BOWLING GREEN FALCONS (2-0) AT INDIANA HOOSIERS (2-0)
GAME TIME: 12:00PM ET, TV: ESPNU
When the Bowling Green Falcons face the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington, Ind. on Saturday afternoon, nothing related to the Mid-American Conference will be on the line. From the perspective of winning a division or conference championship, the game is meaningless for the Falcons.
However, if you look at the game from the perspective of the possible prestige bump that BGSU could earn and what a win could mean to both the Falcons' and the MAC's post-season opportunities, the game is as important for Bowling Green as any the school as played in many years.
The Falcons begin play on Saturday with a 2-0 record after wins over Tulsa and Kent State. It's only their second 2-0 start since 2003, and they seek their first 3-0 start since...2003. That 3-0 start ten years ago also included a road win in Indiana over a Big Ten school. BGSU fans might remember it well -- it was the exciting 27-26 upset of #16 Purdue. That season was also the last time that the Falcons had double-digits wins and was the only season in which they appeared in the MAC Championship Game.
With home games against Murray State, Akron and Massachusetts following this trip to Bloomington, a win would give BGSU an excellent shot at being 6-0 when they head to Starkville, Miss. to face Mississippi State on October 12. And if that happens, you would really start to see the hype swirl.
So, a lot is potentially riding on this game, and after Indiana was upset by Navy last week, Bowling Green is a trendy pick to win the road game. Even the oddsmakers don't see the Orange and Brown as much of an underdog; the Hoosiers are only three point favorites.
But can the Falcons really beat against an experienced BCS-level team on the road? It's one thing to ambush Tulsa at home and beat a Dri Archer-less Kent State (even on the road); it's entirely different to do this. This is especially true when you consider that Indiana returns six players on defense...and nine players on an explosive offense that hung 49 points on 12-0 Ohio State last season.
Before we look at unit versus unit match-ups, here's a gander at both teams' stats through Week 2:
WHEN INDIANA HAS THE BALL...
I don't think you will get much argument that Indiana's offense is the best that Bowling Green will face during the 2013 regular season. In 2012, the Hoosiers put up 45 and 39 on MAC foes UMass and Ball State, respectively. They scored 30 against Navy and 35 more versus Purdue. And then, there was that 49-point outburst against Ohio State. IU did not skip a beat this season, as they've already rung up 108 points in two games (73 vs Indiana State, 35 vs Navy).
Indiana uses a 3-QB system led by sophomore Nate Sudfeld (6-5, 230). Sudfeld played sparingly last year but has been a sensation in the first two games of 2013. He threw four touchdowns in somewhat limited action in the opener but then went nuts against Navy. Versus the Midshipmen, Sudfeld completed 31 of 42 passes for 363 yards and another four touchdown passes. Sudfeld is joined by fellow sophomore Tre Roberson, who is certain running threat. He's coming back from a broken leg suffered last year, and in limited action so far has completed three of seven passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He also has eight carries for 37 yards. Junior Cameron Coffman rounds out the trio. In 2012, he played in 11 games and threw for 15 touchdowns and over 2700 yards, but he has fallen behind the other two for playing time.
IU's wide receivers complement the quarterbacks well. Senior Kofi Hughes is a must-stop, but he's a match-up problem for most at 6-2 and 217. He set career highs last year with 43 catches, 639 yards and three touchdowns but is already on his way to shattering those. In two games, he already has nine catches for 171 yards and two scores. Tight end Ted Bolser is another match-up nightmare at 6-6/252. He's also on his way to career highs this season, already compiling 11 catches for 134 yards and four touchdowns. You also can't forget about Cody Latimer (6-3, 215) who caught 51 balls and had six scores last season, or Shane Wynn. Wynn, at 5-7, is easily lost for the secondary among the taller targets, and it shows in the results. He's coming off of a 68-catch, six-touchdown season last year and already has three scores and 104 yards in 2013.
If all of that isn't enough to scare you, consider that Indiana also has a very capable running back in sophomore Tevin Coleman. Coleman has 203 yards already, including a 58 yard run, plus three touchdowns of his own. He can also catch out of the backfield, pulling in four catches for 35 yards in the first two games. Oh, did I mention that the Hoosiers' offensive line has not allowed a sack in 73 pass attempts this season?
This is a huge challenge for Bowling Green, and perhaps the hardest of all the issues is preparing for multiple quarterbacks who play different styles. BGSU head coach Dave Clawson was very coy with the media at his press conference today about how he would account for that in his game plan and would not indicate if the Falcons would have different plans for each or not. Another problem that IU presents, which Clawson noted today, is that the Hoosiers run a very fast offense (see: Oregon), which makes it difficult for a defense to substitute -- which BGSU likes to do. A LOT.
I'll give the Falcons this much: the teams they've faced so far have been good, in terms of preparing for what IU will have to offer. The Hoosiers will be at another level, of course, but the Falcons do have a very solid foundation on which to build for this game.
The keys are similar to what they've been; the Falcons have to maintain lane and gap discipline. They have to be where they should be. Assignments are going to be huge in this game. Like it has done for most of the first two games, the secondary needs to be able to handle its business without help from the linebackers, but Bolser will have quite a bit to say about that. Finally, the front seven must find some way to pressure (but contain) the quarterbacks. You don't necessarily have to sack them, but you do have to mess with them enough to disrupt their timing and confidence.
WHEN BOWLING GREEN HAS THE BALL...
Did I say earlier that Indiana has six returning players? Yes, I believe I did, but I don't think I said that this is a good development for the Hoosiers. Last season, in IU's four wins, they never allowed more than 21 points in any of those games. But, in their eight losses, the Hoosiers allowed 30 or more points in each and 40 or more in six of the eight games. Against Navy, they gave up 31; they allowed 41 to Ball State. And in two games this season? They allowed 35 to Indiana State and 41 to Navy.
In the loss to Navy, IU allowed 444 yards rushing and a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. Navy did not punt a single time and had eight different red-zone opportunities. The Midshipmen converted only four of 11 third downs but three of four times on fourth down. They also enjoyed over 37 minutes of possession time.
This spells bad news for Indiana, because those are numbers that Bowling Green would love to replicate. The Falcons also have the stable of backs to accomplish that, too. Given the strengths of the Indiana offense, ball-control will undoubtedly be a big part of BGSU's game plan on Saturday. Even with less than 23 minutes of possession time, Indiana still racked up nearly 500 yards of offense against Navy, so the Falcons will have to run the ball and do so effectively. Effective running will also set up play-action opportunities for Matt Johnson, and Johnson was virtually perfect with that area of his game against Kent State.
Johnson, making just his second start, has faced quite a bit of pressure in the first two games but likely nothing akin to what he'll experience on Saturday. He will need every bit of all the poise he can muster, but poise and capability in the pocket under a rush certainly appeared to be a strong suit in the first two games. One thing is certain: he cannot make mistakes if BGSU expects to win. And if he doesn't? They should be able to move the ball and score points. Everyone else seems to be able to do it against Indiana.
As with last week, nothing much to report. Both kickers (Tyler Tate, Mitch Ewald) are perfect after two games and each punter (Brian Schmiedebusch, Erich Toth) average another 40 yards per punt. Both teams also have capable return games and decent coverage units. Neither team ought to have much of an advantage here.
Neither team appears to be in much injury trouble. For Bowling Green, the primary issue coming out of the Kent State game was the tweaked ankle of center David "Chief" Kekuewa, but it appeared to be Minor and he should be set to play. Defensive lineman Charlie Walker left the opening game versus Tulsa early and did not play last week; there is no definitive word about his status. Everyone else who has been playing is in good shape to go on Saturday.
For Indiana, Hoosier coach Kevin Wilson went over some injury information yesterday during the Big Ten teleconference. Defensive tackle Alex Todd has a bad neck/shoulder and may not play. Also, offensive guard Bernard Taylor, who sprained his ankle against Navy, may not play.
I've given up on trying to predict how these Bowling Green games are going to play out. The one that should have been a barnburner wasn't, while the one that should have been a close, low-scoring affair was the opposite.
Bowling Green is a very experienced, veteran team that is unlikely to beat itself by committing dumb penalties or giving away turnovers. They will need to move the ball early on offense, because they do not want to play this offense from behind, and they also need to get out of the gates much faster on defense than they did against Kent State. Clawson is an effective motivator, and I believe that he will have the team ready and that they will understand the importance of a quick start.
I remember sitting at Dix Stadium last Saturday and commenting around halftime to another BGSU fan who was upset with the team's defensive performance in the first half. I told him not to worry -- Clawson is great at motivating and making adjustments. He'll make things right, I said. And he did.
This team, in two games, has already displayed a killer instinct in the second half. If the Falcons can stay in the game early and give themselves a shot in the second half, they can -- and maybe even should -- win this game.
It's been a long ten years since 2003 for Bowling Green. Sixty minutes of football separate the Falcons from finally rekindling the dreams of that season.