TEAMS: Bowling Green Falcons (8-4, 6-2 Mid-American Conference) vs. San Jose State Spartans (10-2, 5-1 Western Athletic Conference)
TIME: Thursday Dec. 27, 3 p.m. ET
LAS VEGAS LINES: San Jose State -7; Over/Under 44 points
The 2012 postseason has its second pairing of MACtion vs. WACtion, and it’s a stark contrast of styles when San Jose State’s prolific offense faces Bowling Green’s stifling defense.
San Jose State has the rare opportunity to close out a conference’s history with on a high note with a win in the Military Bowl. The surprise Spartans are seeking a program record win No. 11 in just the SJSU bowl appearance since George Bush was president — George H.W. Bush, that is. Mike MacIntyre reversed course for a program that was in dire straits over the past two decades, its 2006 appearance in the New Mexico Bowl notwithstanding.
SJSU’s 10-2 record might be easily dismissed as inflated from playing in the WAC, but the Spartans have wins over 9-3 Louisiana Tech, 8-5 BYU, 9-4 San Diego State and 8-4 Navy. The Spartans’ sole defeats came to 11-win opponents Utah State and Stanford, both conference champions. And at Stanford, SJSU put a scare in the Pac-12 powerhouse.
MacIntyre took the vacancy at Colorado earlier this month, apparently deciding one massive rebuilding project wasn’t enough. SJSU hired Ron Caragher, but leading the Spartans on Thursday is interim Kent Baer.
Baer leads a team that can score a variety of ways, but that has also displayed some respectable defense. Stanford mustered only 20 points against the Spartans in Week 1. Of course, that same week, Bowling Green’s No. 8 ranked scoring defense set the tone for 2012 when it allowed 27 against Florida. The Falcons have held eight opponents below 20, including four kept to single digits.
San Jose State’s best game plan is dictating the tempo on the offensive end, but if the Spartans are unable, the onus falls on a defense that held eight opponents to 20 or fewer in its own right.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bowling Green defensive tackle and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Jones is among the nation’s most elite pass rushers. His 12.5 sacks lead the Falcons’ team total of 37 — ninth most among all FBS teams.
Linebacker Gabe Martin adds to Bowling Green’s effective backfield pursuit with 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, both second most among all Falcons. The duo will come persistently to disrupt San Jose State quarterback David Fales, an unflappable playmaker whose statistics are comparable to the nation’s most celebrated at the position this season. He’s completed over 72 percent of his attempts for 3798 yards, 31 touchdowns and has been intercepted only nine times.
Fales’ success can be largely credited to a diverse and talented corps of receivers. Six Spartans have at least 25 receptions, among them NFL-ready tight end Ryan Otten. Otten is a big and trusty target with 96 receptions for nine touchdowns and over 1400 yards during the last two seasons. His presence up the middle opens some breathing room on the sides and deep, where Fales spreads it among Jabari Carr, Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Such a wide spectrum of talent should keep BGSU rover BooBoo Gates busy.
The Spartan pass attack also utilizes running back and Minnesota transfer De’Leon Eskridge. Eskridge has emerged late in the season to finish just shy of 1000 yards rushing. His ability to establish a threat on the ground can keep some heat off Fales, but that’s no easy task with the hard blitzing Falcon defense. Eskridge was held to 46 yards on 17 attempts against a comparable BYU defense on Nov. 17.
Sustaining a successful rush is more crucial to Bowling Green’s offense. Quarterback Matt Schilz has struggled in his junior season, throwing almost as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (14) and completing just 56 percent of his attempts. The combined efforts of Anthony Samuel and John Pettigrew have produced nearly 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns via the run.
San Jose State defensive end Travis Johnson has matched star Falcon Jones in several statistical categories, including sacks. A big day in the Military Bowl would leave quite the impression — the Bowling Green offensive line has allowed the 15th fewest sacks in the FBS.