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What We Learned: Takeaways from BGSU’s 38-6 loss to Tennessee

Is it possible for a 38-6 loss to be a step in the right direction?

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, the Bowling Green Falcons kicked off their season with a 38-6 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium.

In the collegiate spirit, here are five things we learned from the proceedings:

Bowling Green is not in the SEC

Shocking, I know, but even the obvious things still deserve to be said, and simply put: Bowling Green was clearly overmatched on Thursday night.

They struggled to stop the run to the tune of 349 yards, four rushing touchdowns and an average of 5.1 yards per carry. They also couldn’t run against a large Tennessee line, finishing with 60 yards and a 1.4 yards per carry average, with 28 yards lost on the ground alone.

BGSU had their moments, but it felt as if they would have to play a perfect game with a few miracle plays mixed in to have a chance on the road against an SEC team.

The good thing is that Bowling Green won’t be playing an SEC team again. The game at Minnesota in a few weeks will be a similar challenge, but other than that game, the Falcons will be closer to equal footing of their opponents moving forward and a performance similar to the one at Neyland Stadium likely nets them a few wins in the MAC this year, which would be a step in the right direction.

So don’t judge these Falcons on the end result in Knoxville.

Moral victories are a thing, and BGSU will take them when they come

It won’t show up in the standings and the league office won’t give it a “Fly the Flag” video, but give the Falcons a perfect record in the moral wins and loses column.

I know that Falcon fans are tired of losing. They want to see wins on the plains of Northwest Ohio and that’s understandable, especially after they didn’t see any victories last year, but this is the nation’s youngest team, who has had transfers and defections galore in the offseason. They also had limited practices last fall, and have had tumultuous levels of staff turnover over the last two years.

For a team to overcome these challenges and cover the spread on the road against an SEC team is impressive and builds momentum moving forward. Making some plays and being down just one score at the half is as close as a victory that could have been expected of these young Falcons week one.

BGSU looked like they were going to be blown out in the first quarter, and they came back to win the second quarter.

That should be considered a win for the Falcons (they managed to cover the spread!), and they need all of the wins they can get this year.

Matt McDonald looks better

Matt McDonald started over JT Daniels in high school. He redshirted in 2017 at Boston College and saw limited action in 2018 with the Eagles before sitting out the 2019 at the urging of the NCAA following his transfer.

Then came 2020, his first real shot to play consistently since 2016 in high school. Let’s go through that timeline real fast.

  • March brought about a pandemic which limited his practice reps coming off a long transfer wait.
  • The season was canceled as result in the aftermath, effectively taking away months of camps— then was re-instated, throwing players right back into the fire.
  • McDonald, already struggling as is, was injured just three starts into the abbreviated season, gutting through what turned out to be a shoulder injury which required offseason surgery.
  • After surgery, McDonald missed spring ball, and most of the summer camps before finally recovering in time to prep for an SEC opponent.

On Thursday, his stat line of 25-of-38 (good for a 65.8 completion percent), and 187 yards looks modest, but is a tremendous improvement from what we saw last season. (Does anyone remember the 9-of-20, 1 TD, 3 INT campaign against Ohio?) Keep in mind that this came against an SEC defense and with a struggling offensive line in front of him, which resulted in two sacks and numerous other pressures.

Beyond the box score, it seemed that last season at times his throwing motion looked painful. It looked inconsistent, and it didn’t look clean. While there were a few plays on Thursday where you would see his mechanics drift and a few bad passes as a result, he looked much more fluid than a year ago.

With continued health and consistent playing time, don’t be surprised if McDonald doesn’t end up being closer to the passing prospect that started over a future NFL 1st round selection in high school.

Darren Anders and Nate Needham are pushing for first team all-MAC

It wasn’t a banner night for the Falcon defensive unit, but Darren Anders had himself a day.

The junior linebacker from North Olmsted, Ohio, led the Falcons with 55 tackles last fall. On Thursday night, he picked up where he left off.

He had 14 total tackles, including a tackle-for-loss, one sack and a forced fumble (which he also recovered.) Had you put him in the other shade of orange on the other sideline, the one filled with four and five-star SEC caliber recruits, he would have fit right in.

We don’t often mention kickers except for the wrong reasons, but Nate Needham was impressive.

The senior from Chesterton, Indiana, accounted for all of BG’s scoring output, as he connected from 42 yards and again 50 yards in the second quarter. When he made those kicks in the second quarter, it shifted the momentum to BGSU and they pulled within one score of the Volunteers at the half.

Neither player received much love this preseason, but each have quickly flashed the type of ability where they could be all-conference this fall.

Austin Osborne is desperately needed

Bowling Green lost their top four receivers from last fall and six of their top eight.

In comes Austin Osborne, a transfer from Washington, where he had one reception in only five games played across three seasons.

Oftentimes, Power Five players transferring down to the MAC produces more misses than hits, but Osborne looks like a hit thus far. I suspected he would add depth but after one week, he looks like a potential impact player.

He played with Matt McDonald in high school at the famed California HS football powerhouse Mission Viejo, and you could see that chemistry on Thursday. He had a team leading eight receptions for 46 yards.

The former high school sprinter has the size at six-foot-two to emerge as a playmaker in the MAC and provide BGSU with a badly needed injection of instant offense.