The Bowling Green Falcons host the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to begin the 2013 season on Thursday, August 29th, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00pm. This is only the third time that BGSU has hosted their season opener in the last 17 years and only the second time since 2003. Their last game at home to begin a season was also the first game of Dave Clawson's tenure, as the Falcons beat Sun Belt Conference powerhouse Troy, 31-14.
This will also be the first time ever that Bowling Green has hosted Tulsa. In the previous three meetings between the two teams, Tulsa hosted twice. The pair also played once in Mobile, Ala. in the GMAC Bowl after the 2007 season. Tulsa is 3-0 in these meetings. The Golden Hurricane beat BGSU 45-10 in 1989 and then won the GMAC Bowl by a 63-7 score. The most recent meeting came during the Falcons' 2-10 season in 2010, as Tulsa won 33-20.
Both teams are coming off of successful 2012 seasons. Bowling Green went 8-4 in the regular season, including a 6-2 conference record, before losing 29-20 to 11-2 San Jose State in the Military Bowl. Tulsa posted a 9-3 regular season record and won the Conference USA Western Division with a 7-1 league mark. They defeated Central Florida in their conference championship game, then won 31-17 versus 6-7 Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl.
Coming into 2013, Bowling Green and Tulsa are expected to compete at or near the top of their respective leagues. Bowling Green has been picked by many to finish either first or second along with Ohio in the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division, while Tulsa was voted to win their division by all 14 participants in the Conference USA preseason poll.
This match-up promises to be one of the most fun that college football can provide: a classic battle between a high-powered offense and a rock-solid defense. The tug of war between the two elite units is often fascinating to watch and, in the past, has led to some of the most memorable games. Who will win the match between Tulsa's offense and Bowling Green's defense, or will this game come down to the Falcon offense and the Hurricane defense? Or, will special teams decide this game's fate? Let's find out...
WHEN BOWLING GREEN HAS THE BALL -- The Falcons, who return eight starters on offense, face a Tulsa defense that returns only three. Matt Schilz will start at quarterback and seeks to redeem himself after a sub-par 2012 season. Head coach Dave Clawson said that Schilz had his best camp as a Falcon, so expectations for this game will be higher. He has the same corps of receivers as last year, led by Chris Gallon, Shaun Joplin and Ryan Burbrink, as well as his senior tight end Alex Bayer. Behind him, Schilz will have some familiar backs to hand off the ball, but Travis Greene, the starter, is new. Along the line, the interior is intact from last year, but both starting tackles are freshmen.
For Tulsa, their defensive line is incredibly young and short on experience. The four starters on their initial depth chart include two sophomores, a true freshman, and a junior who has seen very little playing time at defensive end. Of the two sophomores, Derrick Alexander was on the conference All-Freshman team last year after posting 19 tackles and three sacks. Their back-ups include two redshirt freshmen, a true freshman and two walk-ons.
The linebackers are more experienced and are led by Shawn Jackson. Jackson was the defensive MVP of the 2012 Liberty Bowl and is on the Bronko Nagurski Watch List, as well as the preseason All-Conference USA team. His 18 career sacks are just shy of the school record, and he has six forced fumbles, four interceptions and three defensive touchdowns at Tulsa. Joining him are Mitchell Osborne, who had two sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 2012, and Trent Martin, who was on the conference All-Freshman team last year.
Safety Demarco Nelson leads the Tulsa secondary. Nelson has made 39 consecutive starts and enters the season with eight career interceptions. He is tied for sixth among all returning FBS players in that category. Michael Mudoh starts along side Nelson; Mudoh played in all 14 games in 2012 and had 25 tackles. Cornerback Dwight Dobbins also played in all 14 games last year with 26 tackles and an interception. As with the defensive line, the backups are very short on experience, with two true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen among that group.
It would seem that Bowling Green's best plan would be to attack the defensive line and try to run the ball effectively. That would allow Schilz to open up the passing game through play action and keep Jackson on his heels. Gallon and Joplin should be able to attack the corners, and this is one game where the freshmen tackles shouldn't be at a disadvantage. If BGSU can keep Tulsa's linebackers in check, they should be able to move the ball effectively and take pressure off their defense with points.
WHEN TULSA HAS THE BALL -- This is the area of this game that most people will be watching, and for good reason. Tulsa returns a plethora of talent that makes for an explosive attack. Cody Green, in his second year after transferring from Nebraska, started 13 games last year and went 10-3 while throwing for 2,592 yards and 17 touchdowns. However, he was only 25/48 with 246 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his final two contests. Of course, running back is where it's at for the Golden Hurricane. Seniors Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas are as good a 1-2 punch as any in the country. Last year, Watts ran for 1108 yard and had 1451 all-purpose yards, including five 200-yard games. He also scored three touchdowns. Douglas posted 936 yards and seven touchdowns. Both had over a 6.0 yards per carry average and both had rushes over 75 yards. However, the team does have to replace Alex Singleton, who had 800 yards of his own as well as an amazing 24 touchdowns.
At receiver, Tulsa has a pair of talented and experienced go-to players. Keyarris Garrett (6-4, 221) can outsize almost any corner and comes off a 2012 season in which he had 67 catches, 845 yards and nine touchdowns. Jordan James is also a size problems at 6-2 and 220. He caught 41 passes of his own for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. The other receivers have little experience, including a true freshman and three others combining for eight catches last year. The starting tight end, Tyler Wilson, is a redshirt freshman.
On the offensive line, Tulsa is in much the same position as Bowling Green. Their two starting guards, Jake Alexander and Stetson Burnett, are preseason all-conference picks and have combined for 44 career starts, including 24 last season. Their center, Gabe Moyer, transitioned from guard during the preseason and has played in 30 career games, although he has only five starts. At tackle, Garrett Stafford is in just his second season and has only two career starts, but both came in Tulsa's final two games of 2012. On the other side, Davis Walton is a small-college transfer in his first season with the Golden Hurricane.
For Bowling Green, everyone on defense is back except for Chris Jones and Dwayne Woods. Those are no small losses, but players like Ted Ouellet and Gabe Martin are more than capable of picking up the leftover slack. Further, the secondary is intact, led by Cameron Truss and Jerry "BooBoo" Gates. And boy, that experience is going to be needed. Tulsa's offense is a "pick-your-poison" parlor, with four different playmakers and an experienced signal caller running the show. To me, the key to success for BGSU is the play of the corner backs and the deep safety. If those guys can hold down the fort against James and Garrett, then that will allow the Falcons to play seven or eight in the box to try to stop the Tulsa running game. Also, BGSU has to hope that their experienced defensive ends can exploit Tulsa's tackles and seal off the edges.
WHEN SPECIAL TEAMS ARE ON THE FIELD -- For once, BGSU actually has the advantage in the battle of the kickers. Tyler Tate had a successful close to the 2012 season, including making both field goal attempts in the Military Bowl, while Tulsa's Carl Salazar is a junior transfer who did not play last year while at Oklahoma. At punter, the Falcons have an edge, albeit a slight one. Senior Brian Schmiedebusch had a 40.8 average, with one-third of his 72 punts inside the opponents' 20 yard line. Cole Way had a 39.1 average for Tulsa, and 24 of his 77 punts went inside the other team's 20. However, Tulsa has the clear advantage in the return game. Trey Watts had touchdown returns of both the punt and kick variety, and he posted a 27.9 yard average on kickoff returns in 2012. BGSU's BooBoo Gates had a 19.4 average on kickoffs last year, although he did return one of two punts for a touchdown. Ryan Burbrink, the primary punt returner, had an 8.9 yard average.
The gut feeling from most Hustle Belt patrons is that this will be a close game. Given that this game will be featured on ESPNU, that would be a huge positive for the MAC. A Bowling Green victory against a favorite from another conference would be an even bigger positive and could be the catalyst for another great year for the league. In any event, this game is bound to be must-see TV and should end up being one of the two or three best games on Thursday night.
Falcons' head coach Dave Clawson had his season-opening press conference this afternoon. Click HERE for video of the event.
Keep tuned to the Story Stream for this game for any pertinent information that comes out before game time, as well as pre-game and in-game updates live on Thursday night from the Doyt.