There is an alternate spelling for the word “rivalry” in northwest Ohio college football circles this time of year. It goes: UT-BGSU, and yes, it deserves the all-caps!
That’s because it’s the time of the year when the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University battle it out on the gridiron. They have come up with a prize – the I-75 Trophy – but the more traditional prize is still huge. It’s bragging rights for the next year (and beyond once your eligibility is finished).
All of the above holds true for any year. Sometimes, however, there is a little extra incentive. Examples include when a division title might be on the line or when there is a chance to pull off an “embarrassing” upset win.
With Wednesday’s UT-BGSU contest on ESPN2, there is also a chance to shine in front of potential recruits and alumni across the country.
As usual, there are plenty of reasons why Falcons v Rockets should be a spirited contest again this year.
Those injuries may have contributed to a crucial 27-24 setback to Northern Illinois in the Rockets last outing. That left UT in a three-way tie for first. Any loss – either against Bowling Green or in the finale against struggling Eastern Michigan – would likely prove fatal to any MAC West title hopes.
As any football coach would attest, few – especially opponents – will feel sorry for you when you have injuries. Both teams realize it, and both teams have suffered significant injuries.
Bowling Green started the year by losing quarterback Matt Johnson, arguably one of the top QBs in the conference. However, the Falcons regrouped behind redshirt sophomore James Knapke and enter Wednesday’s game relatively healthy for this late in the campaign. Running backs Zach Colvin and Fred Coppet may be questionable, but junior Andre Givens (5-9, 189) picked up the slack against Kent State last week, carrying the ball 38 times for 157 yards with two touchdowns. He had 14 carries for 101 yards and a TD the previous week at Akron.
Toledo’s standout running back, sophomore Kareem Hunt (5-11, 215) has also been banged up this year and missed several games through the middle of the schedule. In every game he has played, however, Hunt eclipsed the century mark. His high was 198 yards on 26 carries Oct. 25 against UMass. He totaled 119 yards on 18 carries in the Rockets last outing at NIU.
Another option, freshman Terry Swanson (5-9, 183), has produced pretty well in limited action. He posted a season-best 172 yards on 19 carries in the Rockets overtime win over Western Michigan Oct. 4 and logged seven rushes for 41 yards last week.
But the big question for Toledo this week revolves around quarterback. Like BG, Toledo lost a starting quarterback relatively early in the season. Phillip Ely appeared in just two games, opening the position for Logan Woodside. After a road loss to Cincinnati, Woodside guided the Rockets to victories in six of seven outings, including all six MAC contests.
In a way, UT is still paying for the last win, a 30-20 victory at Kent State. Woodside was injured and forced from the game. He saw only brief action in a huge game at Northern Illinois the following week. His backup, redshirt freshman Michael Julian, was injured, forcing UT to use wide receiver (and former quarterback) Dwight Macon extensively in one of the season's most important games.
Macon actually performed relatively well. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 140 yards and one TD (a 69-yard yard bomb for UT's first touchdown). He also rushed for 97 yards on 18 carries.
With Julian and Woodside still questionable, Macon could get the call again. At the very least, he should probably be somewhere very handy.
Both teams have some capable receivers. Corey Jones had 4 catches for 102 yards and one TD against NIU. He reached double-digit receptions twice - against Cincinnati (11 for 93 yards) and Iowa State (12 for 118 yards). Alonzo Russell's season includes 43 catches for 609 yards and a team-high seven receiving TDs.
Freshman Roger Lewis, a 6-1, 196-pounder wideout, has already made a big impact on the Falcons offense. He leads BGSU receivers with 60 catches for 858 yards and five TDs. Joining him in the top three are Ryan Burbrink (51 receptions, 610 yards, 3 TDs) and Ronnie Moore (40 receptions, 515 yards, 4 TDs).
Among the Falcons defensive leaders are senior linebacker Gabe Martin and defensive back Brian Sutton. Martin leads the team with 79 total tackles. That includes 35 solo stops, 9.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. Sutton is right behind with 75 hits (47 solo), 5 TFL and one fumble recovery.
Toledo’s defense is paced by senior linebacker Junior Sylvester, who leads the Rockets with 63.5 total tackles. Among them are 46 solo, 7.5 TFL and 2 sacks. Junior corner Chris Dukes is second with 49.5 stops (42 solo) and an interception.
As far as special teams go, BG does have the top-ranked punt return mark in the conference. The Falcons average 12.1 yards per return and has two returns for touchdowns. Toledo is tied for sixth in punt returns and has not returned any for a score.
Tyler Tate of BGSU has converted 17 of 21 with a long of 52. Toledo’s Jeremiah Detmer has made 16 of 19 with a long of 45.
Here are a few team stats to digest.
Toledo (MAC No. 2) 33.4 ppg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 3) 32.6 ppg
Toledo (MAC No. 8) 31.6 ppg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 9) 32.2 ppg
Toledo (MAC No. 1) 493.5 ypg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 3) 454.9 ypg
Toledo (MAC No. 2) 247.1 ypg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 4) 174.8 ypg
Toledo (MAC No. 2) 124.6 ypg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 9) 183.0 ypg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 3) 280.1 ypg
Toledo (MAC No. 7) 246.4 ypg
Toledo (MAC No. 12) 310 ypg
Bowling Green (MAC No. 13) 323.4 ypg