1. Mirror images. Statistically speaking, UB and Bowling Green could pass for twins. The Falcons rank first in the MAC in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense. UB is No. 2 in each of those categories. The Falcons have the conference’s No. 3 rushing offense and No. 2 pass offense. The Bulls ranks fourth and fifth in those departments. The biggest separation comes when weighing how each team fares defending the pass. Once again, Bowling Green sits atop the MAC. UB slips to sixth. And that underscores the main challenge facing the Bulls today: Finding a way to contain BG’s patient, short-toss passing game that’s designed to move the chains and utilizes an array of receivers.
2. Miami twice. Today’s matchup features two of the top three running backs in the MAC. Both hail from the Miami area and both are closing in on school records for single-season rushing yards. For Bowling Green the go-to guy is Travis Greene, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore who ranks third among MAC RBs with 1,293 yards. He owns a robust 6.3 yard average. Greene sits 151 yards from the school season mark. UB counters with the MAC’s lone 1,300-yard RB in Branden Oliver, who needs 21 to surpass the school mark of 1,395 he set as a sophomore. The yards could be hard to come by. Bowling Green totaled 82 on the ground in last year’s matchup, UB a scant 29 on 29 attempts. But Oliver wasn’t 100 percent that day and the O line has improved.
3. The future is now. Who says you can’t win with young quarterbacks? UB’s Joe Licata and BG’s Matt Johnson are both redshirt sophomores who have excelled while becoming steadying influences for their offenses. Johnson’s the more mobile of the two but Licata’s ability to buy time off the roll continues to improve and could prove important: he was sacked seven times in last year’s game, his fourth as a starter. Johnson’s leads the MAC in pass efficiency, second with a 65.1 completion percentage and second in yards per game (233.8). Licata ranks fifth in passing efficiency and yards-per-game (218) and sixth in completion percentage (60.9). Both have thrown just six INTs, Licata in 327 attempts, Johnson in 284.
4. The defense never rests. Bowling Green had the MAC Defensive Player in the Year last season in tackle Chris Jones, now with the New England Patriots. They haven’t missed him as much as anticipated. Defensively, the Falcons are as fundamentally sound as any team in the college game. They rank sixth nationally in scoring defense and have shut out opponents in the second half the last three games and six times on the season. And they’re deep: 25 players have factored in a TFL, 14 in a sack and no Falcons rank among the MAC’s top 35 in tackles. UB’s defense is more yielding but atones with a feverish passion for creating turnovers. But can they wrest the ball from a team that has turned it over just eight times all season (six INTs, two lost fumbles)? UB’s chances could depend on getting an affirmative answer.
5. Extra points. Both coaching staffs adept at halftime adjustments. . . . Falcons head coach Dave Clawson quarterbacked the Lew-Port team that played section class final at Rich in 1983 . . .. UB LB and Butkus Award finalist Khalil Mack 2.5 TFL away from tying NCAA FBS career mark . . . Falcons 4-1 all-time in Buffalo . . . Licata only MAC QB with TD pass in every game this season . . . Aex Neutz 51 receiving yards from 3,000 career. . .. . BG K Tyer Tate 13 of 16 on field goal tries. UB’s Patrick Clarke 12 of 19 but has made last seven.
Outlook: This game has a Super Bowl XXV feel to it. Just like those Bills, UB has the stars. BG counters with the no-frills grittiness and clock-consuming appetite for which the Giants were renowned. Maybe this time the kick goes through the uprights in what on paper looms as a classic defensive struggle. UB, 17-16.