Football previews are hard. They tend to tell you not what you know, but what you don't know. The Bowling Green football team was mostly known except for a couple of unknowns: quarterback and running back. But that's no big deal, right? I mean, who obsesses over those two positions?
A day later we know a whole lot more: one Matt replaced another at quarterback, and there are about 52 running backs on the team, all of them useful and variant but none of them named Matt.
Let's start under center. Matt Schilz was named the starter in camp — three years as a starter and the job still wasn't officially his — and two drives into the game, he looked like a freshman again. He looked hurried, frazzled, and ultimately was yanked. Final line: 1-for-4, 12 yards, and those three incompletions weren't even close.
I thought, here we go again. But suddenly a wild Matt Johnson appeared. He challenged for the starting job in training camp, didn't get it, but took the ball for the third series. His first pass: an 18-yard strike to Ronnie Moore. His first drive was turned into a field goal. Then another one. And he started making plays with his feet, a feat I haven't seen out of the backfield in Bowling Green since Freddie Barnes.
Johnson didn't beat Tulsa single-handedly, but he was exciting: 11-for-23, 151 yards and an interception means there's still room for improvement on that side. But the nine rushes for 53 yards with a long of 18 means that Tulsa was blindsided by a dual-threat quarterback. I'm sure they knew it was a possibility that he would play, but they had very little to go on him. That still wouldn't explain how he oléd a defender past him to gain some more yards on the ground. It was a refreshing change of pace, but now Kent State's defense gets a week to figure out how to stop him.
As for the running backs, when Anthon Samuel — a man I think we all respect for how much faster he grew up than the rest of us — transferred back home to FIU, his high school teammate Travis Greene was named the starter. We saw much more than that. Greene was the featured back, carrying it 22 times for 88 yards, and the converted wide receiver showed some shiftiness and ability to not fall to the ground on first contact, very similar to Samuel. But there were a variety of role players: Ronnie Moore showed some tremendous speed, which included a 37-yard run off some type of handoff sweep play. Chris Houston exerted himself as the goal line back, carrying it 10 times in goal-line or one-yard-to-go situations, and only once did he not gain positive ground. He ended up with 29 yards and all three rushing touchdowns.
Finally there was Fred Coppet, the fabled four-star recruit from Florida, because four-star recruits don't show up in Bowling Green unless they're stopping to ask for directions. He showed some of the burst they told us about. His line was 8 carries for 27 yards, which didn't amount to much since it was all in the second half, mostly giving Greene a breather, but if something required Coppet to take most of the carries, that wouldn't be a bad thing. But the running game is beyond thunder and lightning; it's thunder, lightning, wind, blizzard and gypsy moths.
I haven't even touched the defense yet, which gave up seven points and forced a big red zone turnover. Well, I guess I just got to them, didn't I? BooBoo Gates was no doubt the player of the game, getting a tackle for loss and stripped the ball out of Tulsa's Derek Patterson's hands as he was streaking for a sure first down inside the 10-yard-line. Gates also recovered a fumble on special teams in the fourth quarter and were about six minutes from blanking the Golden Hurricane on the scoreboard. Shutouts are hard.
And then there was Ryan Burbrink, who turned a punt into a 67-yard touchdown. Burbrink's main goal on punt returns was to field a fair catch, it seemed. He rarely found space to move forward, but on The Evening Where Everything Went Right, of course Ryan Burbrink gets a punt return touchdown.
They're also announcing that over 6,000 students made it to the game. The pictures make it hard to refute that:
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STANDS.
And as a sweetener, here is what seems to be the wife of Tulsa's kicker Carl Salazar calling me overweight for having some fun at the expense of his two missed field goals:
We knew little about the quarterback and running back situations. Now we're into the "one-game sample" era of knowledge. Tulsa is supposed to win the Conference USA this year. They received votes in the preseason poll. We know they lost a lot of returners on defense, and maybe it'll take a couple games to get back to their normal strength. They cannot be 34-7 bad. Then again, Bowling Green wasn't 63-7 bad in the 2008 GMAC Bowl, but those games happen. And we can consider the demons of that bowl game officially slain and their carcasses composted into grain for the cows and hogs. It could turn all the hamburgers and hot dogs evil, but it's a chance worth taking.