Two teams that posted impressive turnarounds in the win column this season meet for the first time ever as either San Jose State or Bowling Green will get to unwrap one late Christmas gift – a season-ending victory. The Spartans will be looking to cap their best season since 1987, but will have to do so without Mike MacIntyre, who left on Dec. 10 to become the head coach at Colorado. The Spartans rank top 30 nationally in four major team statistics, and their only two losses have come by three points to Pac-12 champion and Rose Bowl-bound Stanford and a 10-win Utah State team.
Bowling Green is playing in its second bowl game in four years under head coach Dave Clawson thanks in large part to a defense that’s ranked among the top 14 in the nation in the four major categories. With a victory over the Spartans, the Falcons would claim both their first nine-win season and bowl win since 2004.
Both of these teams went 5-7 last season, meaning they have already combined to win five more games in 2012 than they did collectively in 2011.
Military Bowl – Presented by Northrop Grumman – San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. ET
Location: Washington, D.C.
When the San Jose State Spartans have the ball:
The Spartans are No. 30 in the nation in total offense, but the bulk of their damage is done through the air. They are averaging more than 327 yards passing per game as junior David Fales has impressed in his first season as a starter.
Fales is seventh in the FBS in passing yards with 3,798 and his 31 touchdown passes are tied for eighth. Better still, he has thrown just nine interceptions in 408 pass attempts, placing him third nationally in passing efficiency. Wide receivers Noel Grigsby, Jabari Carr and Chandler Jones have combined to catch 176 passes for 2,380 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Grigsby is the team’s leading receiver (79-1,173-9), while tight end Ryan Otten also has done his part with 44 catches for 706 yards and four scores. Both Grigsby and Otten earned first-team All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC) honors this season.
San Jose State ranks near the bottom (102nd) in rushing offense at less than 125 yards per game, but does have a productive option in senior De’Leon Eskridge. The Minnesota transfer has rushed for 992 yards this season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has scored 10 touchdowns.
Bowling Green’s defense is seventh in the nation in total defense (289.7 ypg) and pass defense (173 ypg), ninth in scoring defense (15.8 ppg) and sacks (3.1 spg), and 14th in rushing defense (116.7 ypg). The Falcons held five opponents to 10 points or fewer and only gave up more than 27 twice. The defense is led by senior tackle Chris Jones, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Defensive Player of the Year. Jones is tied for fourth in the nation with 12.5 sacks and he also has posted 19 tackles for loss. San Jose State’s passing offense versus Bowling Green’s pass defense will be one of the matchups to watch.
When the Bowling Green Falcons have the ball:
The Falcons have had trouble this season producing a consistent offensive attack and putting points on the scoreboard. They rank 85th in total offense with 373.9 yards per game and 91st in scoring offense at 23.1 points per contest.
The running game, led by Anthon Samuel, has fared a little better than the passing game for Bowling Green. The sophomore back has had to deal with some minor injuries, but he’s still been productive, as he’s already eclipsed his rushing yard (966) and touchdown (11) totals this season compared to his 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year campaign.
Unlike Samuel, however, junior quarterback Matt Schilz has taken a step back in his production. Last season Schilz threw for 3,024 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. This season, Schilz has passed for only 2,426 yards, 14 scores and 12 picks, while also seeing his completion percentage fall from 59.5 to 56.1.
Not surprisingly, no Falcons receiver has more than 47 receptions, 647 yards or six touchdowns this season. Those numbers belong to freshman Chris Gallon, who has come on strong over his last three games.
San Jose State’s defense is top 30 nationally in terms of total yards (351.4, 28th), points (21.4, 25th) and rushing yards (123.7, 19th) allowed, as well as sacks (3.3, 5th). They are only 52nd in passing defense, but the 227.8 yards the Spartans give up through the air per game is still more than the 216.5 the Falcons gain on average per contest via the pass, so don’t expect Bowling Green to exploit this weakness, if you will. Just like the Falcons, the Spartans are led on defense by an all-conference honoree. Senior defensive lineman Travis Johnson took home WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors this season after leading the conference in both sacks (12) and tackles for loss (19). Besides being seventh in the nation in sacks, Johnson also became the WAC’s all-time leader in the category this season with his 31 career quarterback takedowns.
San Jose State may be without Mike MacIntyre, the head coach that led them to its first 10-win season in 25 years, but this is a senior-laden team that wants to finish on a winning note. The Spartans have won six in a row with the closest victory being a six-point margin over BYU. Bowling Green has put together an impressive campaign of its own, which would not have been possible without the huge contributions of its defense. However, the Falcons’ inability to put long drives together and points on the scoreboard catches up to them in our nation’s capital against the Spartans. Even with interim coach Kent Baer calling the shots in place of MacIntyre, San Jose State tacks one more in the win column by controlling both sides of the ball and wearing down the Bowling Green defense in the second half.
Prediction: San Jose State 27, Bowling Green 17
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