Bowling Green was decimated on Saturday evening at Ryan Field, 49-7. The Northwestern Wildcats, fresh off a 41-17 loss, roared back into their home stadium with a purpose. Pat Fitzgerald's team simply dominated the Falcons, who have struggled to even compete in their non-conference slate in the Mike Jinks era.
Here's what we learned, beginning with non-conference talk:
Bowling Green cannot start a season
Kickoff weekend in college football is a sight unlike any other. Teams train and focus on improving all spring in order to add to their previous year's win total. When players first step onto the field in a new season, they realize certain adjustments they have to make and what it takes to compete in games that count. Other teams just come out flat and fail to show signs of development.
Bowling Green unfortunately falls into this category. If the Falcons were 1-2, their record would be a lot more excusable. However, Bowling Green dropped a home game against a below-average FCS program in South Dakota 37-29. Instead of taking out frustration from that loss against Northwestern, the Falcons did not even show an ounce of competitiveness after the first quarter.
Bowling Green tied the game 7-7 on a 20-yard run by Josh Cleveland, capping off a nine-play, 81-yard possession. The response to Northwestern's initial touchdown was impressive, but the Falcons eventually surrendered 42 unanswered points to finish the game.
For the second-straight season, the Falcons' non-conference demons have not disappeared. Last season, the team lost 77-10 to Ohio State and 77-3 to Memphis. Additionally, they beat North Dakota of the FCS by one-point and lost to Middle Tennessee to open 1-3.
This year, Bowling Green lost to Michigan State 35-10, fell to South Dakota, and now are victims of a 49-7 pulverization by Northwestern. The Falcons will eventually find themselves. This team has talent to win a couple games down the road, but the failure to show up in the non-conference slate sets the program far back every year.
It's time to experiment with the depth chart
Sitting 0-3 with an improbable victory in Week 4 at Middle Tennessee (knocked off Syracuse in Week 2), Bowling Green should test out different options on the depth chart.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Jinks swapped out quarterback James Morgan for quarterback Jarret Doege. Jinks, a former Texas Tech coach, recruited Doege, the younger brother of former Red Raider quarterback Seth Doege.
In Jarret Doege's three possessions, Bowling Green did not score but the offense functioned and flowed steadily down the field. The team entered into the red zone twice during Doege's reign. One possession resulted in a turnover on downs, the other one ended the game.
Doege finished a decent 12-of-18, passing for 90 yards. He primarily threw screen passes, chipping at the defense slowly rather than attempting to take a giant swing at the rock. Jinks may start the freshman at Middle Tennessee, seeing if he is ready enough for the FBS stage and if his presence can spark the lifeless Bowling Green offense (8.5 points per game versus FBS teams).
The Law of Justin Jackson™ still applies
Earlier this week, I mentioned in the preview for this game that Northwestern's performance is directly correlated with Justin Jackson's yardage total. The Wildcats improved to 18-3 when their star running back surpasses the 100-yard mark, but are only 6-13 otherwise.
Jackson rushed for a career low seven carries and 18 yards in a loss to Duke on Week 2. He rebounded with 121 yards on 18 carries, providing the Wildcats with three rushing touchdowns.
Northwestern's passing offense was unusually perfect. Quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for a career-high 370 yards, tossing two touchdowns in the annihilation of Bowling Green. But Jackson remains the offense's most talented and reliable player. When he is able to make cuts and move upfield for large carries, the Northwestern offense functions at a completely different level.
Jackson's success against tough Big Ten defenses will likely be the determining factor in how the Wildcats fare in Big Ten conference play.
Joe Davidson should be near the top of the Ray Guy watch list
Bowling Green punts often, so the team might as well have an all-star punter.
That punter is former First Team All-MAC nominee Joseph Davidson. The 6-foot-7 senior punter booted the ball a career-high nine times against Northwestern since the offense remained turnover free for the most part. Davidson's 407 punting yards exceeded Bowling Green's 352 yards of total offense.
The punter landed four punts inside the 20, constantly pinning the Wildcats in favorable position for the Falcons' defense. Davidson has now punted 23 times this season, accumulating 648 yards via his leg.
Davidson has seen plenty of action on the field this season, but when Bowling Green is punting the ball to its opponent, at least Davidson is providing the defense with a major favor.
Bowling Green is a bottom four FBS team, possibly worst
Here are the four teams I believe are in contention for worst team in the nation and their losses:
Georgia State (0-2):
Tennessee State (FCS): 17-10
@ Penn State: 56-0
Bowling Green (0-3):
@ Michigan State: 35-10
South Dakota (FCS): 37-29
@ Northwestern: 49-7
Georgia Southern (0-2):
@ Auburn: 41-7
New Hampshire (FCS): 22-12
@ Eastern Michigan: 24-7
@ Kansas State: 55-7
North Carolina A&T (FCS): 35-31
All of these teams have eye-opening losses to FCS programs. Since conference play has yet to start, it is too early to tell who the worst team in the nation is, but Bowling Green résumé definitely suits the requirements for the nomination. There is still plenty of time to improve in 2017. Just ask Arkansas State — the Red Wolves began 2016 0-4 with an FCS loss but finished winning the Sun Belt Conference and a bowl game.