OPENING THOUGHTS: Spring Game analysis has to come with several asterisks. First, in the spring the team isn't trying to win a game -- players are trying to improve and gain experience, and coaches are trying to figure out which players are going to be on the field in the fall. So a Spring Game is very different from a "game." Second, the offenses and defenses are very "vanilla" -- for those watching, did you notice how little shifting of formations there was? Since the defense has a pretty good idea of what's in the offensive playbook, I think the defense has an advantage. And third, mixing the teams can cause problems for groups that play as a "unit," and I'm thinking of the offensive lines here. A team's best blocking often comes because a tackle knows where the guard next to him will be in a certain situation, and that can be lost in a Spring Game.
TRICK QUESTION: Who led the White team in rushing? And who led the Orange team in scoring? Answer below.
QUARTERBACK DERBY: Let's jump right to the question on everyone's mind, shall we? Senior Matt Schilz led the White and completed 13-of-27 passes (48.1 percent) for 118 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Freshman James Knapke completed 2-of-10 passes (20 percent) for 14 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for the White. ... Sophomore Matt Johnson led the Orange and completed 12-of-23 passes (52.2 percent) for 123 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Knapke completed 3-of-5 for 50 yards with no TDs or picks for the Orange. ... Knapke's combined totals show him completing 5-of-15 passes (33.3 percent) for 64 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
COACH DAVE CLAWSON SAID: "Matt Johnson certainly stepped up and made some nice throws, and he made some nice plays with his feet. To me, Kendall Montgomery was such a factor [in pass rush] that I don't think Matt Schilz had the same opportunity to make plays. ... I think Matt Johnson had a pocket to step in to and an opportunity to make plays, and from what I saw I don't think Matt Schilz had the same opportunity.
"That competition has to continue. You have to have two good ones, and we haven't stayed healthy at the position since I've been here except for the first year, with Tyler Sheehan. We're going to let that [competition] play through the summer, and play through camp. I think both [Schilz and Johnson] are playing better, and I'm really excited about James Knapke as well. As he learns the offense and learns to play faster, he's a very talented quarterback as well."
PLAYMAKERS: All spring the Falcons have been talking about making "big plays," so it was good to see several wide receivers make big plays. The catch by Shaun Joplin for a touchdown was a big-time play, and Jared Cohen's catch of a tipped pass to set up the second TD was impressive. And Diontre Delk had a 29-yard catch-and-run late in the third quarter to set up the White's lone touchdown. In short, there were some big plays despite not having wide receivers Chris Gallon, Herve Coby and Heath Jackson on the field because of injuries.
CLAWSON SAID: "It was exciting to see Shaun Joplin go up and make a play just like he did against Kent State last year. Shaun is going to be in his second year as a starter, and he needs to give us a play like that every game. A play like that takes a lot of pressure off a quarterback, and off an offense. Certainly Jared Cohen's catch was a big-time play. When you play against big-time teams, it's a game of plays. And you have to make those plays."
DEFENSIVE LINE: Yes, the Falcons Spring Game saw the team missing a lot of defensive linemen, including All-MAC senior Ted Ouellet and fellow senior Jairus Campbell as well as junior Bryan Thomas and sophomore Bryan Baird. And yes, recent suspensions/dismissals have removed Hunter Maynard and Shaq Hall from the equation. But the cupboard is far from bare at that position. Jhalil-Nashid Croley had a big game for the Orange, finishing with eight tackles -- a high number for a lineman -- as did Kendall Montgomery, who had two tackles and knocked down two other passes. For the White, Charlie Walker had four tackles, which is a good number for a lineman. The two defenses combined for six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, with five of the sacks and six of the TFLs coming from linemen.
CLAWSON SAID: "On defense we were playing without three of our starting defensive linemen -- it's a lot difference when you have Ted Ouellet, Jairus Campbell and Bryan Thomas out there. But I think giving some of those young guys reps -- Mike Minns, Izaah Lunsford, Zach Colvin, Kendall Montgomery -- are just going to help us become a better football team."
RUNNING BACKS: For the second spring in a row the Falcons didn't have a lot of running backs available after Anthon Samuel left the problem and Jamel Martin did not play because of a knee injury. Travis Greene shifted from wide receiver to running back this spring and had a good Spring Game, posting 88 yards rushing on 21 carries. He may not be an every-down back, but if BG can get him the ball in space, he will be tough to tackle. ... Andre Givens carried the ball 10 times but had just 10 yards in the game. That wasn't indicative of his spring: At times he was outstanding at making players miss and turning small gains into big plays. ... It was good to see Jordan Hopgood practice after injuries limited his time the past two seasons. He had 20 yards and two TDs in five carries for the Orange and 13 yards on two carries for the White.
By the way, I think my game story may have overstated the negative effect of the punting problems on the White's rushing game. Even if you throw the punt problems out, the White had 42 yards gained and 27 lost (by negative plays and sacks), so the team would have had a net of 15 yards rushing on 19 carries, which obviously is terrible. The Orange finished with 133 net yards rushing on 39 carries (3.4 per play).
CLAWSON SAID: "I think Andre Givens has had a great spring. I think the Orange O-Line and Orange D-line controlled the line of scrimmage. I though Travis Greene did a good job, and the seams [he had] were bigger. Andre didn't have the same types of seams and same opportunities."
TURNOVERS: The good news? Neither team threw an interception, and neither team lost a fumble. Bad news? There were six fumbles -- three on each side. Even when you recover a fumble, the fumble disrupts the offense and puts a team "off schedule." The defense needs to create more turnovers, and the offense needs to be more careful with the ball. Usually a Spring Game produces a winner and a loser, but in this instance I thought both the offense and defense were losers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Obviously Clay Rolf struggled with some long snaps on punts, and that caused a lot of problems for the punting game. ... Yes, punter Brian Schmiedebusch had to contend with a tough wind on many of his punts. But that wasn't the only reason for a 12-yard punt in the third quarter, which came shortly after a 55 yard punt and was the same direction as a 42-yard punt earlier in the quarter. ... Tyler Tate made two short-range field goals (29 and 25 yards), and he came very close to making a 51-yard kick (with a strong wind). He also was perfect on four extra points. ... I think there are a variety of options for return men. BooBoo Gates has won All-MAC honors returning kicks, Ryan Burbrink has shown good hands on punt returns; two other players who showed glimpses of potential were Diontre Delk and Will Watson.
ANSWERS TO THE TRICK QUESTION: It was the same guy, senior Jordan Hopgood. He finished with 13 yards on a pair of carries to lead the White rushing game (which finished with minus-43 yards because of punting problems), and he scored on runs of 1 and 14 yards while carrying the ball five times for 20 yards for the Orange.
CAUGHT MY EYE: Here are a few players who I think helped themselves with strong Spring Game performances ... Kendall Montgomery is really becoming a force as a rush end since committing to the position. He has a chance to become another "Monster of the MAC" this fall. ... Jhalil-Nashid Croley was recruited to be a linebacker, but he quickly became too big for that position and has become a lineman. His athleticism is allowing him to become a good one right away; as he learns the position, he has a chance to become a great one. ... Chris Pohlman has been mostly a blocking back in his time at BG, but next fall I expect him to do more. He caught three passes for 31 yards and showed the ability to run after the catch. I also like his toughness. ... The Falcons have a number of strong safeties right now. BooBoo Gates already has won All-MAC honors at the position and is one of three seniors at the position (Aaron Foster and Josh Pettus are the others). And there are two strong juniors in this unit in Ryland Ward and Jude Adjei-Barimah. All five of these guys would be starters for just about any other MAC team.
THE LAST WORD: Even with the loss of top players such as Chris Jones and Dwayne Woods, I think the Bowling Green defense is going to be outstanding again this fall. Last year the goal was for the offense and special teams to not lose games for the Falcons. But to be a championship team, the offense and special teams need to do more than "not lose" games -- they need to "win" games. Reaching that level needs to be the goal this summer.