The Bowling Green Falcons beat the VMI Keydets 48-7 on Saturday afternoon in their home opener at Doyt Perry Stadium. The victory was welcome news for the Falcons who were dismantled in their season opener at Western Kentucky the week before, and then received the devastating news that starting quarterback Matt Johnson would be out the remainder of the season with a hip injury.
But what did we really learn about the Falcons in this game?
1. Bowling Green is a lot better than a low level FCS program.
VMI wasn't much of a test in this one. But don't get me wrong, it was just the medicine the Falcons needed after an incredibly rocky start to the season. Still, we didn't get many answers to the questions that have suddenly cropped up on both sides of the ball for the defending MAC champs. Yes, they box score says they did what they needed to do, but they won't face an opponent this weak again this year.
2. James Knapke, like the Falcon offense, is a work in progress.
Making his first career start, redshirt sophomore James Knapke was efficient if nothing else in this game. His stat line, 22 of 31 for 237 yards with a touchdown and interception, was respectable. He showed the ability to throw the deep ball on a 51-yard touchdown pass to freshman Roger Lewis in the fourth quarter. But, he also threw a bad looking interception as the result of some miscommunication with a receiver earlier in the game.
The coaching staff wisely helped Knapke out by establishing the running game early. The Falcons rushed for 260 yards in this one, led by Travis Greene's 129 yards and two touchdowns. It's clear the Falcons are still adjusting to new head coach Dino Babers' offense. Unfortunately, they won't have any more games like this one to further fine tune this offense. Big Ten foes Indiana and Wisconsin are next up on the schedule.
3. The Falcon defense is still a major concern.
Holding anyone to seven points is an accomplishment for a defense. But looking closer at this one you can still see that problems are lurking on defense for Bowling Green. The Keydets offense controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes in this game while running 90 offensive plays and racking up 24 first downs. The Falcons did a decent job against the run again this week but defending the pass is another story. Three different VMI quarterbacks threw for a combined 321 yards in the game. The Falcons will get a real test from the Hoosiers next week, who run the spread offense and throw the ball around. The Hoosiers beat the Falcons 42-10 last season when BG had the MAC's best defense.
4. Injuries continue to mount for the Falcons.
As if losing Johnson wasn't enough, the Falcons saw a defensive starter unable to go before the game, and then two others go down with injuries during the game. Senior defensive lineman Zach Colvin was rumored to be out for the season with an unknown medical condition earlier this week. However, Colvin was in sweats and on the field during pregame warm ups and was officially listed as a game time decision.
Colvin eventually did not dress for the game and his status for next week and beyond remains unclear. During the game, the Falcons lost star linebacker D.J. Lynch and defensive back Jude Adjei-Barimah to injuries. Neither player returned to the game after being injured and their status for the Indiana game is also uncertain. Both were seen on crutches on the sideline at the end of the game.
5. A couple of players to keep an eye on.
Freshman receiver Roger Lewis continues to impress. Lewis was the leading BG receiver for the second game in a row catching six passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Lewis was an Ohio State recruit until he ran into some legal issues and ended up at a prep school in 2013. He enrolled at BG this past January and participated in spring practice. He has immediately become a favorite target for Falcon quarterbacks. University of Tennessee transfer Malik Brown was ruled eligible immediately by the NCAA late last week and played in the VMI game. Brown was credited with two solo tackles and a pass break up in his first game action in almost two years. Brown will help offset the loss of Colvin and adds much needed depth to the defensive line.
Back-up quarterback Cody Callaway got some snaps late in the VMI game during garbage time. He was a perfect three for three passing and showed he has a big-time arm. A two sport star in high school, Callaway was drafted by the Cleveland Indians earlier this year and has the athletic ability to thrive in Babers' offense. In fact, he's probably a better fit than Knapke is. The plan was most likely to redshirt Callaway this year and let him learn by watching Johnson. Then, he'd have three years of eligibility left after Johnson had graduated in 2015. Obviously those plans have gone awry and it will be interesting to see if they keep the redshirt on Callaway this year or give him significant playing time.
The Falcons have the Big Ten opponents coming up next and the goals in those two games are simple. They must remain healthy and see improvement on both sides of the ball. Wins in these games are no longer the most important task at hand. Bowling Green should be more focused on steady improvement and defending their MAC title beginning at Massachusetts on September 27.