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What We Learned from Bowling Green’s 13-9 win over Western Michigan

Bowling Green won with field position and easy points right as WMU quarterback Treyson Bourguet was heating up.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Bowling Green is 4-1 in the MAC after beating Western Michigan 13-9 at home. The Falcons are tied for first place in the MAC East, but they don’t quite control their own destiny. Their loss is to Buffalo, who is also 4-1, and Bowling Green would need them to either lose another game or be eliminated via tiebreakers to make the MAC Championship game.

It’s truly a surprise that Bowling Green is in the MAC Championship conversation. It’s been a tough road for Scot Loeffler at Bowling Green after Mike Jinks left the program in rough shape. They’re here now, and unless they bottom out over their last three games and miss bowl season, this season has been a success.

Western Michigan is still searching for answers for the future. This season has been a test for the Broncos but they haven’t stopped fighting. There is still a chance at a bowl game, although it’s slim. The defense has turned a corner and held their opponents to 23 points combined in their last two games.

This game was remarkably even and finding the things that separated the two teams came down to individual plays. Advanced metrics gave the game to Western Michigan, but Bowling Green earned the win on the field.

Bowling Green converts field position into points

The Falcons and Broncos were practically even in just about every stat category. First downs were split 15 to 16, there were less than 30 yards different in total yardage, one yard separated their rushing totals and Bowling Green had the ball for 30:10 of game clock.

The Broncos had four rushes for over ten yards and five passes for over 15-yards. Bowling Green had four runs go for more than ten yards and four passes for longer than 15-yards. The one more big pass for the Broncos is a 39-yard touchdown pass to Corey Crooms for the Broncos’ only touchdown.

Western Michigan held a slight advantage in third down conversions, 40 percent to 29 percent, but converted in unusual ways. The Broncos were 6-of-15 on third down and the Falcons were 4-of-15

When third downs are separated into four buckets by yards to go, the divisions start to show up. The Broncos had a longer average third down attempt by 1.5-yards and it’s obvious why in the chart. The Broncos did not do a good job on first and second down and faced ten third downs between seven and fourteen yards. The wild part is they converted six of them.

Bowling Green was better on early downs and did a better job of converting their third and short to third and mediums into first downs. That result is more typical.

The buckets were set up by play type needed to convert and admittedly, somewhat arbitrarily. Fewer than two yards to go means the offense can run the ball to convert. Three to six yards to go, that becomes less likely but either a run or an intermediate pass gets the job done. Seven to fourteen yards to go is when the ball needs to be pushed downfield and longer than that needs an explosive play.

The Broncos going 0-of-4 on attempts with fewer than six yards to go is indicative of the state of the offensive line. Western does not shy away from power running in short-yardage situations but in this game, and all season, it wasn’t there for them.

Western held an advantage in yards per play, 5.1 to 4.4. Not a huge advantage but any advantage in yards per play tips the scales in the advanced metrics calculators. Bowling Green nullified that small advantage by creating a massive advantage in average starting field position.

The Broncos started at their own 25 on average, which isn’t bad. It’s not good either, but Bowling Green started on their own 39-yard line. They scored their only touchdown when Ta’ron Keith returned the second-half kickoff to the WMU 16. The Falcons kicked their first field goal after an interception put the ball at the WMU 25, and the last field goal was the result of a 70-yard drive.

The Falcons’ only other long drive ended with an incredible goal-line fumble created by the WMU defense that saved the game for them. Without that advantage, the Falcons probably don’t win this game.

As long as we’re in this fantasy land of what could have happened in this game, this game probably deserved overtime. If the Broncos get the extra point snap down after their touchdown, the final play is probably the Broncos kicking a field goal to tie the game at 13. As it was, the Broncos were forced to attempt a long fourth-down conversion and failed.

Treyson Bourguet keeps his starting job

Western Michigan gave quarterback Treyson Bourguet the second start of his college career and might have done enough in this game to keep the job for the remainder of the season. Whether it was halftime adjustments or Bourguet getting comfortable at game speed, the second-half offense was legitimately good for the first time in a while.

The Broncos had five drives in the second half and moved the ball on four of them. They had drives of 52-yards, 65-yards, 6-yards, 61-yards and 68-yards. They moved the ball a total of 71-yards in the first half.

A large portion of that was the quarterback Bourguet. After a terrible three completions on seven attempts in the first half, he went 13-of-20 in the second half. He was able to get the ball to Corey Crooms in space multiple times, including a 39-yard touchdown pass which was Bourguet’s first of his career.

The WMU defense plays extremely well despite results

The best example is the fumble that safety Delano Ware punched at the goal line.

If Ware was a step later Bowling Green scores a touchdown and stretches the lead to 20-6. The way the defenses were playing in this game, a 14-point deficit would’ve been the equivalent of 30.

The front seven for the Broncos kept Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald uncomfortable with four total sacks and limited his ability to get the ball downfield. His completion percentage was high at 74 percent, but he only averaged 5.2 yards per pass. If the number is sack adjusted, as it should be, that number drops to 4.7.

Credit to the Bronco defense. The season hasn’t been an easy one for them, but two weeks in a row they’ve played winning football.

The running game is stuck in the sand

The running backs for Western Michigan don’t get caught in the backfield often, but they don’t gain yardage consistently either. Running back Sean Tyler was held to fewer than four yards per rush, and the only player that was better was the quarterback. He only had one designed run called.

Their median run was 2.5 yards, which illustrates that when they don’t bust an 18-yard run, they simply are not making consistent gains.

The Broncos could not get a tough yard when they needed it, either. They ran the ball three times on either third-and-one or fourth-and-one situations. None of them were converted into first downs. Bowling Green has a bigger defensive front than most in the MAC, but the Broncos should be able to get a yard when they need it.

Bowling Green’s defense sets their offense up for success

For three consecutive weeks, the Falcon defense has kept their opponent under 20 points. Against Miami and Western Michigan the defense was so good they won the game while the offense was struggling. The offense scored 17 points against Miami and 13 points against WMU and they won both games.

Bowling Green has been getting top 40 field position in the nation and that can be from many things, but in this game, the defense did not allow WMU to move the ball and flip the field.

The defense will be tested in the coming weeks. If the dream for the MAC East is going to live on, the Falcons will need to limit some of the best offenses in the MAC. Kent State, Toledo and Ohio all move the ball and put up points. The order sets up an interesting gradient. Kent State is running the ball very well and might struggle to throw the ball despite good receivers. Toledo is balanced with Dequan Finn at the quarterback spot, and Ohio has another Rourke leading the offense. They’re the only team averaging over eight yards per pass.

Get to know Ta’ron Keith

Running backs in the MAC are for the most part just that. They run. Ta’ron Keith does it all for Bowling Green.

Jaison Patterson gets most of the carries but Keith leads all running backs in passes caught. About a third of his touches are receptions out of the backfield and he’s averaging over eight yards per catch. He’s good for more than four yards per rush as well.

Only Toledo’s Jacquez Stuart and Central Michigan’s Marion Lukes are running backs that are used as much as he is and is more productive.

Keith also returns kicks and averaged a cool 51-yards per return before WMU stopped kicking to him. He’s only a sophomore and has two seasons left to showcase his athleticism. He might not ever lead the MAC in rushing or receiving, but he’ll be a weapon that touches the ball 20+ times a game and racks up 150 yards on a regular basis.

Special teams made the Falcons strong in two phases

The kick return team routinely set the Falcons up with good field position. Keith ran a kick back to the 17-yard line that directly lead to the only BGSU touchdown.

The field goal unit was perfect and converted two short field goal attempts into six important points.

The punt team averaged 46-yards per punt and stuck the Broncos inside their own 20-yard line twice. The Broncos and their offense are going to struggle to turn 80+ yard fields into points, and that’s exactly how the game played out.

The long fields gave the Broncos problems and the short fields made it easy to put points on the board for Bowling Green. When the Falcons are strong in two phases of the game, they can cover for the third and are going to be tough to beat.