The 2013 football season was very special for the Bowling Green Falcons. Four years of hard work, personal growth, and on-field improvement culminated in a ten-win season during which the Falcons won their first conference championship in 21 years. Head coach Dave Clawson had molded a fantastic group of young men that went 2-10 in 2010, then steadily improved to 5-7 in 2011 and 8-5 in 2012, and were finally ready for greatness in 2013. Although the final act of this play did not go as Bowling Green had hoped, it does not (nor should it) tarnish one of the great years in BGSU football history.
Let's take a look in the rear-view mirror at the 2013 season. We'll look at each game, hash out some superlatives, then put the season to rest and look ahead to what 2014 has to offer.
Game 1 -- (8/29/13) -- BOWLING GREEN 34, Tulsa 7
The Falcons opened the 2013 season by routing the defending Conference USA champions. Both teams started slowly on offense, and Dave Clawson replaced three-year starting quarterback Matt Schilz with sophomore Matt Johnson in the first quarter. Little did we know then what that move would mean for the remainder of the year. BGSU managed just two first-half field goals to lead 6-0, but three second-half touchdowns by freshman William Houston put the game away. The Falcon defense held the prolific Tulsa attack to just 273 yards and no points until the score was 34-0.
Game 2 -- (9/7/13) -- Bowling Green 41, KENT STATE 22
Even without star running back Dri Archer, Kent State gave the Falcons fits early. They answered each of BGSU's first three scoring drives with touchdowns of their own and led 22-17 late in the first half. However, BGSU took the lead on a Johnson touchdown pass in the final minute of the half, then scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to win handily. Houston scored his fourth touchdown of the season, while Johnson connected on a 92-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Burbrink in the second half. BGSU gained 576 yards of total offense and had no turnovers.
Game 3 -- (9/14/13) -- INDIANA 42, Bowling Green 10
Indiana's offense ran through the Bowling Green defense like few others have in recent memory, as they totaled 601 yards and 42 points. However, the margin of loss (32 points) was mainly on the backs of the Falcons. BGSU's offense generated only three points despite gaining over 400 yards. In fact, the Falcons had the ball on Indiana's side of the field nine times, but they missed two field goals, had a pass intercepted, and turned the ball over on downs four times. Despite the loss, the game will mostly be remembered for one play, which we'll talk about again later in this article.
Game 4 -- (9/21/13) -- BOWLING GREEN 48, Murray State 7
A punt and a Johnson interception during the first quarter meant that Bowling Green led this one only 6-0 early, but three second quarter touchdowns sealed the victory. The BGSU defense was stout, as usual, and (as in the Tulsa game) did not give up any points until the score was 34-0. Chris Gallon caught two touchdown passes, while Johnson, Houston, Travis Greene and Andre Givens all scored rushing touchdowns. After the first quarter, the BGSU offense moved at will and gained 660 yards. Each of their seven scoring drives were at least 61 yards in length.
Game 5 -- (9/28/13) -- BOWLING GREEN 31, Akron 14
Akron came to Bowling Green on the heels of their near-upset of Michigan, and the Zips showed early why they would end up with their best season in years. Akron led 14-3 after the first quarter and had 134 yards of offense. However, the Falcons' defense turned things around and allowed no points and just 162 yards to Akron for the remainder of the game. Shaun Joplin's touchdown reception just before halftime cut Akron's lead to four, and another Houston third-quarter touchdown gave BGSU the lead for good. Greene sealed the win with two scores of his own.
Game 6 -- (10/5/13) -- BOWLING GREEN 28, Massachusetts 7
At this point, slow starts were becoming an issue for the Falcons. It wasn't becoming an issue (yet) in the wins column, but fans were becoming uneasy. In this game, the defense was stout as usual, but the Falcon offense had to punt on each of its first five possessions. Finally, a 91-yard drive midway through the second quarter got BGSU rolling, as Ronnie Moore caught a 51-yard pass to get the team on the scoreboard. As in past games, that first score really got Bowling Green going, and they scored on four straight drives. Tyler Beck and Heath Jackson earned their first touchdowns of the season, and UMass did not score until the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of reach.
Game 7 -- (10/12/13) -- MISSISSIPPI STATE 21, Bowling Green 20
If there are any games from the 2013 season that Bowling Green would like to have a chance to do over, this (and the next) one would have to be at the top of that list. The Falcons played toe-to-toe on the road against a Bulldogs team that would ultimately play in the Liberty Bowl (and shred the 2013 Conference USA champion Rice in the process). BGSU trailed 14-3 and 21-10 in the first half but scored ten unanswered points to close the gap to 21-20 by the end of the third quarter. However, the Falcons could not score in the fourth, as they turned the ball over twice on downs. Tyler Tate also missed a field goal in the third quarter that could have ultimately won the game.
Game 8 -- (10/26/13) -- Toledo 28, BOWLING GREEN 25
Quite often, teams have a moment to which they can point and say, "That's where our fortunes changed." In 2013, this was that moment. Toledo raced out to a 21-0 lead in the game's first 25 minutes, as the Falcons could not stop making mistakes. However, Bowling Green stormed back with four straight scores, and two Greene touchdown runs in the fourth quarter gave BGSU a late 25-21 lead. Unfortunately, Toledo saved themselves from a 3rd-and-26 and scored the game-winning touchdown on fourth down with just 1:22 to play. A last-gasp BGSU drive was not successful.
The Falcons, whose seniors have never defeated the Rockets, were devastated by the loss, but this is where all the growth of the last three years came into play. The team rose from the ashes of the heartbreaking loss and truly became something special. The following five games were nothing short of spectacular.
Game 9 -- (11/5/13) -- Bowling Green 45, MIAMI 3
The Falcons began their tour of destruction in Oxford on a chilly Tuesday night. After toying with the RedHawks for a quarter, BGSU got down to business and outscored Miami 38-0 during the second and third quarters. The defense allowed just 228 yards and generated three turnovers, while the offense accounted for 447 yards. Six different players scored BGSU's six touchdowns, and the 42-point win was the biggest ever in the history of the BGSU-Miami rivalry.
Game 10 -- (11/12/13) -- BOWLING GREEN 49, Ohio 0
By this point, Bowling Green was finished toying with teams and just decided to end things -- immediately. Matt Johnson threw deep on the Falcons' first play on offense. BGSU scored on the second play, then scored again on the first play of their next drive. In all, Bowling Green posted touchdowns on each of their first four possessions and five of their first six to lead 35-0 at halftime. Ohio ran one play in the first half on BGSU's side of the field, and that resulted in a turnover. The Falcons increased the lead to 42-0 just four plays into the second half...and, well, you get the picture. This was as complete a destruction as you'll ever see.
Game 11 -- (11/23/13) -- Bowling Green 58, EASTERN MICHIGAN 7
The Falcons completed their three-game reign of terror with a 51-piont win over a hapless EMU team that had just fired its coach. Of course, EMU actually led this game early, 7-3, when a Johnson interception was returned for a touchdown. However, two long Ronnie Moore touchdown receptions ended that hilarity, and the Falcons scored 17 points in each of the first three quarters. They led 51-7 after three, and that was before William Houston decided to shock everyone with a 44-yard touchdown romp in the fourth quarter -- which is like 44 of his "normal" scoring runs. Bowling Green outgained EMU 560-65 (yes, 560-65), allowed no points to the Eagles' offense, and gave up just one completion (for four yards) in 18 pass attempts.
Game 12 -- (11/29/13) -- Bowling Green 24, BUFFALO 7
This winner-take-all game for the MAC East title promised to be an all-out war between two teams that complemented each other quite well. For the first half, it was as advertised. Neither offense could get much traction, and Buffalo led 7-3 at halftime. But, as they did so many times in 2013, the Falcons simply exerted their will mercilessly in the second half. Three scoring drives of 71+ yards wore Buffalo down, and their offense could never move beyond the BGSU 40 in the second half. Johnson threw a touchdown pass to Joplin then closed scoring with a TD run of his own. BGSU outgained Buffalo 490-236, as the Falcons won their first division title in ten years.
Game 13 (MAC Championship) -- (12/6/13) -- Bowling Green 47, Northern Illinois 27
The Falcons went to Detroit as heavy underdogs to 12-0 NIU and were supposed to be just a stepping stone to another BCS berth for the Huskies. Unfortunately for NIU, BGSU did not get that memo. The Falcons ended the Huskies' 25-game MAC winning streak in convincing fashion. Johnson had the game of his career with 393 yards and five touchdown passes on just 27 attempts, and the Falcons amassed 574 yards of offense. BGSU led 17-7 after one quarter and 31-13 at halftime. NIU cut the lead to 31-20 in the third, but ten straight points for Bowling Green in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter sealed the victory. BGSU earned its first MAC title since 1992.
Game 14 (Little Caesars Pizza Bowl) -- (12/26/13) -- Pittsburgh 30, Bowling Green 27
Bowling Green's magical run came to an end in their bowl game, as Pittsburgh wore the Falcons down with a persistent running game and constant defensive pressure on Matt Johnson. BGSU gave up 229 yards rushing to James Connor (a Pittsburgh bowl record), and Johnson was sacked seven times for 55 yards. In fact, the Falcons earned just ten net rushing yards for the game. However, they fought hard throughout, and a Pitt field goal with less than 90 seconds remaining was the winning margin for the Panthers. BGSU overcame a 17-3 deficit with 17 straight points of their own during the middle of the game.
FINAL RECORD: 10-4 (7-1 MAC)
Play of the Year: Paul Senn blocked punt/touchdown return vs Indiana
Could it really be anything else? This is a truly astounding play -- like the ESPN announcers said, it's one I've never seen before. Senn essentially took the ball off the punter's foot and ran for the touchdown.
If you're interested in how BGSU ranks their top-ten plays of the year, here you go. HINT: They don't rank the Senn play #1.
Coaching Decision of the Year: Switching from Matt Schilz to Matt Johnson at quarterback
To me, this decision is what defines the entire BGSU 2013 season. Matt Schilz had been the starting quarterback since his freshman season in 2010. He had an excellent year in 2011 but struggled at times as a junior in 2012. Head Coach Dave Clawson put Schilz into a quarterback competition with sophomore Matt Johnson during the spring and fall camps, but Schilz emerged the winner and was named starting quarterback for the season opener against Tulsa.
That experiment lasted all of two series. After back-to-back punts to start the game against Tulsa, Clawson switched to Johnson. Johnson led the Falcons to a field goal on his first drive, and BGSU never looked back. When the season was over, Johnson had 3,467 passing yards, a 25-7 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, a 64.2 completion percentage and an excellent 161.7 efficiency rating. He also ran for 238 yards and five touchdowns (and that yardage total includes sack yards).
It's not fair to Schilz to say that BGSU wouldn't have accomplished many of the same things had the switch not been made, but you can't argue with what actually happened. And, in my opinion, switching from a three-year starter to an unproven sophomore in what amounted to a "this needs to happen this year" season takes some serious guts.
Offensive Player of the Year: Travis Greene (running back)
I don't think anyone would argue if Johnson, Alex Bayer, Chief Kekuewa or Dominic Flewellyn were named here, but given what Greene accomplished and how he arrived at this point is just fantastic stuff.
Anthon Samuel was one of the best backs in the MAC in 2012, but for personal reasons, he left Bowling Green (and ultimately transferred to Florida International) in the offseason. To fill the unexpected void at running back, Clawson turned to unsung wide receiver Travis Greene to switch positions. What ensued was the greatest single season any BGSU back has ever achieved. He ran for 1,594 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 113.9 per game. He also caught 18 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. His rushing yards were a single-season BGSU record.
And he did it all while carrying a frame that's rather small for a running back with a heavy workload. He's also not the speediest back in the world, but he's very elusive. Greene is also, for his size, one of the hardest backs to get down that you'll ever see. Much of his yardage came after first contact, and his penchant for fighting for those extra yards was one of the biggest keys to BGSU's success in 2013.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates (safety)
This was a tough choice, as BGSU's defense was full of players who contributed heavily to the Falcons in 2013, but Gates has truly been something special during his time at Bowling Green. In 2013, he was third on the team with 71 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss. He had two interceptions, one of which was returned for an 82-yard touchdown, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, and eight passes either broken up or defensed. Gates also had over 300 yards of kickoff returns.
The success of the Bowling Green secondary was one of the primary fuels that made the BGSU defensive engine go in 2013, and Gates was at the forefront of that effort.
(And he's got, by far, the best nickname in the MAC. Or anywhere else.)
Look Ahead to 2014
Here are the key seniors that BGSU is losing for 2014:
QB Matt Schilz
HB Jordan Hopgood
WR Shaun Joplin
TE Tyler Beck
TE Alex Bayer
OL Dominic Flewellyn
OL Daivd "Chief" Kekuewa
DL Ronnie Goble
DL Jairus Campbell
DL Ted Ouellet
LB Paul Swan
DB Josh Pettus
DB Aaron Foster
DB Cameron Truss
DB Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates
As you can see, the primary losses are on defense, especially in the secondary. There is a lot of depth on defense (as the response to 2013 injuries to players like Gabe Martin showed), but there's almost certainly going to be some regression. On offense, the team is losing a very experienced quarterback, a reliable backup running back, a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, and two starting offensive linemen.
It should also be noted that there's almost always attrition with younger players, too. Last offseason, remember that the Falcons lost starting lineman Fahn Cooper in addition to Samuel.
Fortunately, the Falcons return some special talent, from Matt Johnson and Travis Greene to Chris Gallon and Ryan Burbrink. They'll also get to use Gehrig Dieter, a receiver many claim is already the best BGSU has on the roster. Their two starting tackles will have a year of experience under their belt, and they'll also have a starting guard returning. On defense, linebacker Gabe Martin will be back, as will Paul Senn and several others.
Of course, the biggest upheaval with this team will be in terms of coaching. Dave Clawson left after the MAC Championship game to pursue big-time dreams at Wake Forest, and Bowling Green hired Art Briles-disciple Dino Babers to replace him. Babers represents a huge change in philosophy on offense, so the Falcons will look decidedly different when the season begins next August, but the cupboard is well-stocked. This is a team set up to be the preseason favorite in the MAC East and will have an excellent opportunity to defend its MAC championship.
We won't know the MAC schedule for another couple of months, but we do know BGSU's non-conference slate. They'll begin the season on Aug. 28 at Western Kentucky in the "Battle of the Bowling Greens". After tangling with Bobby Petrino's bunch, the Falcons return for their home opener against Virginia Military Institute (VMI) out of the FCS. One week later, Bowling Green gets a rematch with the Indiana Hoosiers. This time, the game will be held in Bowling Green. Finally, BGSU travels to Madison, Wisc. on Sept. 20 for a game with the Wisconsin Badgers. It will be the team's first game against Wisconsin since facing them in Cleveland in the 2006 season opener.
Bowling Green completed their four-year journey in 2013 and are now set up for a run of extended success in the MAC. No one can ever say for sure what the future will bring, but 2014 looks as if it will be just as bright for BGSU as 2013. If it is, Falcons fans should be prepared for more fun times.