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BOWLING GREEN — The football teams from the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University don’t particularly like one another.
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But they do respect one another, and the words coming from both camps leading up to today’s contest echo that respect. These archrivals will meet for the 78th time at Doyt Perry Stadium at 2:30 p.m.
“In my opinion, this is the best Toledo team we have faced in my five years as coach here,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “I would say this: If we played this talented a football team, and it wasn’t Toledo, our guys would still be up for it.
“They would know how good this team is. … The fact that they are a talented team and also is our geographical rival and historical rival makes it even bigger.”
This season marks the first time since 2005 that both teams enter with winning records, and Toledo coach Matt Campbell said he admires how Clawson and his staff have rebuilt the BG program from a 2-10 record in 2010.
“They've recruited to what they want to play and how they've asked to play and I think they know who they are defensively,” Campbell said.
“It's so big for the communities involved. You got two of the top programs in the Mid-American Conference, two with tremendous tradition. The former players and the universities you can see why it's a great tradition and a great rivalry football game.”
When the Rockets have the ball, both sides the focus will be on the play of the two lines.
“Their offense is extremely skilled, but I think it begins with their offensive line,” Clawson said. “Their center [Zac Kerin] is a big-time player, and their guards are excellent.
“They’ve only given up three sacks all year, which is incredible seven games into the season.”
Kerin knows he and his teammates on the line will be challenged by BG’s front seven.
“Bowling Green seems to always have a good defensive line,” he said. “I think our offensive line looks forward to the challenge. We like playing against good competition. It lets us know where we stand.”
Clawson said the uncertain status of UT’s top ball-carrier, David Fluellen, doesn’t change his team’s preparation.
“Two years ago Adonis Thomas missed the game, and we were there for David Fluellen’s coming-out party,” Clawson said. “All you have to do is watch the film, and [you can see] they have other guys who are more than capable of carrying the football, making plays and running their offense.”
Both the Bowling Green offense and Toledo defense have shown improvement over last season.
The Falcons stand third in the Mid-American Conference in total offense (467.0 yards per game) after ranking 11th in that category in 2012 (365.5 yards per game).
The Rockets are fourth in total defense in the league (414.0 yards allowed per game) after allowing 473.2 yards per contest to rank 12th in the 13-team league a year ago.
“They have always been good on offense, but in my opinion their defense has really made a big upgrade,” Clawson said.
“Their defensive numbers have never been better. They changed their defensive scheme, and I think that [change] suits their personnel.
“Their defensive line is strong and physical, their linebackers are downhill players who are good tacklers, and they are very physical in the secondary.”
One area to watch in particular is the turnover battle. Bowling Green has given the ball up just five times, fewest in the MAC, while Toledo has forced 16 turnovers and returned a fumble for a touchdown each of the past four weeks.
The result of today’s game may be one of the best battles in the long history of this rivalry.
“I definitely just expect it to be what everybody expects it to be,” UT safety Ross Madison said of the rivalry game.
“Everybody looks forward to the first game, their rivalry game, and the last game.”