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November 30, 2023

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Week 12 Preview: Falcons, Rockets set for 88th edition of a classic rivalry

Drake Harlett
Harold Fannin Jr. running with the ball

It’s the week Toledo and Bowling Green fans have all been waiting for, and it’s the week that both sides have had circled since the schedules released: 

The Battle of I-75. 

“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to play in one of the best rivalry games…this is an awesome game, great opponent,” said Scot Loeffler at his Thursday press conference. “They’re playing really well, they’re number one in the MAC and we’re going to have to give our best effort to give ourselves a chance to win this one. Really excited about the opportunity to play in this game. I know our players and coaches are excited about the opportunity.”

“It’s obviously important to both the city of Toledo, to Bowling Green, to Lucas County, to Northwest Ohio, and really, it’s a branded game nationally to where people really pay attention to it, obviously being in the mid-week setting,” Toledo head coach Jason Candle said. “(The) Entire country gets to watch you play. I’ve lived it in multiple roles on this coaching staff, from being the head coach down to an assistant. Each one of the games has had its own different identity, it’s had its own different turns and twists that you scratch your head and ‘Did that just happen’ moments?” 

Both sides come into this battle on winning streaks – the two longest streaks in the Mid-American Conference.  

Bowling Green (6-4, 4-2 MAC) has won four straight games. Their last loss came all the way back on October 7 in a 27-0 loss to Miami (OH).

Toledo (9-1, 6-0 MAC), on the other hand, is riding a nine-game heater, their last loss coming in the final seconds of their week one game vs Illinois, a game they likely should’ve won.  

In the last AP poll released (November 12), Toledo was ranked as the 28th best team in the country, receiving 51 votes.  

Toledo currently leads the all-time series 42-41-4 and has won 11 of the last 13 matchups between these two teams, but Bowling Green won their last meeting. 

Last year at the Glass Bowl, the Falcons went up and gave Toledo a thriller in the snow, coming out on top 42-35.  

However, neither team is the same team they were last season at this time.  

Both teams are littered with transfers who don’t get it as much as the rest of the team, but the coaching staff has been working hard trying to get those guys to buy in. 

“Yeah, I’m sure Jason (Candle) does up in Toledo, we talk about this every day. This is a big game for both programs, that’s why it’s a rivalry game,” Loeffler said. “I know they emphasize it; we emphasize it. That’s why this game is special. Both teams are working 365 days a year to play in this and to perform well. It’s an exciting rivalry game and it’s what makes college football awesome.”  

Last year, BG was led by Matt McDonald, who completed 20 of his 36 pass attempts for 395 yards, four touchdowns, and a pick.  

McDonald, who graduated last spring, completed passes to seven different targets; two of which are no longer with the team (Christian Sims, CJ Lewis).  

Karl Brooks, now of the Green Bay Packers, had seven total tackles, four for a loss, and two sacks.  

However, there are some key guys who are still with the squad, and you can expect them to be leaned upon heavily.  

Odieu Hiliare had his statement game last season against Toledo, catching eight passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The 246 yards is still his career high, and the mark is the third highest total by a BGSU Falcon in a single game.  

Ta’ron Keith had five catches for 64 yards and one touchdown, which turned out to be the game winner.  

“I would say that the two running backs that you mentioned are tremendous players, I think they have great contact balance, really good with the football in their hands, real threats out of the backfield catching it, so those two guys are a problem. When they’re in there, you’ve got to do a great job of knowing where those guys are at all times,” Candle said.  

Both men have been hit with the injury bug this season, and Coach Loeffler said Thursday that Keith will be a game-time decision for Tuesday night, but Hiliare is finally getting back up to speed. 

“Yeah, both of them (Keith, Terion Stewart) will be game-time decisions. We’ll see where we’re at with them. Hopefully get Jordan (Oladokun) back also. Trent Simms will not play in this game, he’s got a knee that, hopefully we can get back during bowl prep and for our bowl game,” Loeffler said. “We’ll make a decision on both backs here at the end of the week, beginning of the week, whatever it is. End of our week.” 

On defense, Dontrez Brown had himself a sack to go along with four total tackles. 

Darren Anders had seven tackles and half of a tackle for loss.  

However, there’s a major difference in Toledo’s lineup between this year and last, and it isn’t a transfer.  

Dequan Finn, Toledo’s star quarterback, missed last year’s game with an injury. But this year he’ll be back.   

Finn currently paces the conference in passing yards with just a touch over 2,000, and is fresh off of a 407-yard, three-touchdown performance against Eastern Michigan, a game the Rockets won 49-23. 

“You strive for balance offensively, we always have. We want to run the ball, we want to set the table that way, we want to build great play action passes off the running game, then take it from there,” Candle said. “I think that you, one of those ‘take what the defense is giving you’ type of things, try and do the best job you can to expose what you feel are weaknesses. The other night, we were able to do that. That’s not going to be the case every week, it could be something different this week.” 

The last time Finn faced off against these Falcons, he was nearly perfect. 18-for-24 passing for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He added 30 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground.  

These teams both sit towards the top of the MAC in both scoring offense and defense. Toledo ranks first in offense, averaging 35.9 points and 439.9 total yards per game. Bowling Green ranks fourth in scoring offense, but eighth in yards. They average 25.1 points per game, but only 317 yards.  

Toledo’s offense is heavily boosted by their elite rushing attack, headlined by Peny Boone, who is 11th in the country and leads the MAC in rushing yards. Toledo as a team lead the conference in rushing with 2,143 rushing yards – nearly 500 more than second-place Western Michigan (1,687).  

On the other side of the ball, Toledo is allowing 19.7 points and 324.6 yards per game, while Bowling Green allows an average of 24 points and 328.5 yards per game.  

“I think they’re physical on both sides of the ball. Great skill players, great defensive front, and offensive front. They’re just solid, really good football team, and there’s a reason they’ve won nine straight football games. In this, we’ve got to be on point, we’ve got to have a great plan, and we’ve got to do a great job of protecting the ball,” Loeffler said. “If we turn the football over, we won’t have a chance, we need to protect the ball and do a great job with the ball. I don’t know the percentages, but I can promise you the games that we’ve screwed up here this past year, it was Liberty, Miami, and OU, and those were all turnover catastrophes to say the least. So, we need to make sure we protect the ball and find a way to make some explosion plays. We’ve got to be great on special teams, we’ve got to be phenomenal. Go out and play our very best game, and have some fun, enjoy the rivalry. It’s always awesome, it’s a clean, hard-hitting game. It’s fun. I know our players, and I know their players and coaches and our coaches, we just look forward to the opportunity to play in this game.”  

Bowling Green’s run defense will be tested. The unit ranks fourth in the conference and faces a very tough test in Boone, who averages 104.2 yards per game and a whopping 7.1 yards per carry, a full yard more than Terion Stewart and the fifth best mark in America.  

Something will have to give.  

Of course, the elephant in the room is Bowling Green’s defensive success at forcing turnovers. They pace all of college football with 24 turnovers, three more than the three teams tied for second (Cal-Berkeley, Oklahoma, Nevada-Las Vegas).  

All those turnovers have helped Bowling Green boast a +7 turnover differential this season.  


They’re -1.  

“Yeah, I mean, they’ve been great at taking the football away. Number one in our league I believe in turnover margin, they’ve had some great defensive performances that have been aided by taking the football away,” Candle said. “I was just in this discussion the other day with somebody, I think that 15 years ago you were celebrated if you were a safety that took somebody’s head off coming across the middle, now you’re viewed as a criminal if you do that. So, how defensive football is taught and how the attention to the ball, rather than making a big hit or making a highlight type play, and what the focus is has really changed the thought process of how these defensive coaches coach it. You can tell as you watch the tape that those guys have put a lot of emphasis on that, and they’ve benefitted from that.” 

It’s a short week for Bowling Green. They played Kent State last Wednesday and are left with only five days to prepare for Toledo, not counting gameday.  

“I know Jason (Candle) agrees with this, I really wish this thing was on Saturday and it had a full week of preparation, but obviously him and I don’t make the schedules, that’s way above our paygrade. I wish it was a regular, seven-day week.” Loeffler said. “We really wish this thing was on Saturday. I remember, I think we’ve only played one on Saturday since I’ve been here, and it was just an unbelievable atmosphere, it’s what college football looks like. It’s good for the Toledo businesses, it’s good for the Bowling Green businesses. We had a great crowd up there at Toledo last year. They had a great crowd, we brought a lot of people up there, and I’m hoping this stadium is full of brown and orange and Toledo’s colors. It’ll be great.”  

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on November 14 from Doyt Perry Stadium.  

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn).

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