Falcons anticipating ‘beautiful’ football at Quick Lane Bowl

DETROIT — When Bowling Green State University football returns to action in the eighth annual Quick Lane Bowl against the New Mexico State Aggies on Monday, 6-foot, 180-pound senior wide receiver Odieu “O.J.” Hiliare wants to see his team playing “beautiful” football.

That’s the way Hiliare describes the Falcons’ wins over Marshall and Toledo this year.

If it were not for a game-winning drive engineered by senior quarterback Matt McDonald and the playmaking of sophomore tailback Ta’ron Keith on a 42-yard touchdown catch and run with nine seconds remaining against Toledo, the Falcons would not be 6-6 and “bowling.”

“The highlight was getting those wins, especially getting that sixth win at Toledo for us to be able to go to a bowl game,” Hiliare said. “Our goal was to play beautiful football in November and December, so that’s been our highlights — beating Marshall, beating Toledo and having those good wins this year.”

Hiliare has a catch in 34 straight games, which includes his career at Alabama A&M. It is the 14th-best active streak in the nation. The transfer has 156 career receptions for 2,069 career receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.

Hiliare loves the art of matching up with a defender in open space.

“The best part of being a receiver is man-to-man coverage. If you are against the next person, may the best man win,’ Hiliare said. “I just feel like all the time and effort I’ve put in I just want to win in that situation with my quarterback throwing me great balls. I just have to come down with the catch and do my job.”

Hiliare is part of a BGSU receiving corps that wants to help McDonald, who will be playing his final collegiate game, end his career on a positive note.

“Our receivers’ room is very diverse,” Hiliare said. “All of us are from different places, all of us are very different with different skills.

“(Junior) Tyrone (Broden) is 6-7 and he also can run, and you’re not used to seeing that. (Senior) Austin (Osborne) has great hands and is a great leader, and Austin taught me so much when I got here, pretty much telling me things that I need to do to get along,” Hiliare said.

“We also had (senior) C.J. (Lewis), an older dude who came with a lot of knowledge and taught me a lot of things also, and I’m an older dude, also, so I came in with a lot of help. It’s real diverse and it helps us learn so many different aspects of being a receiver.”

Despite listed as a senior, Hiliare has a year of eligibility remaining and will return to BGSU next season. BGSU 6-3, 285-pound junior left guard Jalen Grant will also return.

Linemen successfully bonded

Grant has helped become an anchor on an offensive line molded together by transfers this year, but they’ve bonded.

“There is a lot of chemistry we have built outside of football, getting to know the guys and becoming friends,” Grant said. “But having a real friendship is a big thing for an O-line unit and once you actually care for the person next to you, you want to go out there and leave it all on the field and play for your brother next to you. The O-line, we just came together, and we want to play for each other.”

It is Bowling Green’s first appearance in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Falcons appeared in a bowl game two previous times at Ford Field, including the now-defunct Motor City Bowl (2003) and the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl (2013).

Both those games also happened to be played on Dec. 26. This year’s bowl game will air on ESPN with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. BGSU fans attending are encouraged to wear orange to “orange out” Ford Field.

New Mexico State, also 6-6, is No. 13 in the nation by allowing only 183.7 yards per game through the air, presenting a challenge to McDonald, Hiliare and the receiving corps.

Plus, the Aggies know handle the blitz. This will be the final game for BGSU 6-4, 300-pound senior Karl Brooks, expected to be a high NFL draft pick after finishing eighth in the nation with 10 sacks and ninth with 18 tackles for a loss.

Bowling Green is No. 11 in the nation with 37 sacks, or No. 9 in the nation with 3.08 sacks a game. They will have a battle in the trenches as New Mexico State is No. 25 in the nation by allowing only 15 sacks.

The most sacks New Mexico State gave up in a game was three against UMass. BGSU tallied six in a game three times.

Hiliare and Grant promise the Falcons will be fired up on Monday. Hiliare said the nearly month-long break since the Falcons’ last game means nothing to him.

“I’m pretty much always in football mode. This is my game, this is my thing, especially here. We are playing football so well this late in the season so it’s kind of easy for us to springboard to the offseason,” Hiliare said.

“We’ve very excited because a lot of teams are not playing in a bowl game. Obviously. we wanted to win a (Mid-American Conference) championship, but without a championship, you want to go to a bowl game.

“It means everything. Like coach (Scot Loeffler) says, it’s a springboard into next season. You want to go into next season with a positive attitude and that’s kind of hard when you lose. So, we’ve got to win, and have to go onto next season, create that energy and ride that high.”

Grant added, “It’s very important. I feel like it’s going to give us momentum going into the offseason, we can do this and change it around next year and get what we really want, which is a MAC championship. “