The start of college football season is always a great time of the year. All teams are even and optimism abounds. But on that Sunday morning of opening weekend, roughly half of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams wake up with at least some of that optimism wavering.
At the start of year-two of the Mike Jinks era, Falcon fans were looking for one thing…improvement. The jury is definitely out on whether that improvement was realized.
Here are five observations I had from watching yesterday’s Falcons and Spartans contest.
Beating Akron, Kent State and Buffalo is One Thing
The Falcons closed a disappointing 2016 season with three consecutive victories over teams from the bottom of the MAC East Division. That created some modest expectations in Bowling Green this past off-season that the Falcons would be an improved team this fall.
After Saturday’s lack luster performance in East Lansing against a program struggling to steady the ship in Michigan State, the Falcon faithful must be wondering if this is an improved team? The product on the field yesterday looked a lot like what they saw most of last year: an offense struggling to make first downs let alone score points, and a defense surrendering total yards by the bunches.
Make no mistake, the Spartans were ripe for the picking yesterday. They tried everything to hand Bowling Green the lead and the momentum in the first half, but the Falcons wouldn’t take it. One could envision that if the Spartans had been playing the BG team that won the MAC two years ago, the outcome would have been different.
This current Falcon team could be staring at an 0-4 start with upcoming games at Middle Tennessee State and Northwestern, and a home opener against FCS division South Dakota. The Coyotes but up 77 points yesterday in a win against Drake.
The Falcons might be longing soon for another MAC East opponent to come calling on the schedule.
QB James Morgan is Still a Work in Progress
At six-foot-four with a big time-arm, Falcon fans are hoping that quarterback James Morgan would be able to pick up where former All-MAC QB Matt Johnson left off. Morgan had a decent red-shirt freshman year last season, throwing for 2,082 yards and 16 touchdowns in eight games started. He also threw 15 interceptions and the Falcon coaches chalked those up to mostly inexperience.
Yesterday against the Spartans, Morgan didn’t appear to have made any progress. He overthrew a lot of his receivers on deep balls, and threw behind many of his receivers on the short and mid-range stuff. He finished just 10-of-31 for 145 yards and an interception.
To be fair, having to play your first game of the year on the road at a Power 5 school like Michigan State, is a tough assignment. But Morgan never appeared comfortable in the pocket and the term “happy feet” came to mind several times. We listed Morgan listed as the 22nd best player in the MAC in its recent rankings due to his potential, especially in this offense, but it will be interesting to watch his development given his performance Saturday.
Falcon Defense Might be Improved
It’s hard to say a defense has improved when it just gave up 465 yards of total offense and 35 points to a team trotting out a new quarterback. But, there were enough bright spots on that side of the ball yesterday for Bowling Green to have some hope.
The Falcon offense certainly didn’t help their defense in this one. The Spartans had the ball for a whopping 31+ minutes in this game. Far too many times the Falcon offense went out quickly, putting the defense back out on the field with little rest.
The defense held tough the first half, before wearing down in the second half. The Falcons got a big turnover on the game’s first drive when they forced a Spartan fumble on the goal line. They also got a fumble recovery and return for a touchdown in the second half and ended up outscoring their offensive counterparts, 7-3 in the game.
This defense will continue to get tested during a tough non-conference schedule before hitting MAC play.
Offense Under Jinks Still Undefined
The thing that has defined the short Mike Jinks era in Bowling Green has been an inconsistent offense. Jinks came in as a product of the Texas Tech “Air Raid” system. His offense was supposed to have his team throwing the ball all around.
A 1-8 start last year had Jinks reconsidering his offensive strategy. He realized he didn’t have the talent yet to run that kind of offense. He switched to a run-game based offense at the end of the season and it produced three straight wins.
Yesterday against Michigan State, Jinks again tried a run-first approach. It didn’t work as the Spartans stuffed the Falcons runners. That forced Morgan and his receivers to make plays to move the chains. That also didn’t happen.
So where does this leave Jinks and his offense? More and more teams will load up to stop the run and force the Falcons to throw the ball. So far, Morgan and his receivers haven’t been able to execute.
Bowling Green was patient and gave former head coach Dave Clawson five years to build his program and it resulted in a MAC Championship in 2013. By all accounts, Jinks has done a great job recruiting the last two years, considering the amount of talent he’s lost since taking over the job, whether to transfer, graduation or to the pros. It may be a bit longer before we see the real “Air Raid” offense in Bowling Green.
Falcons Really Need an All-American Punter
Joe Davidson is one of the best punters in all of college football. He’ll get plenty of chances to prove that statement if the Falcon offense continues to sputter.
Davidson punted eight times yesterday at Michigan State for a 46.1 average. He had two kicks of over 50 yards, including a long of 64 yards. He downed three punts inside the 20-yard line and his average would have been even better had it not been for a 37-yarder on his first punt of the day. Hey, even Ray Guy Award nominees can get off a dud every now and then.
Davidson might be the Falcons best offensive and defensive weapon right now.