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2021 MAC Football Positional Previews: Bowling Green skill positions

Young Falcons look to replace many of their top offensive talents.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Bowling Green at Akron Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If we’re being perfectly candid in our assessment of the 2021 BGSU Falcons, I could probably copy and paste much of my piece about the Bowling Green State offensive line into this one.

“A young unit loses several players to graduation and transfer while entering 2021 even younger than the year before. Their two deep is expected to be mostly true or redshirt (COVID) freshmen.”

Sounds familiar, right? Well, there’s a good reason for that.

As said before, the Falcons struggled a year ago on offense, never topping the 30-point mark, and having three games of ten points or less. After the season, the transfer portal and graduations were unkind to the Falcon stable of offensive skill players. It was a classic case of a team in transition, as the roster is still in the depths of damage control from the Mike Jinks era,and trying to infuse as much new energy and bodies as they can into the mix to try and change the culture and expectations surrounding the boys in Doyt Perry Stadium.

Let’s start at quarterback where the Falcons have a returner with Matt McDonald returning. McDonald, now a Junior followed head coach Scot Loeffler from Boston College and after sitting out a year took over the offense a season ago with mixed results.

He started five games, playing through injury all the way. McDonald was so banged up that some weeks he was unable to practice before the games. It showed, as he finished last in the FBS in pass efficiency in 2020, completing just 44 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown and six interceptions. McDonald missed the spring camps following surgery, but should be ready for this fall to compete for the starting job.

The picture behind McDonald is currently proving murky as well, with second year freshman Tucker Melton and Syracuse transfer Drew Gunther also missing the spring with injury. Local product Riley Keller, a Whitmer [OH] HS product, could be the future of the position and is joined by LaBronz Davis and Kody Sparks on the depth chart.

After McDonald, Davis was the only other Falcon to attempt a pass, finishing 0-2 with a pick.

At running back, BGSU must find replacements for the departed former all-MAC selection Andrew Clair, who departed for Northwestern in the offseason, and Bryson Denley, who graduated out of the program.

Clair never reached his full potential on the plains of Bowling Green, through coaching changes, injuries, inexperienced supporting casts, and personal tragedy. Clair ran for 725 yards in 2017, 702 in 2018, just 244 in an injury-shortened 2019 season, and had 266 on 52 carries in 2020’s six-game campaign. While that may not sound like much, that’s good for a 5.1 yards-per carry average. Clair was a two-time all-MAC third team selection, even despite his limited appearances, showing that those in the know appreciated his talent.

Bryson Denley might have been overshadowed by Clair during his time in the Orange and Brown, but his departure still leaves a big hole. He was a third team all-MAC kick returner in 2020 and led the Falcons in all-purpose yards and was their leading rusher in 2019.

As of press time, Trevon Raymore is expected to miss the season with injury, which leaves the Falcons wanting in the running back department (as with most positions.)

One bright spot is Terion Stewart, the five-foot-eight back who emerged to be a key contributor as a freshman in 2020. The Sandusky product led the Falcons with 295 yards and four touchdowns on an 8.0 yards per carry average last year. He broke out in the fourth quarter against Kent State with 14 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

Early enrollee Jaison Patterson will look to build off of a strong spring while Taron Keith, another second freshman, had four carries for 17 yards at Ohio. Pasean Wimberly has speed but was previously on the defensive side of the ball.

Nick Mosley and Jamal Johnson are other true freshman coming into the program at this position.

At receiver, the Falcons must replace Julian Ortega-Jones, who took his 14 catches for 160 yards to Texas State, and Noah Massey, who is now at Angelo State after six catches for 121 yards last season. They were the Falcons’ second and third leading receivers respectively in the 2020 campaign.

Redshirt freshman Tyrone Broden is a returning starter after starting all five games a year ago with six catches for 97 yards. Austin Osborne transfers in from Washington to add experience. He notched one reception across three seasons for the Huskies, but does have playing experience with Matt McDonald at Mission Viejo [CA] HS.

Javonte Kinsley played in all five games as a true freshman and had two catches for 28 yards with a touchdown. Another second-year freshman, Jhaylin Embry, a running back in 2020, is listed as a receiver going into fall camps. He picked up the start at running back against Kent State last season and gained 50 yards in six carries on the season.

Redshirt junior Cavon Croom adds experience after appearing in the final three games a year ago. Jake Rogers slots in as the team’s main return man, but could see an increased role on offense. Nic Kilbride also saw action a season ago.

At tight end, BGSU must replace Quintin Morris, who was selected for the Senior Bowl and has since signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent. Morris, a hybrid tight end and receiver, was first team all-MAC in 2020 and second team all-MAC after 2019. He led the Falcons in receiving with 20 catches for 248 yards. He was also their leading receiver in 2019.

Needless to say, it’ll be a tough time replacing him in 2021.

Christian Sims, a six-foot-four sophomore from Georgia, will likely be the next man up, as he’s the current returnee with the most experience, picking up one start in five games.

Defensive lineman Andrew Bench was moved to the tight end position in the spring after starting two games along the defensive line a year ago. As of this spring, he was expected to push for time at the position. Incoming transfer Tommy Guarjado joins the room from Michigan State via the portal. He was once a three-star recruit for the Spartans.

Levi Gazarek, a true freshman a year ago, choosing BGSU over Big Ten schools Maryland and Michigan State to push for time as a starter. Griffin Little, a second-year freshman, has solid size at six-foot-four and 236 lbs. Jaedyn McKinstry, Zach Russell, and Bryce Boyer appear on the roster as well to provide depth.

Offensive position coaches include Terry Malone as offensive coordinator and the coach of the running backs, Erik Campbell as the passing game coordinator and receivers coach, Greg Nosal as the tight ends coach and Max Warner coaching the quarterbacks.

Most any MAC team would be hurting after losing their top three receivers, much less two of their top three rushers (three of their top four counting Raymore.) This makes the positons coaching very important heading into this season, as Loeffler’s staff will finally have a chance to build players to fit their systems.

BGSU’s skill position groups are a year or two away, without a doubt. Of the current players, Terion Stewart has the best chance of making an all-MAC roster at season’s end, while Matt McDonald will have the most to prove in a season where he should be fully healthy.

Perhaps no program in conference has had their rebuild disrupted like that of BGSU. Coach Loeffler had the approach of building from the ground up while weeding out those who didn’t want to call BGSU home. This resulted in a young roster (the youngest in the FBS to be clear), and a group severely needing all the game and uninterrupted practice reps that they could get. COVID and the 2020 season didn’t allow that, which carried over to spring ball with contact tracing problems.

In 2021, growth and development will be the key for the Falcons, and that will be vital for any of their position groups to succeed moving forward.