Here are a few notes and quotes from Wednesday's practice and coach Dave Clawson's weekly press conference ...
- First, an injury update -- where there was both good news and bad news. Let's start with the bad news, as coach Dave Clawson confirmed that defensive lineman Jairus Campbell will miss the rest of this season with the foot injury he suffered in the Toledo contest.
Clawson also said that wide receiver Ryan Burbrink is "doubtful" for Saturday's game after suffering a hamstring strain in the first half of the Falcons' loss at Virginia Tech last week. Burbrink leads the team in catches with 20 for 144 yards.
The rest of the news is good for the Falcons, starting with three players who were injured at Virginia Tech. Cornerback Cameron Truss was on the field practicing today, and Clawson said he expects Truss to play against the Rams Saturday. Linebacker D.J. Lynch was on the field practicing, and Clawson said he is "good to go." And defensive end Charlie Walker practiced, although he wore a "do not touch" yellow jersey. Clawson felt Walker would be available Saturday as well.
Good news at the wide receiver position is that Shaun Joplin practiced in full gear today, and Clawson said he would play against Rhode Island. Also, Clawson said wide receiver Bart Tanski, who injured his collarbone during fall drills, might be involved in non-contact portions of practice next week and may be available to play in the next couple of weeks.
- Clawson didn't talk much about Rhode Island, but he said he respects the defense of the Rams. "Their defense has kept them in games, and they have struggled on offense -- like we have," Clawson said. "The way they have lost games is similar to the way we lost at Virginia Tech: The defense keeps them in the game, but their offense doesn't move the ball or score enough points, and eventually they give up field position and give up points. They are not a bad defense. ... James Madison went to Virginia Tech a few years ago and beat them, and [last Saturday Rhode Island] held them in check for a half, but it got away from them in the second half."
When asked if he had specific concerns about Rhode Island, Clawson said, "I'm worried about Bowling Green. I want to get us playing at the level we're capable of. We've done more ones-vs.-ones in practice to create a more competitive environment in practice, and I think our guys on offense just need to get some confidence back."
- Clawson was asked if he saw any type of "sophomore slump" with Anthon Samuel. "No, Anthon's good," Clawson said. "Every time he gets his hands on the ball, I feel something good is going to happen. He had some good runs at Toledo, had some nice plays against Virginia Tech, and made a great play at Florida. Every time we call a play where he's getting the ball, I feel good about it."
- Clawson was asked about the success teams around the Mid-American Conference last Saturday. "I think the benefit is that it gives our conference a level of credibility," he said. "Our conference's record in bowl games was the best it has been in four or five years. It speaks to the competitiveness of our league. It certainly was a goal of ours this year to be one of the teams to get one of those wins. ... Some people think, 'Once the non-conference schedule is over, the MAC's not so tough.' But it's tough. There are some good teams in this conference, and there are a lot of teams on the upswing at the same time."
- Junior safety BooBoo Gates was asked about the defensive struggles in the second quarter at Virginia Tech. "They made plays, got some momentum together, and started doing some things we couldn't stop," he said. "We weren't executing at as high a level in the second quarter as we were in the first quarter. We were on our heels, we were scrambling."
- What can the defense be doing better? "Buy into the game plan and execute on every play," Gates said. "We needed to get lined up in the right gaps on every play -- and make a play."
- Sophomore running back Anthon Samuel said the offense is working on executing at a high level by trying to practice at game speed. "The first few weeks we felt we weren't going fast enough -- at game tempo," he said. "We feel it is helping us. We are practicing hard, and if we practice hard we'll be in a good position Saturday -- and from here on out."
- Samuel also talked about the competition at the running back position. "Each of us has a role, and I'm comfortable and confident in my role. We each have a job to do, and if we each fill our roles we'll be a great position group."
- Clawson was asked about the struggles of the offense -- in particular, how much of the struggles last week were caused by playing a good team like Virginia Tech. “Football is a game of match-ups, and when you play a better team some times those match-ups are hard to win,” Clawson said. “When you look at the tape, we don’t have a lot of blown assignments -- we don’t have a lot of guys in the wrong gap on defense, and on offense we don’t have a lot of guys blocking the wrong people. But to execute on offense you have to have 11 people on the same page and you have to win the majority of your match-ups, and a lot of times Saturday we didn’t do that.”
- Clawson also talked about how games against nationally ranked opponents can help a team during the course of the season. "here is a lot of value to those games if your team is mentally tough," he said. "We have played in two of the most difficult environments in the country against, you could argue, two of the top five to 10 programs in the country in the first month; our guys have been challenged.
"If our guys are mentally tough, there is a benefit to that. We can be very, very prepared for our conference schedule because of the level of opponents we have played. But there is certainly a tipping point with players in terms of their confidence. There’s also a benefit to playing a soft schedule early and getting some confidence and playing younger players and getting that good feeling of winning. We had chances to win these games and we didn’t. It really has to do with the leadership in your program, the mental toughness of the players in your program and a lot of it is on us as coaches. That’s our job: To make sure we’re focused on who we are and not worry about who we play."
- Clawson also talked about the inconsistent play of his wide receivers. “It’s really hard mid-season to go a completely different course,” Clawson said. “After the Idaho game you were writing that we were set at wideout because Shaun Joplin stepped up and made big-time plays, and look what Chris Gallon did. I don’t think that changes two weeks later. I still believe in Chris Gallon; I think he’s going to be a good players, and he’s going to make plays. He had a tough match-up. I think it hurt us that Shaun Joplin was hurt and didn’t play a lot of snaps.”