Georgia Southern v. Bowling Green
Ladd-Peebles Stadium — Mobile, AL
December 23, 2015 — 8:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
The MAC champion heads south to face last year’s Sun Belt champion, an odd reward for a team that went 2-0 against the Big Ten this season. Instead the vagaries of conference-affiliated bowls means that Bowling Green will play Georgia Southern. The matchup between the Falcons and the Eagles pits two sets of raptors against one another — but only one likes to take to the air. One team is playing in its fourth straight bowl game… while the other is playing in its first bowl game in school history after transitioning into the FBS ranks last season. You should watch not just because it is football but because you will get to watch two drastically different versions of football on one field.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Georgia Southern Eagles
Georgia Southern couldn’t sustain its unbeaten record in the Sun Belt for a second straight season, falling first to Appalachian State in an October battle of conference leaders and then to rival Georgia State in the regular season finale. The Eagles were still a respectable 8-4 to qualify easily for the school’s first-ever postseason appearance at the FBS level (after being denied a waiver last year to bypass their transitional status as the Sun Belt champ). Once again Georgia Southern’s offense is predicated on the nation’s most prolific rushing attack, as tailback Matt Breida rushed for over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns, his backfield mate LA Ramsby added 12 more touchdowns and 772 yards, and quarterback Kevin Ellison pitched in eight touchdowns and 642 yards. Their passing game is almost nonexistent, as Ellison and backup Favian Upshaw combined to go 55-of-129 for 742 yards, three touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for the entire season. As a consequence the defense is also far better against the run than the pass.
Bowling Green Falcons
That doesn’t bode well against a team like Bowling Green, which threw for nearly 5000 passing yards this season. The offense is quarterbacked by Matt Johnson, the senior slinger who had six games with over 400 yards on the season. Including his quiet performance in the MAC championship game, Johnson threw for 4700 yards in 13 games, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes with 43 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. The defense was not otherworldly, but it held up well enough to allow the prolific offense to outscore opponents and helped the Falcons become the eighth-best team nationally in turnover margin. Travis Greene provided some offensive balance with 1200 rushing yards and 15 scores, and backup Fred Coppet added nearly 800 yards and five touchdowns of his own. They missed out on a bigger bowl game to Houston, but Bowling Green still has a shot at its first 11-win season since 2003. The Falcons arrive in Mobile without their leader, as Dino Babers just took the head coaching position at Syracuse prior to the bowl.
What is Likely to Happen
Even without Babers on the sideline, the Falcons should do just fine against Georgia Southern. After all, the Eagles will be without their own head coach after Willie Fritz took over at Tulane. Vegas thinks highly of the MAC champs, as they have Bowling Green favored by seven points. The Falcons defense allows a field goal more per game than the Eagles, but their offense scores nearly nine more points per game for a higher average winning margin. This should be a track meet for a while, with players like Johnson, Greene, and receiver Roger Lewis all pitching in to challenge a Southern secondary that regularly gets carved up by efficient passing attacks. The Eagles will pressure the Falcons for a while, but the one-dimensional Eagles offense will ultimately not be able to keep up on the scoreboard with Bowling Green’s athletes. This could very well be the first game to reach 100 combined points by the final whistle.
Bowling Green 58, Georgia Southern 48
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