November MACtion has arrived and one of the conference's midweek games to open the month finds Western Michigan paying a visit to Bowling Green. The Falcons have already made quite the turnaround this season while the Broncos haven't been able to enjoy any sustained success.
Bowling Green (4-4, 3-1) has already matched its win total for all of last season. A victory at home on Wednesday night win would not only get the Falcons one step closer to becoming bowl eligible, but it also would allow them to keep pace in the East Division. Either way, Bowling Green is pretty much assured of posting its best season in head coach Scot Loeffler's four years at the helm.
Western Michigan (3-5, 2-2) is going to be hard-pressed to match last season's 7-5 regular-season record. The Broncos have sandwiched their three wins around a pair of two-game losing streaks. WMU needs to win three of its final four to secure a second straight bowl appearance under head coach Tim Lester.
Bowling Green leads the all-time series with Western Michigan 32-20-3, but the Broncos have won six of the past seven meetings. Because they are in different divisions, these two teams don't face each other on an annual basis. The most recent matchup was in 2019, which WMU won 49-10.
Western Michigan at Bowling Green
When Western Michigan Has the Ball
The Broncos' offense has lacked punch this season, ranking last in the MAC at 4.6 yards per play. Some of this can be attributed to quarterback play. Redshirt freshman Jack Salopek, the primary starter, has struggled with both accuracy (50.8 percent completion rate) and turnovers (10 INTs, 7 TDs). He suffered a knee injury against Ohio two games ago and true freshman Treyson Bourguet got the start in Western Michigan's most recent matchup at Miami (Ohio). He didn't stuff the stat sheet (16-for-33, 123 yds.), but most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over as the Broncos won 16-10. No official announcement has been made but chances are Bourguet will get another shot to lead this offense.
Whoever is under center will need lots of help from his running game. Even though WMU features two of the top seven rushers in the MAC a season ago, the Broncos have struggled to gain ground in 2022. An offensive line that returned just two starters and poor quarterback play can be pointed to, but the reality is that Sean Tyler and La'Darius Jefferson haven't been as productive this season compared to last. The duo combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground in 2021. So far through eight games, those numbers have plummeted to 764 and nine. Jefferson has dealt with injury, missing the most recent game, and Lester announced on Monday that the back was suspended indefinitely. Meanwhile, Tyler is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The drop in ground production has been significant, and as a result, Western Michigan entered this week 10th in the conference in scoring (20.8 ppg) and 11th in total (305.5 ypg) offense on the season.
Bowling Green's defense has been getting the job done in MAC play. The Falcons are giving up 24.3 points per game and 342.3 yards per game to conference foes. They are the No. 1 pass defense in terms of yards per game (176.3) and have only surrendered five touchdowns through the air in their first four MAC contests. Teams have had a little more success running the ball on BGSU (166 ypg), but this defense has made significant strides this season compared to last. The Falcons are second nationally in sacks with 32. Karl Brooks leads the conference and is tied for fourth in FBS with 7.5 sacks. He also has 12 tackles for a loss on the season.
When Bowling Green Has the Ball
Similar to the defense, the Falcons' offense also has shown improvement this season. The changes may not be as noticeable on paper, but it's definitely showing up in the overall results. Quarterback Matt McDonald has increased his production. He is tied for second in the MAC in touchdown passes with 16 (in seven games) after throwing a total of 12 all of last season. He has been spreading the ball around, with seven different players posting double-digit receptions and five of those have multiple touchdown catches. Wide receiver Tyrone Broden has been the team's big-play weapon to this point, averaging 16.3 yards per reception, and he's tied for the team lead with four touchdown grabs.
The ground game also has been a collaborative effort, with six different players seeing at least 10 carries. The primary backfield option has been Jaison Patterson, whose 81 rushing attempts are nearly twice as many as the next running back (Jamal Johnson) on the team. Patterson is coming off of the first 100-yard game of his career, posting 101 in the win over Miami (Ohio). He is averaging 5.4 yards per carry over his last two games. The problem for BGSU is that the offense has produced a total of six rushing touchdowns all season. The Falcons will need more yields from their efforts on the ground if they truly want to capitalize on the strides they have made.
Unfortunately, if there's one thing Western Michigan's defense has done well this season it's stopping the run. The Broncos are second in conference-only games at 117 rushing yards allowed per game. Teams have had much more success throwing the ball (270 ypg., 5 TDs in four MAC games), and Bowling Green is capable of doing that, so the Falcons should be able to do some damage either way. WMU can get after the quarterback (21 sacks in eight games) with linebacker Corvin Moment making the most hay (6.5) in that department.
Just one game separates these two teams in terms of overall record, but it just feels like the gap is bigger than that. Western Michigan has struggled to find consistency, with all three wins sandwiched by losses. Meanwhile, Bowling Green has won two in a row and needs just two more victories to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2015. WMU isn't out of bowl contention just yet, but the Broncos have questions at quarterback and lack playmakers on offense. The Falcons have their own areas that need to improve but also have done a few things really well and all the momentum is on their side, especially with this game being at home. Don't expect a rout, but look for Bowling Green to get one step closer to punching its postseason ticket while also staying in the race in the East Division.
Prediction: Bowling Green 27, Western Michigan 23
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