It been described as a tag-team caged, death match. Losers leave town, and the winners gets the big belt and all the ring girls they can manage. I am not talking about the Bowling Green Falcons versus the Western Michigan Broncos on Wednesday night. Well, actual we are in a roundabout way.
This battle is all about the best tag-team duo in a 2,500 word SMACk down as we preview the Falcons and Broncos in this nationally televised (ESPN2) #MACtion event.
In this corner wearing the brown and gold tights....use your imagination...weighing in at a combined 387 pounds...from parts unknown (Kalamazoo)...representing Western Michigan is Brandon Fitzsimons and Justin Coffin.
In the other corner we have wearing orange and white Yoga pants and trying to pass it off as wrestling gear...worse look than the tights...weighing in a combined 427 pounds (mostly Randy)...from the flattest, windiest place on earth...representing Bowling Green is Matt "The Dizzle" Daley and Randy "too old for this crap" Carpenter.
Gentlemen, no foreign objects in your tights (their all yours ladies), no gauging, no biting, no hair pulling, and when the referee says break, go to your respective corners.
Randy and Justin start for their respective teams. There is the bell and they move around the ring trying to get ahold of each other. And the old man makes the first move...
Randy: Brandon and Justin, first off, shame on you guys for what you did to poor Ball State on Thursday night on national TV. I know you guys just did that to try and send a message to Bowling Green about your offense. What's next? www.zachterrell4heisman.com?
Justin: Well, he does have about the same chance of winning as Matt Johnson. Not a bad idea!
Brandon: For the 2nd time in MAC play, the Broncos relied on two running backs not named Jarvion Franklin, and absolutely dominated. To be able to have such a solid stable of fresh backs is great. But now comes the test for the WMU secondary, who are coming off their best game of the year (8 pass break-ups), but have struggled to guard good receivers all year. That said, they have the speed to keep up with the likes of the Roger Lewis' and Ronnie Moore's BG has. Any concern going up against one of the best defenses the MAC West has to offer?
Randy: I don't know. We heard about these "good" MAC defenses BG was going to play in Akron and Kent State, and all they did was average 53.5 points in those two wins. I know those were east division teams and yes, I'll be curious if the west teams can slow this offense down. But, if Tennessee, Maryland, Memphis and Purdue couldn't do it, can we expect the Broncos, Toledo or Ball State to do it?
The bigger question for me is will the Falcon defense be able to keep the Broncos offense from going crazy? The Falcon defense has made some improvement the last six weeks but just wonder how much of that is attributed to the terrible offenses BG has played in the east?
The last time BG played a game against a team that could score with them, was week three against Memphis. `They could have won that game but didn't. They had the ball down a field goal with three minutes left in the game and the offense couldn't deliver. What would you expect Zach Terrell and the Broncos to do in a similar situation if they're down late against BG and need a game winning drive?
Brandon: I think we've seen this, more or less, against Central Michigan. With over 8 minutes to go, the Broncos got the ball and a two point lead. They then proceeded to burn off the rest of the clock against a Chippewa defense that is turning out to be pretty solid in their own right. The thing about Western Michigan is that they may not stop BG every time, but they have an offense to keep the Falcons off the field and the defense fresh. That's always a recipe for success.
As for game winner? When you have Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis to throw to, I don't doubt Terrell can deliver a win.
Justin: I would expect them to score. I think WMU has benefitted from a difficult non-conference schedule in this 5-0 run. I'm not sure there's anything BG can throw at the Broncos defensively that will cause any great degree of discomfort. You can point to the Georgia Southern debacle, sure, but the recent play from WMU has me thinking that had more to do with WMU than it did Georgia Southern. I don't think BG can replicate it.
The Akron and Kent blowouts have as much to do with those two school's offensive futility as their defense. A defense can only be on the field so much against this Falcon team before it breaks, and I think that's where WMU brings something new to the table: clock control. WMU will be the first team BG has faced this season that has both the philosophy and capability to eat large chunks of game time off the board while also managing to score a ton of points.
And back to the Terrell in late game situation thing. As Brandon said, he did lead an 8 minute clock killing drive to seal the win against CMU, a defense seemingly better than BGs at this point considering competition in MAC play. I have no reason to expect anything less from him on Wednesday.
Randy: So tell me about P.J. Fleck? As an outsider, I don't get him. All that rah-rah stuff and rowing of the boat would seem to get old with me quickly. I know we are talking about motivating 18-22 year old kids, but do the players buy into his shtick or are they winning in spite of it?
Brandon: I think they are buying into it. The team has really rallied and are following the Fleck-isms and it's obviously working since the Broncos have a competent run game and defense for the first time in ages. With Cubit, you got the "throw it and pray for a stop". With Fleck, you have a team with a lot of talent. The key will be for Fleck to actually get over the hump and win the West (as a start)
Justin: I don't know that Fleck is doing anything much differently than other programs, but his approach to making it public is what irks people. Nobody continually dogs Chris Creighton for what I think is a RIDICULOUS factory Mantra, but he doesn't win, so nobody cares.
I also think there's more to PJ than the rah-rah stuff. He's a teacher, and damn good at it. And I also think he understands football better than people give him credit for. Matt Campbell gets all the "respect" because he's quiet, but that doesn't mean he's somehow more knowledgeable because he's reserved. I think PJ doesn't take it all too seriously. He's having fun and so are the players, but I think they respect his football pedigree and ties to the NFL enough to know that it's still business.
Matt: For me, I want this to be an offensive show. Sure, I want BGSU to win, but I want Roger Lewis and Corey Davis to go nuts. Like, 500 yards receiving nuts. Maybe that's a bit high, but there's no question here that we're dealing with the best receivers in the MAC in this game. What do you guys think the ceiling is here?
Randy: The interesting thing for me is does either team leave something in the playbook in case these two meet in the MAC Championship Game in a few weeks? I personally think the egos of the coaches and players will come into play and they'll do everything to win this one. Especially the Broncos, since they need this game badly to even get to Detroit. But Babers is a different cat. I know he calls plays in the first half of a game just to set-up his play calling in the second half. A trick play could decide this game one way or another if it is high scoring. Memphis ran a flea flicker that beat BG in that game.
Brandon: If you look at WMU's playbook, there really isn't much to it. Run here, run there, bubble screen pass, and some slant/deep routes for Braverman and Davis. That's about it. Fleck even admitted it after the Ball State game. This offense is the same one you saw in 2013, just with better players and execution. I don't think Fleck hides anything he wouldn't already have. WMU could really use a win while the Falcons could clinch the East at Waldo if NIU downs Buffalo, but the fact remains that the Broncos really need to beat NIU and Toledo more than they need to beat BG (they control their own destiny if they sweep the West).
Justin: I agree that the WMU offense is largely the same. They have a philosophy that they are going to line up and execute, and there's nothing you can do about it. And lately that wager has been pretty favorable, but the idea that there won't be some extension of the playbook I disagree with. WMU had a distinct wrinkle with that shovel pass to Bogan (which shouldn't have worked) that I had never seen before, so there will be some wrinkles thrown in for this one, believe that. But yeah, WMU doesn't care if you've seen its stuff for a title game because A) they have to even get there first and B) things like Corey Davis being better than you at football has nothing to do with scheme. It's just going to happen
Matt: I believe that Bowling Green's offense is very similar in that aspect. There's very little deception to it, because there simply isn't need for them to get cute. They have so much talent at the skill positions that they can run their regular plays in any situation. The fun part for the Falcons is that they can run anything in virtually any situation. Even third down situations that would normally be pass-only aren't necessarily so for BGSU because of the talent level with both the wide receivers and running backs.
I also think that Babers really believes that he can run his offense against anyone without major adjustments. Some may call that confidence, others arrogance, but can anyone really argue that he doesn't think that way?
The great thing about this game is that you have two coaches who are unabashedly themselves, who are clearly "players" coaches and who are able to get the absolute most out of their guys.
I think these two teams are at the top of the heap of the MAC for a reason -- and it starts and ends with coaching.
Randy: I think these two teams are very evenly matched, at least on offense. Quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers are all pretty close talent wise. Western Michigan is a little more balanced as to run/pass, but I think Bowling Green is more explosive. The Broncos will try to put together long, extended drives to keep BG's offense off the field. Consequently, the Falcons will try and score as fast and as often as they can.
As for the defenses? I have no idea who'll show up. BG has played a bend-but-don't-break style in conference play, but not sure that will work against the Broncos. I don't have a read on Western Michigan's defense, but I am assuming the Falcons won't have trouble moving the ball and scoring points. The only questions is, will it be enough? That can be a lot of pressure for an offense. BG hasn't had to play from behind very often this season, and hardly ever as of late. If they have a few three-and-outs early and the Broncos get up by 10 or 14 points, I'll be interested in seeing how they react.
I was in The Doyt for last year's game and watch the Broncos handcuff the BG offense like no one else had done all year. But, that was with James Knapke at quarterback. And with all do respect to James, he's no Matt Johnson...at least not yet. Plus, there's this guy named Roger Lewis that's kind of been an impact player this year. Check him out if you get a chance!
The intangible for me in favor of Bowling Green is that they are a veteran team that has played in big games before. At least half of their offensive starters played in that 2013 MAC Championship Game against Northern Illinois. So they won't be in awe of the stage from here on out. I think the seniors especially have a quite resolve to finish better this year after losing their final four games to MAC west opponents before they headed to a bowl game. All the talk about BG not being able to hang with the west teams has been a rallying cry in the locker room, even though they won't admit to it.
Brandon: I can't speak to last year's game, but the secondary is really the only group that changed for the Broncos, and Lewis only finished with 2 catches for 11 yards in that game. What Western lacks in experience they make up for with intensity and talent. These are the games that Fleck sold these players on in the recruiting trail, and it's time for them to show what they are made of with a divisional championship very much within reach. Playing at home on Senior Night is a big motivator, and adding ESPN2 to the mix should only get these players more amped up. This Bronco team has a chance to take the MAC, and if you're a senior, you don't want to lose that chance at your last game in front of home fans.
Matt: Nobody can deny what Fleck has done in terms of recruiting or coaching his kids into big games like this, but Babers really isn't any different. And as an aside, isn't the brutal schedules for both teams down the stretch an interesting sub-plot to this game?
Bowling Green is just as built for games like this as WMU is, and the thing that sets the 2015 Falcons apart from last year's version is their ability to make several individual plays every game that allow the offense to build leads.
Babers believes in his offense. It really doesn't matter how many yards (or even how many points) his defense gives up. At the end of the day, if the defense and special teams make just one or two plays, that should be enough. I look for them to do that again this week.
Justin: Ironically enough I expect WMU to try and make BG one dimensional. You mentioned being able to run with talented backs for BG, but I think WMU will look to stifle BG on the ground and have an "our guys Vs your guys" type duel on the edges. Whoever wins that matchup wins this game, and I think WMUs team speed makes things uncomfortable for Matt Johnson and company, preventing them from finding their traditional rhythm.
Matt: I could see that, but typically the problem with that is this...
BGSU generally runs out of 3- and 4-WR sets with Greene or Coppet in shotgun with Johnson. This is effective because of depth BGSU has at WR. Defenses have a choice -- leave everyone in single coverage and devote that 7th guy to defend against the run, or double Lewis (or one of the other receivers) and try to stop the run with 6 guys. Usually, if you do the former, Lewis is talented enough to beat single coverage. If you do the latter, Greene and Coppet are good enough to win one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage as long as the line holds up.
Not saying that will be the case against WMU -- it's certainly possible the Broncos have the talent on defense to pull it off. But usually, when a team goes all-out to shut down one aspect of another team's offense, it's because that one aspect is significantly better than the other. That's definitely not the case with BG.
Justin: WMU went single coverage on Braxton Miller and Aaron Burbridge, so I'm expecting more of the same, honestly. Travis Greene is the sneaky key to this game. If he's hitting 8 yards per rush, gonna be a long night for WMU.
Thanks guys! The judges have call the match a draw...heavy boos from the crowd. This will have to be settled on the field Wednesday night. Or, we set-up the rematch and make a boat load of money in Detroit on December 4?
Motor City Rematch!