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Three things to look for as BG football closes at EMU

  • BGSU-Kent-football-2

    Bowling Green football running back Andrew Clair will have to try and make due with a battered offensive line.

    Special to Blade/Bob Christy

  • BG-football-Kent

    Bowling Green football running back Andrew Clair celebrates a run with offensive lineman Caleb Bright.

    Special to Blade/Bob Christy


BOWLING GREEN — The Bowling Green State University football team will play Eastern Michigan at Rynearson Stadium Tuesday, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.

The Falcons enter their final contest of the 2017 season with a 2-9 overall record, and they are 2-5 in Mid-American Conference play. Eastern Michigan is 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the MAC.

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Here is a look at how Bowling Green matches up with the Eagles.

When EMU has the ball …

  • The Eagles have a quarterback that is a familiar face to local high school football fans.

Former St. John’s Jesuit standout Brogan Roback has completed 240-of-398 passes this season for 2,815 yards and 18 touchdowns. The senior, who has thrown 14 interceptions, has surpassed former NFL quarterback Charlie Batch as EMU’s all-time leader in TD passes with 56 and also is the school record-holder with 8,811 career passing yards.

“They have a fifth-year senior quarterback who is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” BG coach Mike Jinks said of Roback. “He’s a great arm talent; he has the ability to spin a football. …

“And he’s got that gunslinger mentality. He may throw a pick here and there, but he’ll come back at you and hit a big play.”

In the MAC, Roback’s 255.9 passing yards per game rank second only to Toledo’s Logan Woodside.

  • But Roback is not the only weapon for the Eastern Michigan offense.

The Eagles have put up big passing numbers this season, as they rank third in the MAC in passing offense with 269.5 yards per game. Senior wide receiver Sergio Bailey has caught 50 passes for 841 yards and eight touchdowns, while Antoine Porter has 43 grabs for 524 yards and four scores.

“We have four wide receivers who … arguably have been the leaders in the transformation of our program,” Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said. “Sergio Bailey, Antoine Porter, Johnny Niupalau, and Jaron Johnson are Brogan’s favorite targets, and they have made play after play after play through the years.”

Creighton said running back Ian Erikson has been the program’s most consistent runner the last two seasons. He leads the team with 706 rushing yards and five touchdowns, while Shaq Vann has added 403 yards and three scores.

“He carried the load when Shaq went down early last season and really carried us,” Creighton said of Erikson. “And even with Shaq back, he has been a consistent force for us this year.”

  • The Falcons will look to play better pass defense against the Eagles, but it will not be easy.

After Toledo piled up 637 yards against the Falcons last Wednesday, Bowling Green ranks last in the 12-team MAC in total defense (517.2 yards allowed per game), rush defense (252.1 yards/game), and pass defense (265.1 yards/game).

In recent games the Falcons have struggled to stop the pass, but Jinks said the problems are not just limited to mistakes by the defensive backs.

“We’re not able to get any pressure,” Jinks said. “When you want to ‘dial it up’ [and blitz], that means you have to be in [single coverage].

“But it’s not just double moves we’re getting beat on. Sometimes it’s just straight ‘go’ routes. We have to get bigger on the front and we have to get faster on the back end.”

When Bowling Green has the ball …

  • The Eagles have one of the best defenses in the Mid-American Conference.

Jinks said he feels Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois have the two best defenses in the MAC, and the numbers back that up. The Eagles rank second in the MAC in scoring defense, allowing just 22.6 points per game, and are second in total defense, surrendering just 354.4 yards per contest.

“They’re so sound – they don’t beat themselves,” Jinks said of the EMU defense. “They limit the explosive plays, and their front four does a great job of controlling the running game.

“We’ll have to be patient against this club. … You’ll have to make play after play after play, because they won’t give up a cheap, easy [score].”

  • Bowling Green’s injured offensive line will have its hands full against a potent Eastern Michigan pass rush.

The Eagles are first in the MAC in pass defense, surrendering just 184.4 yards per game. They also have seven interceptions and their 14 TD passes allowed is the third-lowest total in the league.

The key for EMU has been a defensive line that has 28 sacks in 11 games, tied for second-most in the MAC behind only Northern Illinois.

“Their front seven is as good as anyone in the conference,” Jinks said. “Those guys inside are seniors who set the point; they might not get the sack, but they’re able to push the pocket into a quarterback’s face.

“You need to get to your ‘quick’ pass game right away, because their line can cause problems.”

  • Eastern Michigan’s season record is deceptive, because it includes a number of games that were lost in the final moments, including three overtime setbacks.

If college football moved back to a time where ties were not broken, the Eagles would boast a break-even record of 4-4-3 and would be 2-2-3 in MAC action. But instead EMU has a losing record, which was a huge disappointment after last year’s 7-6 mark.

In 2016 the Eagles had their first season with more wins than losses since 1995, and earned the program’s first bowl bid since 1987.

“This year, most of those [losses] have come down to the last play,” Creighton said. “If it was easy to put a finger on [the reason for the losses], I would – but it takes my whole hand. Sometimes it has been on offense, sometimes on the defense, and sometimes on special teams. …

“I’ve never been a part of anything like it.”

Creighton said he is proud of the way his team has overcome those struggles to win two of their last three games.

“That’s what won’t be celebrated by ESPN or anybody – and I understand that,” he said. “But I will celebrate that because I don’t think there’s anything more difficult than coming back despite those horrific finishes.

“I’ve recruited guys with great character, and I’ve recruited guys who believe in themselves and this football program. I’ve recruited guys who are selfless, who care about the team and call it a family. …

“Our response is that we can cave or we can come back. And we’ve come back every single time.”

Contact John Wagner at jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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