The start of MACtion season could not have been scripted any better than what occurred last night with two snow games and an unsportsmanlike penalty on fans for throwing snowballs. Thankfully, the fun keeps rolling into tonight with two more games, including the 4-4 Bowling Green Falcons hosting the 2-6 Ball State Cardinals. Both teams are coming off wins, but I’ll go over why Ball State will be back in the loss column by the of the night.
Conference play got off to an ugly start for the Ball State Cardinals, with three straight losses. Prior to their bye week, though, the Cardinals were able to pick up their first MAC win over Central Michigan despite being five-point underdogs. Offense has been quite the struggle for the Cardinals this season, as they’ve dealt with injuries and inconsistent quarterback play, but in their win over CMU, they put the ball in Marquez Cooper’s hands.
Cooper finished the game with 162 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Kiael Kelly added two rushing touchdowns. Even with that performance on the ground, the Cardinals still rank 129th in offense success rate on rush plays, which is an excellent example of how bad their offense has been this season. Overall, Ball State is 133rd in offensive EPA, so they are heading into a tough matchup tonight with the Bowling Green defense.
If asked to pick the definitive strength of the Falcons, the most likely answer would be their defense. With an average of 2.7 takeaways per game, Bowling Green sits atop the country in forcing turnovers. Opponents have averaged just 331.3 yards per game against the Falcons, and a big reason for that is their strong passing defense. The question for them tonight is whether or not they can stop the run since that has been the one area on that side of the ball that they’ve struggled with (106th in success rate on run plays).
Offensively, the Falcons are very much a game-to-game type of team in terms of success. Rotating quarterbacks has become common for the Falcons, and that approach has led to inconsistent play in the passing game. Luckily, running back Terion Stewart has offset some of that quarterback play by rushing for over 100 yards in three of the Falcons' four conference games.
Looking for their third straight win, the Bowling Green Falcons enter this matchup as (-5.5) point favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play. It’s easy to look at this game and think since Bowling Green struggles with the run, then Ball State will have enough offensive success to stay in the game, but I don’t think that’ll be the case.
Ball State certainly had success on the ground in week eight, but they have not proven they can do it consistently. This is the same Cardinals offense averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and 113.1 rushing yards per game, which both rank outside the top 100 in the country. The Cardinals' EPA on rush plays is still ranked 132nd, so mixed with their defense, I have a hard time seeing them staying within a touchdown.
Defensively, Ball State is 100th in EPA on rush plays and has an overall defensive success rate that is 99th in the country. Bowling Green has at least proven they can establish the run, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and ranking 64th in success rate on run plays. Even with their rotating quarterback game plan, I still think the Falcons can do enough on the ground to pull away from the Cardinals.
Bowling Green (-5.5)