Saturday will mark the first-ever meeting between Bowling Green and Notre Dame, but this inaugural matchup is not without its share of intriguing storylines. Whether it’s the return of Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to one of his former employers, Notre Dame’s momentum after a win over top-20 Virginia or the program-record spread facing the Falcons, Notre Dame Stadium will certainly be buzzing with excitement.
After a 46-3 drubbing of Morgan State to start the season, the Falcons have struggled mightily ever since with losses in all three games and just 27 total points scored in that span. Bowling Green has allowed at least 35 points in all three of those losses, with Kansas State posting a 52-0 shutout win and Kent State hanging 62 in a 42-point win.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has hardly had a problem scoring; they've failed to score 35 points or more only once, and that was against No. 3 Georgia. A statement win against a top-20 Virginia team was a good start to a run of three straight home contests, with USC finishing off the trifecta next week.
Bowling Green at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -45.5
When Bowling Green Has the Ball
After a 253-yard, three-touchdown effort against Morgan State in Week 1, Darius Wade failed to eclipse 200 passing yards in each of the Falcons’ next three games. Last week against Kent State, Wade completed 72 percent (18-for-25) of his passes but only for 161 yards, and his two interceptions didn’t help the stat line. Grant Loy, who saw limited action behind Wade, actually notched the Falcons’ only passing touchdown of the game while rushing for another on three carries.
Around Wade, the rest of the offense didn’t have much success against Kent State, either. The Falcons’ two top rushers combined for just 95 yards on the ground, with Andrew Clair posting a 61-yard effort and the lone rushing touchdown by a running back. With the lack of aerial success from Wade and Loy, the receivers were largely absent; RB Marlow led the way with just six catches and 69 yards.
Defensively, Notre Dame is coming off a monster game in which it forced five Virginia turnovers, the most it had caused in a game in seven years. On the heels of three fumbles recovered against the Cavaliers — including Ade Ogundeji’s 23-yard recovery and return for a touchdown — the Irish moved into second in the FBS with eight in 2019, behind only Mississipi State’s 10. Senior captains Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem combined for 5.5 sacks to lead the defensive line. Saturday also marked the 18th straight game in which the Irish held an opponent at or under 30 points, tying Washington for the FBS lead in that category.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
The first half against the Cavaliers wasn’t entirely pretty for the Irish. Tony Jones Jr. and C’Bo Flemister each rushed for a touchdown after Virginia scored on its opening drive, but what followed in the second quarter surely turned more than a few stomachs of those wearing blue and gold in Notre Dame Stadium: The Irish possessed the ball for just over four minutes of the quarter and found themselves trailing at the half by a touchdown.
Ian Book, who for the game totaled just 165 yards passing without a touchdown, was largely held in check in the second half. But Jones took over and dominated, going over 100 yards rushing in the second half alone for a career-high total of 131 for the day, adding two additional scores for a three-touchdown performance. On the receiving end, it was tight end Cole Kmet leading the way with four catches for 65 yards, including a 37-yard connection with Book in the second quarter.
There simply aren’t many positive words to describe the Falcons’ defensive performance this year. Bowling Green ranks among the FBS’ 10 worst teams in scoring defense, allowing 38 points per game in 2019. Changing the focus from points to yards doesn’t help much, as the Falcons are bottom-20 in both rush defense (220.8 ypg allowed) and total defense (448.5 ypg allowed). They’ve also recorded only four takeaways all season — fewer than the Irish recorded last week alone.
Notre Dame should have few, if any problems, this week. The Falcons enter as underdogs by the largest margin in school history, and with good reason. This time, however, should a Brian VanGorder-led defense fail inside Notre Dame Stadium once again, Irish fans will be more than thrilled as opposed to calling for his firing like they did in 2016.
Prediction: Notre Dame 62, Bowling Green 13
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.