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Our way-too-nerdy-and-in-depth look at 2009 opponents continues with a preview of Opponent #2, Bowling Green. What can we expect from a team that beat Pittsburgh but lost to horrendous Eastern Michigan and Miami-OH squads?
Record: 6-6 (4-4)
Scoring Margin: 332-278 (+54)
Conference Scoring Margin: 236-183 (+53)
Wins (S&P+ Ranking in parentheses): @ Pittsburgh (#22), @ Akron (#75), @ Ohio (#89), @ Toledo (#102), Kent State (#107), @ Wyoming (#115)
Losses: @ Boise State (#7), Minnesota (#63), Buffalo (#81), @ Northern Illinois (#100), Eastern Michigan (#109), Miami-OH (#116)
Bowling Green found themselves with an interesting dilemma last year. Following the ridiculous level of success seen by Urban Meyer, Gregg Brandon had at least done some decent treading of water at BGSU. He had been to three bowls in six years and experienced only one losing season in his time there, but their only bowl trip since 2004 had resulted in a 63-7 loss to Tulsa, and a season-opening win against Pittsburgh was followed by a series of disappointing losses to three teams ranked 100th or below in the S&P+ rankings. So Brandon was let go. Heading into 2009, the Falcons return a veteran squad...but not that is particularly distinguished in any way outside of the quarterback position. My projections give them a good chance of winning their division, but we'll see if they can actually challenge anybody from outside the conference.
Head Coach: Dave Clawson
Record at Bowling Green: 0-0 (First Year)
Career Record: 58-49 (29-29 at Fordham, 29-20 at Richmond)
Richmond won the FCS national title in 2008, almost competely with players recruited and developed by Dave Clawson. After a 3-8 opening campaign in Richmond, Clawson managed a 26-12 record from 2006-08, winning an FCS tourney game in 2005 and two in 2007. After a five-year stint at Fordham that saw him lift the Rams from 0-11 in his first year to 19 wins and a tourney appearance in 2002-03, Clawson had clearly developed the reputation of a strong coach and program builder.
And then he went to Knoxville.
After just one year as Phil Fulmer's offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Clawson's coaching reputation--to outsiders, at least--has been dinged. The Vols' offense was, uhh, not good in 2008. Granted, their #80 ranking in Close S&P+ wasn't quite as bad raw yardage numbers, but still...UT's defense kept them in games, and the offense consistently kept them out of them. How much of that was the falling level of talent on the field, and how much of that was the coaching? Clearly, it's hard to tell just yet, but it was not a fun move to FBS for Coach Clawson last year, and he's got some skeptics now. Really, my main question is, with such a highly successful track record at the head coach level, why did he go for an OC job instead of a head coaching job at a MAC-level school all along? I guess you don't turn down an OC job at an SEC school if offered, but still.
Regardless, he's been a good head coach in the past, and at a MAC school--albeit not the most patient one--he should be able to patiently build a program like he did at Fordham and Richmond.
S&P+*: 100.26 (#64)
Standard Downs** S&P+: 99.08 (#68)
Redzone S&P+: 116.64 (#23)
Q1 S&P+: 95.16 (#77)
1st Down S&P+: 88.67 (#96)
Rushing S&P+: 99.78 (#70)
Standard Downs: 99.60 (#78)
Redzone: 114.38 (#34)
Line Yards+: 93.74 (#87)
Passing S&P+: 98.27 (#69)
Standard Downs: 95.61 (#76)
Redzone: 113.60 (#39)
Adj. Sack Rate***: 5.4% (#48)
* The general S&P+ stat used is really the "Close-Game S&P+" stat you know and love. The definition of "close game" has been expanded (Close game = within 24 points in Q1, 21 in Q2, and 16 or less, i.e. two possessions, in the second half). So what that means is that junk time yards/points are not included in these numbers, nor should they be.
** "Standard Downs" = what used to be "Non-Passing Downs". Passing Downs are defined as follows: Second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, fourth-and-5 or more. Anything less than that—any first down, second-and-7 or less, third-and-4 or less, fourth-and-4 or less—are considered Standard Downs because running and passing are more-or-less equal options.
*** Adjusted Sack Rate is a new creation. It simply looks at the average of the Standard Downs and Passing Downs sack rates. As you'll see, combined with Line Yards+, this will give you a pretty good read of O-line performance.
At the macro level, BGSU's offense was pretty consistently mediocre in 2008, ranking between #50 and #70 in most broad stats, but as you break things down, you start getting a better picture. Without a go-to rusher or receiver, QB Tyler Sheehan was able to generate a lot of success (too much? unduplicable?) on Passing Downs--particularly, apparently, with draw plays--and the Falcons also benefitted from being pretty much automatic in the red zone.
Because of this, despite a glaring lack of success on first downs, they possibly generated a few more points than they probably should have on average (27.7 PPG with a mediocre to below-average offense was probably a bit much). This year they have to handle a decent amount of turnover--seven starters do return, but only 16 lettermen total, meaning they don't have much beyond the returning starters--and a new coaching staff.
2008 Unit Ranking: #57 in the nation (#5 in the MAC)
Projected Depth Chart
Tyler Sheehan (6'4, 227, Sr.)
Andrew Beam (6'4, 230, Sr.)
Bart Tanski (6'1, 190, RSFr.)
In two full years as starting Falcon quarterback, Sheehan, a good-sized player who should get at least a few NFL looks next spring, has generated back-to-back seasons with a 60%+ completion rate, a 130+ QB rating, and at least 20 touchdown passes. This is particularly impressive considering he had no big-play talent to work with last year, and an iffy O-line protecting him. He had four receivers who caught at least 25 passes, and none of them averaged even ten yards per catch. It was a ball control passing attack in 2008, and Sheehan thrived. There doesn't appear to be a lot of new blood in the receiving corps for 2009, so expect the same short, precision attack from him. He is certainly a solid talent, probably the best the Falcons have on the offensive side of the ball.
2008 Unit Ranking: #60 in the nation (#6 in the MAC)
Despite the loss of leading rusher Anthony Turner, there's quite a bit of experience here. Willie Geter only got 45 carries in eight games last year but clearly showed the most potential, managing 6.7 yards per carry in those carries. Turner (400 yards, 4.5 per carry) was far from a dominant force in 2008, so Geter, Chris Bullock (384 yards, 4.2 per carry), and Eric Ransom, who showed promise before tearing his ACL last year, should be able to improve on last year's thoroughly average rushing attack.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
2008 Unit Ranking: #92 in the nation (#10 in the MAC)
Sheehan loses four of his top six targets from 2008, but...again, this unit was iffy at best, ranking 10th in the MAC. Freddie Barnes will likely start the season as the go-to option, but he only averaged 8.9 yards per catch last year after averaging a more respectable 11.7 in 2007. It's likely that any big play BGSU generates in the passing attack will come from a short pass that is broken big (unless Clawson makes a concerted effort to go deep more), so the onus will be on the Mizzou secondary to simply tackle and communicate well and make the Falcons consistently drive the length of the field without making mistakes.
2008 Unit Ranking: #70 in the nation (#9 in the MAC)
Projected Depth Chart
G Shane Steffy (6'3, 290, Sr.)
C Ben Bojicic (6'5, 292, So.)
T Brady Minturn (6'4, 290, Sr.)
T Tyler Donahue (6'6, 292, Jr.)
G Timothy German (6'5, 300, RSFr.)
G Scott Albert (6'7, 292, Sr.)
T Casey McHugh (6'5, 279, Jr.)
G Chip Robinson (6'6, 340, RSFr.)
C Marc Stevens (6'5, 300, RSFr.)
T Blaec Walker (6'5, 315, RSFr.)
We have no idea what kind of confidence the Mizzou defensive line will have after the Illinois game, but they should be able to do well against the Falcon front five. As you see, aside from maybe the WR position, the BGSU offense has good size across the board, and the O-line is no different...at least, not really. They average about 6'4, 293 pounds, which clearly isn't OU-sized or anything, but it's not 270 either. If a couple of the redshirt freshmen step up, this unit could be better than it was last year, but we'll see. Either way, Mizzou should see a decent amount of success in getting Sheehan and the RBs in the backfield.
This isn't Urban Meyer's Bowling Green offense. This is a ball control unit that can succeed against a defense that doesn't tackle well and capitalize on turnovers. At least, it was with Gregg Brandon on the sideline. It's impossible to know what kind of aggressiveness Clawson and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero (last year's QB coach at K-State) will show in his first year on the sidelines, or how much the philosophy will change. In Year #1, I'm guessing they won't try to change things too much. This likely bodes well for Mizzou.
Granted, I have the feeling the Mizzou D-line will make a lot of huge plays and a lot of stupid ones in 2009, and against a counter-punching, conservative offense, they could struggle. But I'm not sure the talent here is good enough to throw a serious scare into the Mizzou front seven. And while the secondary could struggle with speed and the big play, they should be a good-tackling bunch and therefore should prevent any big plays from the passing game. Conservative is good at times, but even if they put together a couple of good drives, it will be hard for the Falcons to score enough to keep up with Mizzou on the scoreboard.