Bitter rivals Toledo and Bowling Green meet on Tuesday night for the 80th time in program history with plenty at stake in this MAC matchup. The Falcons clinched the MAC East title in last week’s win over Western Michigan, and coach Dino Babers’ team needs to win out to have a shot at finishing as the top Group of 5 team and for an opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Toledo rebounded from a disappointing loss to Northern Illinois on Nov. 3 by defeating Central Michigan 28-23 last week. The Rockets are still alive for the MAC West title but have to win out and need a loss by the Huskies in conference action.
Thanks to rising stars at head coach, both of these teams have generated national headlines during the 2015 season. Under the direction of Matt Campbell, Toledo defeated Power 5 opponents Iowa State and Arkansas and ranked No. 24 in the first playoff committee rankings. Bowling Green knocked off Maryland and Purdue in non-conference matchups and nearly defeated Memphis (44-41). Coach Dino Babers is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and could be a candidate for openings at the Power 5 level this December.
Bowling Green leads the all-time series at 39-36-4. However, the Rockets have won five consecutive meetings against the Falcons. Three of the last four meetings between these two programs were decided by a touchdown or less. These two teams play annually for the I-75 Trophy, which replaced the Peace Pipe as the trophy awarded to the winner of this matchup in 2011.
Toledo at Bowling Green
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Bowling Green -7
1. Toledo’s Rushing Attack
Bowling Green’s “Falcon Fast” offense is one of the best in the nation. The Falcons rank fourth nationally by averaging 45.4 points per game, 12th with an average of seven yards per play and tied for first with 26 plays of 40 yards or more. Quarterback Matt Johnson is the MAC’s top quarterback and one of the most efficient nationally (36 TDs to four interceptions). What exactly does the Bowling Green offensive totals have to do with Toledo’s ground attack? The gameplan should be simple for the Rockets on Tuesday night. Keeping the Falcons off the field and limiting possessions are a priority. Toledo has the necessary pieces in place to control the pace of the game, as this team averages 216.2 rushing yards per game. Running back Kareem Hunt has recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts and has plenty of support from Terry Swanson (seven yards per carry). Bowling Green’s defense has struggled to stop the run at times, surrendering 168.6 yards per game this season. Additionally, the Falcons allowed six rushing scores and 504 yards in their last two contests. In order for Toledo to win on Tuesday night, Hunt and Swanson have to get on track and the offensive line has to control the line of scrimmage.
2. Bowling Green’s Explosive Offense
As mentioned above, the numbers on Bowling Green’s offense are staggering this season. The Falcons put a significant amount of pressure on opposing defenses by taking (and connecting) on deep shots downfield, while running back Travis Greene (105.7 ypg in MAC contests) is capable of making defenders miss at the line of scrimmage and turning five-yard gains into big plays. Babers’ offense can hurt defenses in a variety of ways, which is a nightmare for opposing teams to gameplan and stop. How can Toledo slow down the Falcons’ offense? The Rockets’ defense could use help from their offense to control the tempo and overall pace of the game. But when Toledo’s defense is on the field, it has to eliminate the big plays and make Bowling Green drive the length of the field. The Rockets have allowed 13 passing plays of 30 yards or more this season and gave up 349 passing yards in last week’s win over Central Michigan. This defense has been solid up front this year, limiting rushers to 3.3 yards per carry and generating 21 sacks. Getting pressure on Johnson and forcing this offense into third-and-long situations are two areas to watch for Toledo on Tuesday night.
3. Toledo QB Phillip Ely
While most of the pregame attention is focused on Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson, Toledo’s Phillip Ely shouldn’t be overlooked. The Alabama transfer suffered a season-ending leg injury last year and has rebounded with a strong 2015 campaign (2,192 yards, 18 TDs). The senior didn’t have a standout performance against Northern Illinois (1 TD, 2 INT) but rebounded to throw for 322 yards and two touchdowns against Central Michigan last Tuesday. The Falcons are 58th nationally in pass efficiency defense but has been susceptible to big plays (nine of 40 yards or more allowed). Ely has a solid group of weapons at his disposal, including Cody Thompson (20.5 ypc) and Alonzo Russell (28 catches for 482 yards). The success of Toledo’s offense starts on the ground. However, Ely will have his opportunities to shine on Tuesday night. After throwing five combined picks against UMass and Northern Illinois, Ely threw zero on 39 attempts against Central Michigan. That’s the type of performance Toledo needs from its quarterback on Tuesday night.
Tuesday night’s meeting in Bowling Green could be a preview of the MAC Championship in early December. Of course, Toledo has some work to do in order to win the West Division, starting with this matchup against the Falcons. In last year’s game, the Rockets ran for 325 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Kareem Hunt gashed Bowling Green for 265 yards on 30 attempts. That’s the best-case scenario for Toledo on Tuesday night – establish the run, control the time of possession and eliminate the big plays allowed on defense. While Hunt will get his yardage, stopping Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson and a talented group of receivers won’t be easy. This one should go back-and-forth, but the Falcons have too much firepower at home.