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Bowling Green Falcons vs. Purdue Boilermakers football preview: Falcons finish Power 5 gauntlet

BGSU has faced one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country in 2015. On Saturday, they finish that slate against Purdue with an opportunity to enter MAC play at 2-2.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Bowling Green Falcons (1-2) travel to West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday to face the Big Ten Conference's Purdue Boilermakers (1-2) in the season's final non-conference game for both teams. Game time is set for 12:00 p.m. ET, and the contest will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

The Falcons have played one of the difficult schedules in the country to date. This will be their third road game against a Power 5 school, and their only home game was against the Memphis Tigers, defending champions of the American Athletic Conference. BGSU fell 59-30 in their season opener against Tennessee. They rebounded with a dominating 48-27 win at Maryland but then lost a 10-point lead en route to falling 44-41 to Memphis.

Purdue will be playing at home for the third consecutive week after their season-opener at Marshall. The Boilermakers lost that game, 41-31. They began their home schedule with a 38-14 win over Indiana State but were soundly defeated 51-24 last week by Virginia Tech.

With Matt Johnson healthy once again, the BGSU offense has been nothing short of spectacular. The Falcons have already scored 119 points (39.67/game), and Johnson leads the nation with both 1,358 passing yards and 12 touchdown throws. In fact, Johnson's current passing yards exceeds the three-game pace set in 2003 by B.J. Symons, the NCAA single-season record holder. More importantly, he has been efficient, as he's completed over 60 percent of his passes and has been intercepted only once in 149 attempts.

Johnson has thrown for at least 400 yards in every game, a first in BGSU history, and a large amount of the credit for that must go to true sophomore sensation Roger Lewis. Lewis leads the nation in receiving yards with 510 and averages 21.2 yards per catch. After a slow start against the Volunteers, Lewis has exploded for back-to-back 200-yard games, another first in BGSU history. Against Memphis, he posted 261 and hauled in touchdown receptions of 62, 62 and 94 yards.

Of course, Lewis is not Johnson's only weapon. His 12 touchdown passes have gone to seven different receivers, five different players have at least 100 yards through three games. Perhaps Johnson's second-favorite target is Ronnie Moore, who has 20 catches and 238 yards but no touchdown receptions -- yet.

The Falcons are also running the ball well, as the team is averaging 153.7 yards per game and 4.1 per attempt. Fred Coppet and Travis Greene are splitting carries nearly evenly (32 and 38, respectively), but Coppet's 202 yards and 6.3 per carry lead the team. Johnson has also run the ball at times and even had a touchdown run against Memphis.

The Boilermaker defense has not played well against FBS competition thus far in 2015. Against Marshall and Virginia Tech, Purdue has allowed an average of 434 yards and 46 points per game. Overall, they rank in the lower-third of the country in total yards allowed and 111th (of 128 teams) in points allowed.

Ja'Whaun Bentley is playing the best of the group. He leads Purdue with 26 tackles (14 solo) and 5.5 of those are tackles for loss. Right end Antonie Miles, a sophomore from Canton, Ohio, has been a very disruptive force in the opposing backfield. Purdue has nine sacks as a team, and Miles owns four of them among his 19 total tackles.

Purdue's secondary is experienced, but their performance could be better. The unit is allowing 220 yards per game and has given up six touchdown passes. They're generating some turnovers, but not enough to overcome the overall lackluster performance of the defense. Safeties Leroy Clark and Robert Gregory each have an interception, as does senior cornerback Anthony Brown.

The defense also has four fumble recoveries. They're producing more than two turnovers per game, but the team still has a negative turnover margin.

Purdue's offense has been scoring points at a healthy clip (31 per game), but inefficiency in the passing game and turnovers are really hurting the overall performance of the group.

Quarterback Austin Appleby has struggled, particularly against Purdue's two FBS opponents. Against Marshall, he threw four interceptions. Then, in last week's loss to Virginia Tech, he completed just nine of 28 attempts for only 110 yards and threw two more picks. With his rough start, it looks like Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell will go with David Blough to start under center on Saturday.

DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey are the deep receiving threats for Blough. Both average at least 17 yards per catch and each have a touchdown reception, but the pair don't see enough targets.

D.J. Knox is their starting running back, has totaled 212 yards with one touchdown. Markell Jones splits carries with knox, a nice change of pace and is currently earning 7.2 yards per carry and has three scoring runs.

Coming into the 2015 season, most people knew what we would be getting from the BGSU defense, particularly after the performance of the group during Dino Babers' first season with the Falcons. Those expectations have not been dispelled at all in the first three games. The Falcons are giving up 493.3 yards and 43.3 points per game. They rank 100th or worse in total defense, scoring defense, first downs allowed, third down efficiency and red zone defense. Opponents are converting 43.8 percent of all third downs.

The most notable issue has been the rushing defense. Teams are running the ball 46.7 times per game so far against BGSU and are doing so with great success. Opponents are earning 236.7 yards per game and 5.1 per rush to go along with eight touchdowns and only one fumble. In the loss against Memphis, the inability to consistently stop the run and get off the field led to long drives and a huge time of possession discrepancy.

Comparatively, the pass defense has played somewhat better and was able to generate turnovers against Maryland that helped BGSU beat the Terrapins by 21 points. However, the unit is still giving up 12.3 yards per completion and a completion percentage of 62.5. They're also not getting to the quarterback, as they've generated only three sacks in the team's three games.

Neither Bowling Green or Purdue has performed well on special teams this year. The two field goal kickers, Tyler Tate and Paul Griggs, are a combined 6-for-13 on attempts this year. Both teams have also been poor in punt coverage. Purdue is giving up 10 yards per return, while the Falcons are allowing nearly 30. Both have given up a punt return touchdown. Both teams are also giving up more than 25 yards per kickoff return and significantly more than either has been able to manage on their own kickoff returns.

The ability to win this battle between two underperforming units could be a huge key to victory in this game.