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Northwestern vs. Bowling Green preview: Three matchups to watch

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If Northwestern’s trailing at halftime in this one, the key matchup will be fans vs. going insane.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After last week’s 41-17 shellacking at the hands of Duke, Northwestern will look to get back on track on Saturday when they play host to Bowling Green. The Falcons have won the two lifetime meetings between the two teams, although they last played in 2003 (in the postseason!). Both Bowling Green and Northwestern are stumbling into this one. While Northwestern’s struggles against Duke have been well-documented, the Falcons have lost two straight to open the season including a Week 2 loss to FCS opponent South Dakota. Here are three key matchups to look for on Saturday:

Northwestern offensive line vs. Bowling Green’s front seven

The Wildcats managed just 22 rushing yards last week in Durham. Justin Jackson carried the ball only seven times, the lowest of his career and the only single-digit carry total since his first career game against Cal in 2014. Northwestern’s run offense was abysmal against Duke and it was abandoned early in favor of the passing game. That’s not to mention that Clayton Thorson was sacked four times (some of the blame falls on him for holding the ball too long). Bowling Green has four sacks in two games and should provide Northwestern with a decent tuneup before Big Ten play. Expect the Wildcats to run the ball early and often on Saturday evening. Jackson should get plenty of touches with John Moten IV and Jeremy Larkin hopefully seeing significant snaps late in the game. If Thorson repeatedly gets pressured and is even sacked multiple times, that will be a very bad sign for the offensive line.

Northwestern’s secondary vs. Bowling Green passing attack

If the Falcons fall behind early, they won’t be afraid to throw. However, they threw rather unsuccessfully in Week 1 against Michigan State. Quarterback Chris Streveler finished 10-of-31 for 145 yards and an interception. He was a bit better against South Dakota, going 19-of-34 for 306 yards and a touchdown. Northwestern will welcome back cornerback Trae Williams to the starting lineup for the first time this season, and he’ll slide in nicely alongside No. 1 corner Montre Hartage. The Wildcats have forced interceptions in consecutive games, but after yielding 305 passing yards to Daniel Jones last weekend, Saturday will be a good way for the secondary to get its feet back beneath it. Injuries or not, they should be just fine against Streveler and the Falcons offense.

Northwestern’s wide receivers vs. Bowling Green secondary

In his season preview of the Falcons, Bill Connelly wrote that “only one team in FBS (Rice) allowed a passer rating higher than the 159.5 that BGSU allowed.” This bodes well for Clayton Thorson and a group of receivers that struggled to get open all afternoon in Durham. Riley Lees led the Wildcats in receiving against Duke with two catches for 31 yards, although his numbers were padded in garbage time. Kyric McGowan got involved late, while Flynn Nagel and Jalen Brown both added two receptions. The rest of the Northwestern receivers were awfully quiet. Thorson threw an interception after Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman ran the wrong route, and Cam Green fumbled trying to gain extra yardage after a third down reception. This group HAS to be better on Saturday evening. Getting separation against Bowling Green’s secondary should not be too difficult. Watch for Thorson and his wide receivers to get back on track in a big way.