We've always heard about how you can "throw out the records" when it comes to a rivalry game. Well that will certainly be the case for one team when the Toledo Rockets host the Bowling Green Falcons in another nationally televised (ESPN2) midweek game on Wednesday night. The other team? Not so much!
The Rockets (5-1, 6-4) come into this game in the middle of a real dog-fight for the west division of the MAC. Toledo had been in the driver's seat for the division for much of the year, until last week's 27-24 setback at Northern Illinois. The loss dropped the Rockets into a three-way tie with the Huskies and Western Michigan...all at 5-1 in the division. The tie-breakers are complicated at this point and probably won't be sorted out until the last weekend of the regular season when the Broncos host the Huskies. But one thing is for sure: the Rockets need to beat the Falcons if they stand any chance at the division and a trip to the MAC Championship Game.
The Falcons (5-1, 7-3) come into this game in completely the opposite situation. They have already been crowned MAC east division champs and will be making a second consecutive trip to Detroit to take on whoever staggers out of the west. "Clinching the division early is big for us," said Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers after last week's 30-20 win over Kent State. "It takes the pressure off us these last two games and lets us play more relaxed."
But don't take Babers' comment to mean he doesn't want to win this one against Toledo. The Falcons have lost four straight to their long-time rivals. For all that former Falcon Coach Dave Clawson accomplished at BG before moving on to Wake Forest this year, he was 1-4 against Toledo. And that didn't sit well with the Falcon faithful. So, rest assured that the Falcons will show-up in the Glass Bowl looking for a victory.
Both teams come into the game relying on players at key positions that were either far down the depth chart when the season began, or not on it at all. The Rockets quarterback situation has been a mess all season. They lost their starter (Phillip Ely) to a knee injury early in the year. Their second string quarterback (Logan Woodside) suffered an ankle injury two games ago and barely played last week against the Huskies. Their third-string signal caller (Michael Julian) suffered a concussion in the loss to Northern Illinois. That forced wide receiver Dwight Macon into emergency duty at quarterback for the bulk of the Northern Illinois game. Macon, a quarterback in high school, performed admirably completing 8 of 11 passes for 140 yards a touchdown, while rushing for 111 yards and two more scores.
It will most likely be Macon again under center against the Falcons. Woodside played briefly against Northern Illinois but had little mobility because of the ankle. We'll have to wait and see if seven days of rest has improved the ankle enough for him to be able to go against Bowling Green. Julian seems a non-factor, still recovering from the concussion.
The Falcons have had sophomore James Knapke under center for most of the season. Knapke took over the starting job the second game of the season when starter Matt Johnson was lost for the year with a hip injury. Knapke has had his ups-and-downs this year but had one of his best performances last week against Kent State, going 22 of 37 for 315 yards and a touchdown.
Both teams have also had injuries in their respective backfields that each featured an All-MAC performer. The Rockets' Kareem Hunt missed three games earlier this season due to an injury but has returned strong. He has rushed for over 100 yards each of the last two weeks, including 123 against Northern Illinois. The Falcons' Travis Greene suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago against Akron and was in street clothes wearing a protective boot when the Falcons played Kent State last week. We'll have to see if Greene's ankle will allow him to play this week. It wouldn't surprise anyone if Babers holds him out the rest of the regular season to make sure he's 100 percent healthy for the MAC championship game in early-December.
Plus, it's not like the Falcons don't have other options at running back. Fred Coppet and Andre Givens have both had productive years running the ball for the Falcons. Coppet suffered his own leg injury against the Golden Flashes and did not play in the second half. His availability for the Toledo game is also questionable. Givens, the third-string back carried the ball 38 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns against Kent State. Givens most likely will see the bulk of the carries against the Rockets.
With all this talk of offense, this game will probably come down to defense on a cold, late-November night in Toledo. Both teams have struggled at times this season in stopping other teams from scoring. The Falcons defense was terrible earlier in the year but has had a resurrection as of late. It's not exactly clear if the defense's rebirth is from improved play or from hitting the weaker portion of their schedule? In reality, it's probably a little of both. The Falcon defense is playing better but they'll need to stop Hunt and the Rocket's running game in this one and force whoever's under center to throw the ball.
The Rocket's haven't exactly set the world on fire with their defense this year either, especially against the pass. They rank 12th in the MAC and 123rd in all of college football in passing defense. If Knapke and the Falcon offense are having success through the air against the Rockets, don't be surprised if they throw the ball 50 or more times in this game. The Falcons tend to stick with things during a game where they think they have an advantage.
If this game comes down to kickers, it will feature two of the MAC’s best. The Rocket’s Jeremiah Detmer is 16-19 in field goal attempts on the season, while Bowling Green’s Tyler Tate is 17 of 21 with a long of 52 yards. The swirling winds inside the Glass Bowl could also be a factor for the two kickers.
This "Battle of I-75" features two schools separated by only 26 miles of geography in Northwest Ohio. We'll find out if the Rockets stay in the MAC west division race, or if the "relaxed" Falcons finally break their four-game losing streak against their arch rivals.
Either way, it promises to be another fun-filled evening of #MACtion at the Glass Bowl! Enjoy!