OK, we've all had a few days now to digest and compute just exactly what happened in Bowling Green, Kentucky on Friday night. It's starting to make sense now, right? Well, not exactly!
The Bowling Green Falcons led the Mid-American Conference the last two years in almost every defensive category: scoring defense, total defense, rush defense and pass defense. This year, the Falcons returned a nice nucleus (six) of defensive starters from a unit that spearheaded a run to their first MAC championship in 22 years.
So how do you explain the Falcons inability to even remotely slow down the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers' offense in the opener in front of a national TV audience? The numbers the Hilltoppers amassed against the Falcon defense were simply astounding. 59 points scored, 702 yards total offense, 569 yards passing, 40 first downs, six passing touchdowns, 78 percent on third down conversions. Now that's a bad day for any defense even if Hilltopper senior quarterback Brandon Doughty goes on to win the Heisman Trophy and first year head coach Jeff Brohm becomes the second coming of Sid Gillman (look that one up kids).
In his postgame remarks, Falcon head coach Dino Babers admitted the first game of the season is always a crapshoot when it comes to a team's tackling since it's so hard to replicate game speed in practice. There is probably some truth to that, but that was hardly the only problem the Falcons had in the opener. When your leading tackler (Brian Sutton) in a game is a defensive back, that's not good news, especially when he has to make 18 of them.
There are several factors that contributed to the Falcons defensive performance on Friday night:
1. Defensive Scheme - The Falcons seemed to be on their heels from the very beginning, adjusting to more of a zone approach instead of the attacking, man-to-man coverage played last year. Babers and new defensive coordinator Kim McCloud failed to mix in any blitz packages to try and put pressure on the quarterback in the opener. It will be interesting to see if that changes in upcoming games.
2. Mike Elko - Last year's defensive coordinator followed former Falcon head coach Dave Clawson to Wake Forest this season and holds the same position with the Demon Deacons. Elko spent the past five years as the Falcons defensive coordinator and was the architect of the MAC's best defense the last two years. It appears he is missed.
3. Senior Leadership - Even though the Falcons brought back six starters on defense this year they lost valuable senior leadership with those that graduated. Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates, Paul Swan, Cameron Truss, Aaron Foster, Jarius Campbell, Ronnie Goble and Ted Ouellet are all guys that played a lot of football for the Falcons the last few years and left big shoes to fill. It's apparent the Falcons are still searching for players to step into those roles on this year's defense.
If the 2014 Falcons are to defend their MAC championship this year, they are going to have to figure out how to shore up its defense in a hurry! They have three more out-of conference games before they hit the MAC portion of their schedule. Progress won't necessarily be measured in terms of wins and losses, but rather how the defense plays. Stay tuned!