Midweek MACtion returns with a crucial East Division showdown between Bowling Green and Ohio on Tuesday night. The Bobcats sit atop the East and can clinch the division crown and a trip to Detroit for the MAC title game with a win. But if the Falcons pull off the upset, the battle to win the East will extend to Saturday, pending the outcome of Kent State at Buffalo. If the Falcons win and the Bulls lose, coach Scot Loeffler's team will go to Detroit. But if the Falcons beat Ohio and Buffalo knocks off Kent State, the Bulls have the tiebreaker for the division.
Ohio is one of the Group of 5's most-improved teams in '22. Tim Albin took over just prior to the '21 season after Frank Solich retired, and the Bobcats struggled to a 3-9 mark in his debut. However, the program has shown marked improvement and enters Tuesday night's game riding a six-game winning streak. Ohio's offense led by quarterback Kurtis Rourke is the driving force behind the jump in wins, as this unit has scored at least 32 points in six out of the team's seven MAC contests this year. The team's only defeats came against Power 5 opponents (Penn State and Iowa State) and a seven-point loss at Kent State on Oct. 1.
Improvement is also the biggest storyline surrounding Bowling Green in '22. Loeffler was just 7-22 in three years at the helm prior to this fall, but last week's last-second win over Toledo (42-35) lifted the program to bowl eligibility and ensured a chance to play for the division crown on Tuesday night. The Falcons have won four out of their last five games and are 3-0 on the road in MAC play this season.
Ohio has won five out of the last six against Bowling Green. The Falcons won 21-10 last year but have lost their last three trips to Athens. Bowling Green holds a 41-30-2 overall edge in the all-time series.
Bowling Green at Ohio
When Bowling Green Has the Ball
Bowling Green isn't among the MAC's top offenses, but Loeffler and staff have to be feeling good about this group going into Tuesday night's matchup. The Falcons are coming off a season high (42) in points and yards per play (7.24) against an FBS opponent. This offense hasn't been overly prolific (24.7 points a contest) all year and has struggled to generate big plays (just eight of 40-plus yards). However, this unit has found ways to move the ball behind one of the MAC's top quarterbacks.
Matt McDonald was instrumental in last week's upset of Toledo, as the senior completed 19 of 35 passes for 392 yards and four scores. Most importantly, the Boston College transfer connected on seven plays of 20-plus yards after the offense struggled to generate big plays for most of '22. Efficiency (61.8 percent) is a strength of McDonald, and he's passed for 2,422 yards and 21 scores through 10 starts. Odieu Hiliare (51 catches for 696 yards) was the recipient of a few of McDonald's big plays last week and will be a handful for a struggling Ohio secondary (ninth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense). Tyrone Broden (28 rec.), CJ Lewis (25), Cavon Croom (18), and tight end Christian Sims (37) provide McDonald with a deep collection of weapons to facilitate BGSU's short passing game.
The Falcons rank 10th in the MAC (conference-only matchups) in rushing attempts a game (35.3) and average just 3.3 yards per rush in league matchups, but Loeffler has capable options here. Jaison Patterson (543 yards) leads the way in the backfield, with Jamal Johnson (229) and Ta'ron Keith (187) also chipping in. Ohio has been tough against the run (133.4 rushing yards allowed in MAC games) but also has faced the fewest attempts (33.1) in league action. The Bobcats have allowed 934 rushing yards to MAC opponents but 605 of that came in two games — Kent State and Northern Illinois.
Although BGSU's offense has failed to score more than 17 points in four MAC games this year, Ohio's struggling defense (30.7 points a game and 6.4 yards per snap) should allow Loeffler's offense a good opportunity to build off last week's performance.
When Ohio Has the Ball
Ohio's offense ranks No. 1 in the MAC in yards per play (6.88 in conference games) and second in scoring (35.7 a game in MAC contests). If the Bobcats are going to win on Tuesday and clinch the East Division, this unit must carry the team to a victory. However, mystery surrounds this group and will until kickoff.
The catalyst for this attack — quarterback Kurtis Rourke — left last week's game with a knee injury, and it's uncertain if he will be able to go. The junior averages nearly 300 passing yards a game (296) and has totaled 3,256 yards and 25 touchdowns through the air in 11 appearances this year. Also, the Canada native is a factor on the ground (249 rushing yards), has been ultra-efficient (69.1 completion percentage), and doesn't make mistakes (four picks). If Rourke is sidelined, backup CJ Harris would get the nod under center. The sophomore has played in four contests and completed five of 12 passes for 34 yards. Needless to say, if Rourke cannot play, it's a huge blow for Ohio's offense.
If Albin has to turn to Harris, the good news is the sophomore won't have to do it alone, as Ohio's supporting cast is among the best in the MAC. Receiver Sam Wiglusz (66 catches for 800 yards) is the go-to option on the outside, with Jacoby Jones (35), James Bostic (28), and Miles Cross (37) poised to push a Bowling Green secondary ranked eighth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense.
Bowling Green's defense ranks among the best in the MAC by holding conference teams to 25.9 points a game and 5.42 yards per snap. This unit has caused havoc all year at the line of scrimmage (78 tackles for a loss), with linemen Karl Brooks and Walter Haire, along with linebacker Demetrius Hardamon, capable of generating negative plays all night. Although the Falcons have thrived at creating havoc, this unit has been suspect against the run (eighth in MAC-only games). If Ohio can hold on up front, running back Sieh Bangura (788 yards) should have opportunities to find lanes.
The stakes are high in the final week of midweek MACtion. However, without clarity on Rourke's status, it's hard to feel confident in a prediction for Tuesday night's showdown. After a huge rivalry win, can Bowling Green avoid a letdown in a tough road spot? On the other side, so much of Ohio's hopes of a win and an East Division title hinge on whether or not Rourke can go. Harris got valuable reps in last week's win, but there's a clear drop-off if Albin has to turn to his backup. And if Rourke is out, the Bobcats need their leaky defense to play their best game of the season. The Falcons should have success moving the ball, and if Rourke is out, any lead or pressure Loeffler's group can put on Ohio's backup quarterback is a huge win. With both teams thriving at getting takeaways, it wouldn't be a surprise if one or two is the difference on Tuesday night. But ultimately, Rourke's status is the biggest factor regarding which team comes out on top in this crucial MAC East showdown.
Prediction: Ohio 27, Bowling Green 24
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