Irish fans will get a taste of some “MACtion” this weekend as the Mid-American Conference opponent, Bowling Green Falcons, come to Notre Dame Stadium to take on the ninth ranked Fighting Irish. Under first year head coach Scot Loeffler, the Falcons are arriving with a 1-3 record coming off a 42 point loss two weeks ago against Kent State and a bye week last weekend. With the extra preparation time, will the Falcons be able to put up a fight against the Irish? The short answer: no. But it is still worth looking into and seeing what the keys to a Notre Dame victory will be.
After coming off a disappointing 3-9 season last year, Bowling Green hired the Boston College offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Scot Loeffler, this past offseason. The Falcons are still deep in the rebuilding phase of the program and I expect that the struggles will continue this weekend. This will be Bowling Green’s second time this season playing a Power 5 opponent – their only other matchup coming in week two against Kansas State, a game they lost 52-0. Loeffler announced earlier this week that senior quarterback Darius Wade will get the start against the Irish, but backup Grant Loy could continue to see playing time based on how the game is going. Both quarterbacks offer some dual threat ability, so yet again it will be up to the Notre Dame defense to contain a mobile quarterback. Early in the game last week, I think the Irish were caught looking into the backfield too much against Virginia which is what allowed Bryce Perkins to have more success in the passing game. This week, Notre Dame will work to improve on that while containing Julian Ortega-Jones and Quintin Morris – two of the Falcons leading receivers on the outside. Bowling Green’s run game has been a bit of a disappointment through their first four games of the year and with the way the Irish defense has been playing as of recent, I don’t expect that trend to reverse either. The Falcons offensive line will definitely have their hands full.
Defensively, Bowling Green has averaged three sacks per game up to this point in the season, however they are also giving up an average of 38 points per game. This is where things will start to get interesting. Saturday’s matchup will mark the return of former Notre Dame defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, back to South Bend. In Brian Kelly’s weekly press conference, Kelly touched on the fact that he has not had much contact with VanGorder since his time at Notre Dame came to an end. As the Irish should not struggle to put up points this weekend, I will be intrigued to see just how many points they do end up scoring. This wouldn’t be done in a disrespectful “run up the score” kind of way, but rather as a product of the Irish simply being more talented top to bottom. One of the only possible hiccups that I could see is that as VanGorder was a part of Kelly’s coaching staff, he should have some insight into Kelly’s schemes and what it takes to stop them. I don’t expect this to happen or be the cause of much concern, but I am searching for any possible way for the Falcons to put up a fight. This is another game, similar to New Mexico, where Notre Dame should be at least 40 points better than Bowling Green. With just around half of the Falcons roster being underclassmen, they will be starting freshmen and sophomores at the cornerback positions and I am hoping that Book will be able to really get the Irish passing game going early. If Notre Dame’s offense get up to speed and asserts the dominance that they should be capable of, this game should be over at halftime – allowing for plenty of game reps to be taken by the Irish second and third strings.
There isn’t a significant amount of analysis going into this matchup as Notre Dame should be more talented at just about every position. Falcons head coach Scot Loeffler spoke very highly of the Irish saying that they are “a top 5 program” and said that he saw a lot of similarities between Notre Dame and Georgia. If Notre Dame does struggle this weekend, that will be the cause of some great concern. Brian Kelly has continued to preach the message of playing to a championship standard no matter the opponent and that mentality will be put to the test this weekend. This should be a game that the Irish can use to focus on all of the details at every position. Working on technique, getting timing and rhythm down, and essentially trying to iron out all of the kinks before taking on USC the following weekend is what this game should be used as. For Book and the offense, they will need to take control early, put up points, and get off the field. It is important that Kelly and the Irish don’t look completely ahead at USC and forget to show up this weekend, but if Notre Dame plays to the standard that Kelly has been setting, the Irish should come out with another victory.
Turning a program around is something that takes time. With a young roster and a new coaching staff, Bowling Green is coming into Saturday’s matchup currently sitting as 45.5 point underdogs. I expect that Notre Dame will put up points early and we will get to see a lot of the second and third string playing for most of, if not all, the second half. I think that Notre Dame will cruise to a 59-10 victory with Bowling Green struggling to score until late in the game. The Irish will need to come in with the mentality of playing to a championship standard no matter who they are lining up against. If they are able to do this on Saturday, they should not have a problem racking up their fourth win of the season. Go Irish. Beat Falcons.
A look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Louisville: 2-2, coming off a bye week
New Mexico: 2-2, lost to Liberty 17-10
Georgia: 4-0, currently ranked #3, coming off a bye week
Virginia: 4-1, currently ranked #23, lost to Notre Dame 35-20
Bowling Green: 1-3, coming off a bye week
USC: 3-2, lost to Washington 28-14
Michigan: 3-1, currently ranked #19, beat Rutgers 52-0
Virginia Tech: 2-2, lost to Duke 45-10
Duke: 3-1, beat Virginia Tech 45-10
Navy: 2-1, lost to Memphis 35-23
Boston College: 3-2, lost to Wake Forest 27-24
Stanford: 2-3, beat Oregon State 31-28