Bowling Green brings its high-powered “Falcon Fast” offense to Kalamazoo on Wednesday night for a key conference matchup against Western Michigan. This contest features two of the best teams in the MAC, as the Broncos and Falcons are the only remaining unbeatens in league play entering Week 11. While both teams have a lot of work remaining, this Wednesday night showdown is a potential preview of the MAC Championship in Detroit in early December.
The two coaches in this game – Bowling Green’s Dino Babers and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck – are widely regarded as rising stars. Babers is 15-8 in two seasons with the Falcons, while Fleck is 15-19 in his third season with the Broncos. Both coaches are on track to have their best overall team of their tenure in 2015. Western Michigan has a five-game winning streak, which includes a 54-7 blowout win over Ball State last Thursday. Bowling Green scored wins over Maryland and Purdue earlier this year, with its only losses coming at the hands of Tennessee (59-30) and Memphis (44-41).
Bowling Green holds a 31-18-3 series edge over Western Michigan. The Broncos defeated the Falcons 26-14 in last season’s matchup.
Bowling Green at Western Michigan
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Bowling Green -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Bowling Green’s “Falcon Fast” Offense
Bowling Green’s high-powered offense is one of the best in the nation, averaging 45.9 points a game this season. Can Western Michigan find a way to slow down prolific quarterback Matt Johnson and a deep group of skill players? No team has managed to hold the Falcons under 30 points in a game this season, and this offense has scored at least 48 points in each of the last four contests. Johnson is the catalyst for the attack, passing for 3,686 yards and 33 scores in nine games. The senior is efficient (70.5 completion percentage) and doesn’t make mistakes (three interceptions). Johnson has plenty of help at receiver in the form of Roger Lewis (64 catches), Ronnie Moore (54), Gehrig Dieter (49) and Ryan Burbrink (43). While Bowling Green’s offense loves to throw (fourth nationally with 401 attempts in 2015), there’s balance on the ground with Travis Greene and Fred Coppet. Western Michigan will have its hands full against the Falcons, but Fleck’s defense has limited MAC opponents to 20.2 points a game this season. However, there are signs of concern for the Broncos. This unit is giving up 5.7 yards per play and has surrendered 17 passing plays of 30 yards or more. Additionally, the Broncos have recorded only 10 sacks in nine games. Bowling Green’s offensive line has struggled at times (25 sacks allowed), which should create opportunities for Western Michigan to get pressure on Johnson. But if the Broncos struggle to generate a pass rush and give up big plays in the secondary, Bowling Green will have no trouble equaling its season average in points per game (45.9).
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2. Western Michigan’s Ground Attack
Bowling Green’s offense is the best in the MAC, but Western Michigan is also capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The Broncos rank second in the MAC with an average of 38 points per game, headlined by the steady play of quarterback Zach Terrell and a trio of talented running backs. Jarvion Franklin (660 yards) leads the team in rushing, but Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy have seen an increased workload in recent weeks. Bogan leads the team with nine rushing scores, while Bellamy (40 carries) averages 8.2 yards per rush. Bowling Green has experienced its share of issues against the run, giving up 164.6 yards per game. In last week’s victory over Ohio, the Falcons surrendered 299 yards and three scores on the ground. Time of possession is a meaningless statistic to most coaches. However, that total could be critical on Wednesday night. Western Michigan has the offensive line and talent at running back to control the pace of the game, limiting the opportunities for the Bowling Green offense. And when the ground attack has success, it sets up opportunities for Terrell to attack downfield on throws to Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis.
3. Turnover Margin
Even if Western Michigan establishes its ground attack and wins the time of possession battle, it still needs a few breaks to slow down Bowling Green’s offense. With that in mind, the turnover battle will be critical to monitor. The Falcons have the MAC’s best turnover margin at +11, while the Broncos are minus-two. However, in conference-only games, the totals look better for Western Michigan at plus-seven. Bowling Green has lost only five turnovers all season, which only adds to the difficulty of slowing down the “Falcon Fast” attack. The Broncos need to win this statistical category on Wednesday night.
Expect plenty of fireworks in Kalamazoo on Wednesday night. Bowling Green and Western Michigan own the MAC’s top scoring offenses, and there’s no shortage of skill talent in this matchup. Starting fast and establishing the flow of the game is critical for both teams. The Broncos want to establish the run and control the time of possession to limit the plays and opportunities for the Falcons. On the other sideline, Bowling Green would prefer to start fast and force Western Michigan to go away from its ground attack. Both teams will land their share of big plays in this game. This one goes back-and-forth until the fourth quarter, but Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson seals the victory with a late scoring drive.