bazalek started against the Flames and took the lionshare of the reps versus Eastern Illinois, completing 82 percent of his passes for over 300 yards and three touchdown passes.
Bazelak was reportedly injured in the final quarter of the Eastern Illinois game and sat out versus Michigan. Camden Orth started versus the Wolverines but left with an undisclosed injury of his own in the second quarter, leaving freshman QB Hayden Timosciek to fend off the Wolves.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, head coach Scot Loeffler declined to comment on the nature of the injuries or status this week for Bazelak and Orth.
If seniors Bazelak or Orth can go at near full strength that will be a big boon to the offense as the Falcons have plenty of weapons at their disposal in the passing game. Tight ends are critical to the Falcons’ passing game and having one of the MAC’s best in Harold Fannin Jr. is a big feather in their caps. Fannin Jr. leads BGSU with 11 catches for 144 yards and a score. The Falcons move Fannin Jr. around the formation and get the ball into his hands quickly in the flats or over the middle where he can create with his rare athleticism for a guy his size.
Defending the perimeter for the Bobcats starts by trying to contain 2022 second-team All-MAC wideout Odieu Hiliare. The 2022 Alabama A&M transfer had a breakout campaign with the Falcons last year hauling in 58 catches for 787 yards and six receiving scores and looks to terrorize opponents again in 2023.
The Falcons also have some notable options in Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim and Austin Osborne. Ibrahim (Hilaire’s former teammate in Huntsville) transferred in from Alabama A&M for 2023 after having a dominant season with the Bulldogs in 2021 to the tune of 1,000 yards with eight scores. Osborne missed most of 2022 with injury but was an important cog in BGSU’s air attack in 2021 with 64 catches for 546 yards and two scores.
The Falcons’ rushing attack looks improved at times over 2022 based on performances like week one against Liberty where BGSU burned the Flames for 191 yards and 6.1 yards per carry. Continued success on the ground is bound to bolster the effectiveness of their play action passes.
BGSU has a running back by committee approach, using at least four backs led by Terion Stewart’s 108 yards, 5.4 per carry, with two scores. RB Ta’ron Keith has been dynamic in the passing game with 9 catches for 136 yards. Keith has turned in some explosive plays where BGSU finds him on a screen or checkdowns and lets his athleticism go to work.
Defensively, Bowling Green played its best defense so far last week, holding the Wolverines to a total of 312 yards while creating four turnovers battling a gigantic Michigan offensive line and athlete-rich roster.
Overall on the season, the Falcons rank a solid 63rd nationally (out of 130 FBS teams) with 345 yards allowed per contest, 38th in red zone defense, and 81st in scoring defense with 26.7 per game.
Where BGSU has shined so far is third down defense, ranking third nationally overall by allowing just 7-of-27 attempts.
The Falcons defense starts with plenty of talent and experience in the middle with captain nose guard Anthony Hawkins III starting his 23rd career contest. Hawkins III will help keep middle linebacker Darren Anders clean to make plays. Anders is one of the best in the MAC, a former first-team All-MAC selection that is a versatile player who can stop the run, drop in pass defense, and rush the passer. Anders adds to his Falcons Hall of Fame resume every time he takes the field, needing just five stops versus Ohio to achieve 300 career tackles.
Starting outside linebacker Demetrius Hardamon was carted off last week against the Wolverines after what was described in a BGSU statement as an orthopedic injury. Thankfully, Hardamon was reportedly able to walk and was in stable condition but his return in 2023 is unknown.
Ohio’s defense has been the MAC’s best unit so far this season and guessing Bowling Green’s chances in this game is virtually impossible without knowing if one of the Falcons senior QBs will play or be near 100 percent healthy.
If Ohio takes care of the ball, it is difficult to see how Bowling Green could win with a freshman quarterback against an Ohio defense that is shutting teams down and an offense led by MAC MVP Rourke.
Ultimately, if a veteran signal caller can go, the Falcons have weapons to get some things done but will still need to win the turnover battle along with playing their best defensive effort of the season to beat Ohio.
With what is known at this point, the Bobcats have too much in their favor. Ohio 33-9.