The Falcons won the Mid-American Conference’s East Division title with a 24-7 win against Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Friday, Nov. 29. Here’s a look back at the victory. ...
OPENING THOUGHTS: Friday’s victory over Buffalo accomplished two things. First, it pushed the Falcons into the MAC Championship game, which will be at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Dec. 6 starting at 8 p.m. Second, it guaranteed the Falcons would receive a bowl bid, since each division champ is guaranteed to be bowling. In short, another step forward for the BG program under coach Dave Clawson.
TRICK QUESTION: By now faithful readers know my fascination with “negative” plays -- for me, those are plays that gain less than three yards, because if you run four negative plays you can’t get a first down. Also, these “negative” plays get the offense off-schedule and turn into punts, and often lead to turnovers. So here's the question: in the Falcons game at Buffalo, which team ran a greater number of plays that gained less than three yards? For bonus points, which team ran more “negative” plays in the second half?
OFFENSE: It’s been overstated a bit that the Falcons offense did nothing in the first half, since BG did pile up 130 yards rushing (on 25 carries). That’s a pretty good half of work, thanks in large part to 105 yards by Travis Greene. But the other offensive numbers in the first half weren’t good: 3-of-12 passing for just 22 yards, and 1-for-8 on third downs. The offense had 10 “negative” plays (plays that gained less than three yards) and five plays that gained at least 10 yards (including rushes of 20 and 33 yards by Greene). But in the second half the Falcons came to life and more than doubled its first-half performance, gaining 342 yards (on 37 plays, the same number of plays as the first half, when BG had just 152 yards). The rushing game had the same 130 yards, so the difference was the passing attack, which saw Matt Johnson complete 8-of-14 for 212 yards and a TD. An amazing stat: for the game BG gained 20.9 yards per completion, which is ridiculously high. Bowling Green also had nine pass plays gain at least 10 yards, including four that gained at least 20 yards (again, all in the second half). The Falcons were just 6-of-17 on third down for the game (35.3 percent), but were 5-of-9 in the second half. BG dominated time of possession (34:31 for the game), but also was fortunate that an interception did not hurt them and that a fumble came too late in the game to matter.
DEFENSE: The play of the defense for the past month has been nothing short of sensational, and the Falcons D was that good again Friday in Buffalo. Bowling Green allowed just 236 yards of total offense, including just 15 yards rushing. Branden Oliver, one of the best running backs in the MAC, gained just 46 yards on 18 carries (none longer than nine yards). While Buffalo threw for 157 yards in the second half (and 221 yards in the game), those numbers are skewed significantly by the two late “garbage time” drives in which UB completed 8-of-11 passes for 84 yards. If you take away the final four minutes, Buffalo’s passing numbers for the game were 13-of-34 (38.2 percent) for just 137 yards. And when you include the five BG sacks for 30 yards in losses, not to mention nine tackles for loss overall, you get a portrait in domination. Until the fourth quarter, the Bulls had just four plays that gained more than 10 yards -- and three of them came on UB’s lone touchdown drive. The Falcons also forced a turnover on an interception. Best of all, it was a solid performance by a “unit” that didn’t need one player to make a significantly greater number of tackles than did anyone else. In short, it was a “championship” performance.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Let’s start with the bad, shall we? The Falcons really struggled to cover UB’s rugby-style punting game. Ryan Burbrink had two fair-catches on eight punts and had two punt returns for no yardage. Buffalo averaged 41.7 yards per punt (net), and had four punts downed inside BG’s 20. Until early in the fourth quarter, when BooBoo Gates served as an “up” back and fair-caught a 32-yard punt, BG struggled with the rugby punt game. … For the second week in a row Anthony Farinella had a kickoff go out of bounds for a penalty. He averaged 58.2 yards on his five kickoffs, and Buffalo averaged 24.2 yards on five returns. Farinella did not have a touchback, and the Bulls had consistently good field position following BG kickoffs. Buffalo started on its 21 on the kickoff late in the third quarter, but the other four resulted in good field position for UB (the 29, 33, 41 and 36). … Tyler Tate again performed well, making a 40-yard field goal and connecting on all three PAT kicks. … Punter Brian Schmiedebusch averaged 36.9 yards on seven punts, with a long of 53. He had three punts downed inside Buffalo’s 20 and one touchback. BG’s net punting on the day was 34.0 yards per punt. Also the Falcons recovered a UB fumble on a punt (kudos to long snapper Greg Hohenstein on the recovery). … BooBoo Gates had kickoff returns of 28 and 27 yards. BG’s drives following kickoffs started on its own 35 and 37 yard lines, both of which are extremely good.
ANSWERS TO THE TRICK QUESTION: Above I asked which team in the Buffalo-BG game ran a greater number of plays that gained less than three yards? Based on the total offense, you would assume it was the Bulls, right? Well, Buffalo had 18 plays go for three yards or less (not including incompletions), while Bowling Green had 25. Even if you narrow it down to true “negative” plays -- plays that gained nothing or lost yardage (again, not including incompletions) -- Buffalo had nine and BG had 15. In the second half alone, BG ran 15 plays that gained three yards or less, while the Bulls ran just seven. So why are Bowling Green’s offensive numbers better? The Falcons ran 15 plays that gained at least 10 yards, eight that gained 20 or more and five that covered at least 30 yards. Buffalo had 12 plays gain 10 yards or more (eight were pass plays in the fourth quarter when BG played “prevent” defense), and only one play gain at least 20 yards. All those positives help BG overcome the negatives.
THE LAST WORD: Are the Falcons ready for Jordan Lynch and the West Division champs from Northern Illinois, who are looking to earn a BCS bowl bid for the second straight season? We will all find out Friday at Ford Field in Detroit starting at 8 p.m.
WANT MORE? Here you go … First, click here to read this Blade game story from Friday's victory and click here to read the Blade notebook from Friday's game, which includes a look at Shaun Joplin and his big second-half performance. Click here to read some extra notes and quotes from Friday’s game. Click here to read the BiG Look at the contest.