By: Walker Reinfeld
In Week 3 of the 2017 campaign, the Northwestern Wildcats will face off with the Bowling Green State Falcons. These two teams meet for the 3rd time in history with the Falcons taking each of the first two meetings. In 2001, the Urban Meyer led Falcons defeated the Wildcats 43-42 at Ryan Field on a 2-point conversion with 39 seconds left in the game. In 2003, Bowling Green defeated Northwestern in the Motor City Bowl at Ford Field 28-24. The Wildcats look to avenge both of those prior loses this year.
Bowling Green is coming off a 4-8 year last season under then first year college head coach Mike Jinks. However, their season did end on a high note as the Falcons defeated Akron, Kent State, and Buffalo in consecutive weeks to finish the year. They will look to build off this strong finish, but a tough start seems to be imminent as the Wildcats will be the second Big Ten opponent the Falcons face in the first three weeks of the season.
Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings project the Falcons as the 95th best team in college football for 2017 and give the Wildcats an 84% change to come out with the victory.
The Wildcats bounced back from a disappointing start to the 2016 season to finish 7-6. The Wildcats capped the year off with a promising 31-24 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Wildcats do have some questions on both sides of the ball, but are returning a talented team that should be able to beat Bowling Green handily.
Bowling Green Offense vs Northwestern Defense:
Bowling Green’s passing attack will be led by true Sophomore quarterback James Morgan. Morgan started 7 games for the Falcons last year and showed some promise as a freshman passing for 2082 yards and 16 touchdowns on the year. Morgan did have some trouble maintaining possessions as he threw 15 interceptions. If Morgan can keep the turnovers low, he should be able to have a productive first full year in charge of the Falcons offense.
The Falcons’ running game will be led by the two-man team of Senior Josh Cleveland and redshirt Senior Donovan Wilson. Last season, Wilson and Cleveland combined ran for 1152 yards and 7 touchdowns on 211 attempts. This was nearly equal to the production of the now graduated, Frank Coppet, who ran for 1030 yards and 8 touchdowns on 204 attempts. Now that Wilson and Cleveland are expected to split the carries that will be available from Coppet’s departure, their production should increase.
The Northwestern secondary of Godwin Igwebuike, Kyle Queiro, Montre Hartage, and Keith Watkins II has the potential to be one of the nation’s best units. Falcons quarterback James Morgan may not want to test what many consider to be the Wildcats biggest strength. Look for the Falcons to stay on the ground to gash the Wildcats defense. But, that plan may be unsuccessful, as well.
The Northwestern front seven is one of the biggest questions for this team as they try to replace linebacker Anthony Walker Jr with his departure to the NFL. The linebacker corps only consists of three upperclassmen, one of which is fifth-year senior Warren Long, who is transitioning from running back after suffering season-ending injury on his first carry last year. Senior Brett Walsh and junior Nate Hall should be able to mentor the underclassmen and turn them into effective linebackers. Seniors Tyler Lancaster and Xavier Washington along with Redshirt Sophomore Joe Gaziano lead the defensive line on its quest to pressure James Morgan.
The Falcons may be able to get some longer runs against the Wildcats front seven, but do not expect anything extraordinary to be sustained throughout the game.
Northwestern Offense vs Bowling Green Defense:
Bowling Green’s pass defense ranked 115th out of 128 schools in Division I last season in yards allowed. Clayton Thorson took a big leap last season from his Freshman campaign and is expected to improve more with another year under his belt. The question is if the Wildcats receivers can step up and replace the production of Biletnikoff Award Finalist Austin Carr. Flynn Nagel, Solomon Vault, and Oregon Graduate Transfer Jalen Brown are expected to fill this hole and should be adequate weapons for Thorson.
Running backs Justin Jackson and John Moten IV will look to gash the 79th ranked defense from last season. Jackson is being touted as one of the nation’s best seniors and Moten, a sophomore, looks to improve on his solid freshman year. The duo has the potential to be one of the most dynamic running back tandems in the country, and this early non-conference game could be a showing of just how much they can do.
The Northwestern offense may struggle to find a rhythm early in this Saturday night kickoff, but will hit its stride after a couple of possessions. This game is not expected to be a close one, but these types of games are where the Wildcats have struggled in the past. Northwestern will get past that problem and cruise to a victory by a margin of three touchdowns.