The start of the Notre Dame football schedule for October likely offers something of a breather. That’s because Brian Kelly’s squad will be welcoming the Bowling Green Falcons in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Falcons are coming off a rough 2018 campaign that saw them end up with a 3-9 record, a mark that led to the hiring of a new head coach.
That coach is Scot Loeffler, who had previously been the offensive coordinator with the Boston College Eagles. In what turned out to be a 7-5 season, the Eagles’ offense was quite prolific during the first five weeks of the year, During that stretch, they scored more than 40 or more points on four occasions.
Note: This year we are going to be doing our opponent previews in order of difficulty – starting with the least difficult opponent of the year. So as we roll these out, know that the order isn’t sequential but rather based on difficulty. Follow along with our countdown!
Bowling Green Offense: Major Uncertainty Behind Center
Loeffler’s forte is on the offensive side of the ball, which will have a new face behind center. That’s because the Falcons quarterback from 2018, Jordan Doege, jolted the team by transferring to West Virginia in early June. Finding a replacement for a player who threw for 27 touchdowns as part of his 2,660 yards through the air last season serves as a challenge.
A quartet of question marks are in line to replace him, including an incoming transfer who may or may not be eligible. Grant Voy is the top starting candidate since he actually threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns last year. However, redshirts Bryce Veasley and Grant Strock could challenge, while that transfer, Matt McDonald, saw action in two games for Boston College last season.
The running game will have Andrew Clair back after he gained 702 yards and caught 19 passes last year, with Rico Frye having powered for 338 yards as well. In Frye’s case, his bigger size targets him for a blocking back role, which could be vital given the shaky situation at quarterback.
At wide receiver, the top two returnees are Quintin Morris and R.B. Barlow III, who combined for 70 receptions on the year. However, a potential standout could be Washington State transfer Isaiah Johnson-Mack, who grabbed 60 passes in 2017. The tight end position has been an afterthought, but Indiana transfer Austin Dorris could change that mindset.
The team’s front line is blessed with experience, with four starters returning. Caleb Bright and Jack Kramer are the top returnees, while Lorenzo Taborn, Matt Tanner and Derek Downs will provide plenty of size. The problem is that against a team like Notre Dame, that experience and size likely won’t matter.
Bowling Green Defense: Digging Out From the Rubble
While the less said the better about the 2018 edition of this unit, the defensive line will see the welcome return of David Konowalski, who missed last season because of injury. Joining him is sophomore Karl Brooks, who led the team with 3.5 sacks for the year, as well as a host of raw talent.
At linebacker, Kholbe Coleman is the top returnee after bringing down 70 ball carriers last year, although he didn’t offer up many big plays among those stops. Looking to make their mark here are Hassan Belton, Brandon Perce and Jerry Roberts, though only Belton has any game experience.
The defensive back situation is hopefully less banged up that last year, though only the safety slots are pretty much spoken for with Jerry McBride, Caleb Biggers and Jamari Bozeman handling those duties. Cincinnati transfer Cameron Jefferies should be at one corner, while Ty Redding is the early favorite on the other side.
Bowling Green shockingly hired Brian VanGorder as its new defensive coordinator obviously ignoring the trainwreck defenses he “developed” at Louisville and Notre Dame over the last few years. How any program could overlook how a coach tragically wasted the talents of a generational talent like Jaylon Smith and still hire that person to run their defense is mind boggling.
Notre Dame has scored 56 points in a game twice during the Brian Kelly era. If they really wanted to, they could probably top that against a defense run by VanGorder. Kelly is likely not going to let that happen to someone he has that much history with though.
Bowling Green Special Teams: Plenty of Room for Improvement
One of the coaches retained from last year’s staff was Jacob Schoonover, who moves over from tutoring linebackers to handle an area in need of plenty of work. The team’s kicker will be sophomore Nate Needham, who connected on all 34 of his extra points, but doesn’t have much range.
Another pair of sophomores, Grant Tinnerman and Matt Naranjo split the punting duties, with Naranjo delivering more leg. When it comes to returning punts, Jordan Wayne-Prather is the top candidate, while kick return duties figure to be handled by the duo of Jake Rogers and Bryson Denley.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Bowling Green
As noted, this contest will mark the first time that the Irish and Falcons have battled on the field. However, it will be the fifth time in the last decade that Notre Dame has faced off against a MAC school, with all of those games at home and all of them resulting in victories. Last season’s 24-16 won over Ball State marked the first victory margin of less than 10 points in those previous four contests. Given the challenges the Falcons are facing this year, this clash should be the easiest one on the Notre Dame football schedule.