When is #MACtion at its very best? In a Mid-American Conference stadium. On a weeknight. When televised by an ESPN network. So, what did Tulsa expect to happen during last night's game in Bowling Green, Ohio?
I don't know what Tulsa expected, but I am pretty confident that it wasn't the 34-7 thrashing they received at the hands of the Bowling Green Falcons.
The game started innocently enough; in fact, nothing in the first half seemed to indicate that a blowout was afoot. The two teams combined for five red-zone opportunities in the first half and combined to earn only six points from those chances. At halftime, the score stood at just 6-0 in favor of BGSU.
The teams traded punts over the first five possessions of the game and combined for only 40 net yards. On the Falcons' third drive of the game, starting quarterback Matt Schilz was replaced backup Matt Johnson. Schilz was not hurt, and after the game, BGSU head coach Dave Clawson revealed the reason behind the switch. "We had decided earlier in the week that Matt Johnson would play," Clawson said. "Before the game we made a decision to put Matt Johnson in before the third or fourth series, and when we put him in I thought he gave us a spark."
On Johnson's first series, he led BGSU on a nine-play, 41-yard drive that finally stalled at the Tulsa 15. Tyler Tate kicked a 34-yard field goal for what would amount to be the game-winning points and a 3-0 BGSU lead. Tulsa immediately responded with their longest march of the game, gaining 55 yards in ten plays. Their drive was helped immensely by a 37-yard completion from Cody Green to Jordan James. The Falcon defense stopped it at their 20, and, in an ominous sign of things to come, Carl Salazar missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.
After another exchange of punts, Johnson threw an interception, and Tulsa began their next series inside Falcon territory. They drive to the 18-yard line, where Green completed a pass to Derek Patterson in the left flat. Patterson ran up the sideline to the 11, where he was met by BooBoo Gates. Gates caused Patterson to fumble, and Aaron Foster recovered at the 2. Tulsa forced the Falcons to punt after just three plays and took over again at the BGSU 33-yard line. Two plays later, they were at the 12. Once again, the Falcon defense stood tall and, over the next three plays, caused Tulsa to lose five yards. Salazar trotted out for another field goal attempt and missed again, this time from 34 yards.
That was Tulsa's third red-zone opportunity, with zero points to show for any of them. The Golden Hurricane wouldn't visit that part of the field again for the remainder of the game.
On the ensuing drive, Johnson led Bowling Green on a nice 16-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in another field goal. Unfortunately, it could have been something more (although, in the long run, it didn't matter). With under 20 seconds left in the first half, Chris Gallon caught a 14-yard pass from Johnson for a first down at the Tulsa 15 The Falcons had two timeouts left and could have used one there. Instead, Clawson had Johnson spike the ball and sacrifice the down. After an incomplete pass, Johnson scrambled for five yards to the 10, where it was 4th-and-5 with 6 seconds left. Had BGSU used a timeout after the Gallon completion, they could have had time to run one quick pass into the end zone. Instead, the Falcons used a timeout to set up a field goal, which Tate nailed without a problem. BGSU ended the half with the other timeout in its collective pocket.
Again, the decision ultimately did not matter -- but it could have. The game was only 3-0 at the time, and points are at a premium playing against a high-powered offense. It may be nitpicking now, but at some point, a decision like that will matter.
After halftime, the Falcons took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for the game's first touchdown. Actually, it was 90 yards, as BGSU was hit with a 15-yard illegal block penalty on the second play of the drive. Ronnie Moore had a run of 37 yards, while Travis Green had rushes of 12 and 10 yards. Gallon had a reception for 11 yards, while Shaun Joplin had one of his own for 19. Freshman William Houston capped the drive with a one-yard dive into the end zone.
The game began getting out-of-hand toward the end of the third quarter. Tulsa started a drive at their own 7 with 2:01 left in the frame. After three plays, they had gained nine yards and faced a 4th-and-1 from their own 16. In a move that Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship described after the game as "desperate", the Golden Hurricane called on punter Cole Way to fake the punt and run for the first down. Cameron Truss made a spectacular stop on Way and held him to no gain, and the Falcons took over on downs. Four plays later, Houston scored again from one yard out, and Bowling Green led 20-0 with 13:52 left in the game.
On their next possession, Tulsa moved 24 yards to the Falcons' 44 before facing a 4th-and-13. In even more desperate position, they went for the first down again, and Green's pass fell incomplete. BGSU could not convert that mistake into points, and Brian Schmiedebusch punted the ball away. It was then that Tulsa sealed their fate. Star running back Trey Watts stepped back to the Tulsa 10-yard line to receive the punt. He muffed the ball, and Gates recovered for the Falcons at the 8. Houston rumbled seven yards to the 1-yard line, then scored his third one-yard touchdown of the game to give the Falcons a 27-0 lead with 7:34 to play.
The snowball effect reached its peak three plays later. After two incompletions and a two-yard run, Way trotted out to punt again. Ryan Burbrink took in the punt at the Bowling Green 33 and proceeded to take the ball to the house. His 67-yard return was the first touchdown of his career and gave the Orange and Brown a 34-0 lead. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the kickoff allowed Tulsa to start their next drive at the 50, the Golden Hurricane scored in five plays, and the garbage-time touchdown provided the final 34-7 margin. BGSU ran out the final 5:49 in eight plays behind quarterback James Knapke.
The Falcon defense was nothing short of outstanding. They allowed only 273 yards, with 50 of those coming on that final drive against the second-team defense. Against the run, they were phenomenal. Tulsa, who averaged five yards per carry and 245 yards per game on the ground in 2012, ran for only 51 yards on 24 carries on Thursday night. On the other side of the ball, Bowling Green ran for 233 yards and earned a total yardage tally of 396. That ball-control offense allowed the Falcons to control the ball for over 38 minutes and meant that Tulsa could only run 65 plays and earn just 12 first downs.
Five different BGSU rushers gained at least 25 yards, and that group was led by Greene, who tallied 88 yards on 22 carries. Johnson contributed 50 from the quarterback position, while Moore ran for 42 yards. In their college debuts, true freshmen Houston and Fred Coppet rushed for 29 and 27 yards, respectively. Houston also had those three touchdowns. Johnson had just 11 completions for 151 yards, but those completions went to seven different receivers. Gallon's three catches were the most by a Falcon receiver.
Tulsa's Watts was held to just 41 net rushing and receiving yards (8 rushing, 33 receiving), while their leading rusher, Ja'Terian Douglas, had just 22 yards on 12 carries. Keyarris Garrett led the Golden Hurricane receivers with five catches for 54 yards. Before he gave way in the fourth quarter, Green was 17-for-34 for 172 yards.
Bowling Green will have to get over this win pretty quickly. Their next game is a key intra-divisional matchup at Kent State on Saturday, Sept. 7th. One thing in their favor is that KSU's Dri Archer injured his ankle early last night against Liberty. If he cannot play, one would imagine that the game swings decidedly in favor of the Falcons.
Hustle Belt will have a complete game preview of the BGSU-KSU matchup early next week.