OPENING THOUGHTS: I was struggling with some of the comments on my Twitter feed Saturday, and I’ve had two days to think of a better explanation to my disagreement with what I’m seeing/reading/hearing. Here goes … Let’s focus on the offense, because I think the conversation is “cleaner.” Some people think the problems are play-calling and style of play, some people think the problems are execution, some people think the problems are talent (or lack of same). I think we all agree that, to some degree, all three of these things are part of the problem. We just disagree on the degree. I think play-calling and style of play combine for the smallest percentage, and here’s why: This is the same system that has been used the past four seasons, and (unless everyone was silently thinking it) I rarely heard complaints about play-calling before this season. Yes, I think it has been conservative, to a degree; but I think the conservative route is warranted when you are playing defenses like Florida and Virginia Tech –- two of the best in the country. I also don't think the problem is talent, although the talent at some positions is down (as you might expect, the most obvious position here is receiver, where the Falcons are replacing a two-time All-MAC receiver). I thought yesterday’s game was the most glaring indication that the “playmakers” on this team aren’t making plays, especially at wide receiver. Would BG have had a leading receiver with THREE catches if Freddie Barnes or Kamar Jorden were on the field? Obviously not. Of the three causes for the Falcons’ struggles on offense, I think lack of playmaking/execution is problem one. And by a big margin.
OFFENSE: Unlike last week, when the offense struggled at the start, the BG offense had a few chances early but never converted. On the Falcons’ second drive Matt Schilz had a deep pass to a wide-open Je’Ron Stokes in the end zone … but was late delivering the ball, and Stokes was out of bounds when he caught it. Then Stephen Stein had a strong kick on his 43-yard field-goal attempt … and hit the right post. And that was that until midway through the third quarter, as BG didn’t have a drive covering more than 30 yards until Matt Johnson took over at QB and led an eight-play, 50-yard drive in the third quarter. He also had a nine-play, 74-yard drive, but that came in the fourth quarter. The Falcons had six of 14 drives go without a first down (42.9 percent). Another ugly stat: BG didn’t have a SINGLE first-half play longer than nine yards, and had just six plays of 10-plus yards in the game (out of 68 plays, or 8.8 percent). And another ugly stat: Not counting incompletions, the Falcons had 14 plays gain two yards or less, with seven resulting in no gain or negative yardage. If you include the 28 incompletions (ANOTHER ugly stat: two-thirds of BG’s pass plays were incomplete), that means 35 plays gaining zero yards or negative yards (or 51.5 percent). Enough ugly stats: The offensive performance was just ugly.
DEFENSE: I suppose I’m going to get killed for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway: I thought the defense played very well against Virginia Tech. In the post-game coach Dave Clawson talked about the "pick-your-poison" decision the defense faced against the Hokies: do you fill the box to keep a 6-6, 260-pound QB from running (and leave the secondary in a lot of single coverage)? Or do you try to stop the pass, and force the front seven to stop a QB who is bigger (or at least as big) as all but two of BG’s starters? In the first quarter, the Falcons handled that challenge very well, limiting the Hokies to just 43 yards of total offense on 13 plays. In the second quarter BG seemed to wear down, as Virginia Tech had the ball for 11:20 (75 percent of the quarter) and had 184 yards of total offense (including 102 passing, thanks in part to the 42-yard TD pass). In the third quarter VT had 76 yards of total offense (all on the ground), and 40 of those came on the long run that set up the touchdown. The Hokies didn’t complete a single pass (except the one Darrell Hunter intercepted) and had 36 yards on eight other running plays in the third period. And the fourth quarter was a lot of BG second-teamers (against Virginia Tech’s first team early in the quarter, but I’ll have no further comment on that). The two “real” series it was second-vs.-second teamers, BG forced a three-and-out (three yards) and a five-and-out (15 yards). After the struggles to stop the pass the previous two weeks, I think Bowling Green fans can feel a little better about the defense after Saturday’s game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The BG special teams weren’t bad against Virginia Tech, but there remains room for improvement. Freshman kickoff specialist Anthony Farinella had a touchback on his only kickoff, which is a win. Punter Brian Schmiedebusch averaged 43.1 yards on eight punts, had two go at least 50 yards and put two inside the 20 with one punt into the end zone. The problem came with the Hokies’ strong punt return; they averaged 15 yards per return, including a long of 25 yards, so with the touchback the net punting mark was 35.0 yards per kick. Bowling Green was not able to generate a punt return on six VT punts, which resulted in a net punting mark of 39.2 yards for the Hokies. The Falcons had seven kickoff return opportunities and brought back five for 91 yards, giving them an 18.2 yards per return mark which simply isn’t good enough. Worse, BG never started out beyond the 25 on any of the seven kickoffs, which is unacceptable. And finally, there was only one place-kick, the 43-yard boot by senior Stephen Stein that bounced off the right upright.
THE LAST WORD: OK, Saturday was ugly. Virginia Tech sportswriters weren’t especially impressed by their team’s performance … basically because they judged the Falcons’ performance to be so poor. As faithful readers know, I have preached a little patience –- not because it is early, but because two of the games were against highly regarded national programs (Florida and Virginia Tech) and the third was against one of the best teams in the MAC (Toledo). Don’t be fooled into thinking Saturday’s game against Rhode Island is a one-game solution … but it is more than a must-win game. It is a must-play-better game for the Falcons.
WANT MORE? Here you go … First, click here to read this Blade game story and click here to read the Blade notebook. Click here to read the in-game chat from the contest, and click here to read the BiG Look at the contest.