It was a battle of recent MAC titans, as the nation’s eyes were tuned in to weeknight #MACtion for one final time this season.
The classic villain archetype for many MAC fans, Northern Illinois, had found a way to break a four-way tie for the MAC West Divisional crown for the sixth year in a row despite fielding a fifth-string quarterback and losing in a drumming to Ohio (which forced them to rely on Western Michigan beating a ranked Toledo.) Newly-emerging Bowling Green dominated the MAC East for the third year in a row thanks to Dino Babers’ Air Raid offense and Matt Johnson’s insane numbers, but also had the spectre of a potential Babers departure to worry about leading up to the game.
A lot of MAC fans were disappointed to see NIU-BGSU: 3 Fast, 3 Furious, as the previous two meetings had both resulted in some pretty terrible football. In 2013, the Falcons bounced a 14th-ranked Northern Illinois team that seemed destined to clinch a berth in yet another BCS bowl on Jordan Lynch’s watch by a score of 47-27, using a dominant defense to clinch the surefire upset. In 2014, new BGSU coach Babers had to use James Knapke, the backup quarterback, against an NIU squad that was unstoppable, even despite a QB carousel in the early part of the season. That score wasn’t pretty, as NIU exorcised plenty of demons in a 51-17 victory that included a 28-point unanswered streak.
This game, though a bit closer, was nowhere near competitive. It was certainly a very different game from what was expected.
Most saw a game between an unstoppable force in BGSU’s prolific offense and an unmovable object in NIU’s defense that would come down to the wire, as most of the weeknight #MACtion games preceding tonight had. It just wasn’t in the cards on Friday night. Bowling Green dominated throughout, holding a 21-0 lead at the half, adding a fourth touchdown at the start of the third quarter to pretty much establish the pace of the game, finishing with 501 total yards to NIU’s 259.
Travis Greene (29 carries, 189 yards, two touchdowns) led the offensive attack for Bowling Green on a day where the NIU defense kept the passing offense (relatively) in check. Matt Johnson (25/37, 235 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) made some uncharacteristic mistakes, but made the necessary throws to keep NIU just out of reach. Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter (75 yards each) were kept in check for much of the game, outside of a 45-yard touchdown reception for Lewis. Fred Coppett also contributed with a rushing touchdown, outgaining NIU’s leading rusher with 85 yards.
NIU struggled to keep it together, as a short bench and inexperience ultimately proved to be their downfall. True freshman Tommy Fielder started his first game for the Huskies, and it showed. Fielder managed to break BGSU’s big scoring run in the third quarter with a touchdown pass to Desroy Maxwell, but ended up completing only 12/28 passes for 128 yards and three interceptions.
Kenny Golladay and Chad Beebe (three receptions, 48 yards combined) could not get past a stout BGSU defense, and Joel Bouagnon (14 carries, three receptions, 88 total yards) struggled to carry the load in the running game. One bright spot for the Huskies was Shawun Lurry returning an interception for a 64-yard touchdown in the third quarter, giving Lurry his FBS-leading ninth interception on the season.
It was a messy affair for both sides, as Bowling Green and Northern Illinois combined for seven turnovers (five of those being interceptions) and punts dominated the first half, with 11 total punts executed over the course of the game. There were also nine penalties for 159 yards between the two sides, and even a blocked extra point after the Falcons’ last touchdown drive. NIU’s normally reliable running offense garnered only 2.8 yards per rush combined over the course of the game, while the explosive BGSU offense could only average 9.2 yards per reception.
The next step for both sides are twofold: finding out their bowl games, which will most likely be announced on December 6, and finding out the status of their coaches, which are a little more up in the air. Dino Babers seems to be the hot candidate to go to Syracuse and has had rumors linked to other jobs in the past week, while Rod Carey was linked to the newly-vacant East Carolina job before the start of the game.
Tonight’s game hurdled expectations in a strange way, resulting in a very odd showing, but then, isn’t that what #MACtion is really all about?