Running behind this week, but starting to catch up...between the database maintenance and the ehhhhhhhhpic Big 12 BTBS box scores post (really going to have to figure out a way to do those faster in the future), I've been a day behind all week! Oh, the hectic life of a nerd...
This one's pretty easy. A week after everybody skinned their knees flying off the Illinois bandwagon, they've all hopped on the "Pinkel doesn't rebuild, he reloads!" bandwagon and overcompensated for writing Missouri off in the preseason by ranking them 25th this week. Nobody seems to be thinking that Bowling Green has any sort of chance in this one...
...except for Bowling Green fans, who remember that the Falcons thumped Mizzou the last two times they met on the same field. Unfortunately for Bowling Green, 1) they no longer have Urban Meyer and Josh Harris, and 2) Missouri no longer has the 2001-02 Missouri defense. Stec's wrecking crew (the Stecking Crew?) can't exactly call themselves world-beaters just yet, but they are infinitely faster than those first incarnations of the Missouri defense under Gary Pinkel and staff, and they won't be dragged around on a string all night by Urban Meyer's play-calling like they were in 2002...god, that was a nightmarish trip.
Anyway, Mizzou is favored by 20, and nobody seems to be jumping on Bowling Green as a potential upset. Anything's possible, but everybody is basking in a Blainey glow right now, and hopefully BGSU doesn't ruin the party. That would be rude of them.
In two full years as starting Falcon quarterback, Tyler 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.
Sheehan averaged a reasonably healthy 7.7 yards per pass against Troy last weekend, completing 72% of his passes (32-for-44) for 339 yards, 2 TDs, and an interception. As with many other results (including Mizzou's over Illinois), we'll see soon enough how much of that good performance was due to Sheehan and BGSU, and how much was due to Troy, but the numbers were certainly impressive. This still looks like a pretty conservative passing attack, but how much success they have could depend on Mizzou's gameplan. If they offer cushions and allow the 6-yard pass, Sheehan will likely take advantage of it better than Juice Williams did, but trying to move all the way down the field, one 6-yard pass at a time, is difficult--you're really not allowed any mistakes. BGSU will probably need to take at least a few shots deep if they want to win this game. In all, though, Sheehan is quite a competent QB, and I'm interested to see what kind of gameplan Mizzou has to defend him.
(And if The Scorpion is getting pressure on Sheehan, then the rest of the gameplan suddenly doesn't matter quite as much.)
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.
Geter and Turner combined for just 65 yards on 19 carries against Troy. Combined with Mizzou's interior line play, I simply cannot imagine the Falcons getting much of a running game going Saturday. BGSU's chances rest on Sheehan's arm.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
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.
Barnes did two things last weekend: catch a TON of passes (15!), and somewhat fail to dissuade the notion that he's not much of a deep threat. He did break off a 31-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, but his other 14 catches resulted in just 126 yards, and while he is certainly a great possession receiver...again, BGSU is going to need some big plays, and I'm not sure if he's the guy to beat Mizzou's safeties and go long. Meanwhile, next-best receiver Tyrone Pronty is out for this week, for what that's worth.
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.
Against Troy, Bowling Green allowed one sack and four total tackles for loss--certainly not bad totals. However, their run-blocking was quite poor, averaging just 1.33 line yards per carry. In all, this points to the biggest problem Bowling Green may have--they faced way too many Passing Downs against Troy. Their Standard Downs S&P was just 0.669, and they were only successful on 13 of 40 Standard Downs. That's awful. Thanks to Sheehan, Barnes, and possibly Troy's lack of a quality secondary (and pass rush), they got away with this. Their Passing Downs S&P was a respectable 0.762, but as I've mentioned before, succeeding more on Passing Downs than Standard Downs probably isn't too sustainable.
We'll revisit this in the Keys to the Game.
In every unit, BGSU was 4th in the MAC. Unfortunately, they're probably due a finish lower than 4th in 2009, as they have to replace all four starters on the defensive line, including all-MAC DE Diyral Briggs. There's a little bit of potential here--Brandon Jackson was a relatively highly-touted recruit a few years ago, Angelo Magnone has some starting experience, and Kevin Alvarado was able to make some plays in limited play as a redshirt freshman...but that's not a lot to work with. In theory, this unit has decent depth--"depth" in that the second string probably isn't much worse than the first--but still...this will be potentially the weakest (non-Furman) defensive line Missouri faces in 2009.
This unit passed their first test, sacking Troy's QB twice and registering a lovely nine tackles for loss in last week's victory. Little of the TFL damage was actually done by defensive linemen, but if you're stopping guys that much behind the line of scrimmage, the defensive line is doing something right. Troy also only averaged 2.1 line yards per carry, so well done there too. Even though Missouri's offensive line did not perform as well as I anticipated on Saturday, I'm still pretty sure it's a healthy leap up from the Troy OL to Mizzou's so we'll see a) how much pressure the Falcons are able to get on Blaine Gabbert, and b) what kind of holes they can prevent from developing in the running game.
Cody Basler seems like your typical mid-major middle linebacker--reasonably big, capable of making a lot of tackles...and really not going to make any big plays against good offenses (1.5 TFL in his 42 tackles in 2008). If I'm a Bowling Green fan, I'm hoping Anthony Stover or maybe a true freshman like Dwayne Woods or Eric Jordan is ready for PT early on...this unit might be okay, but new blood would be a lovely thing.
Basler and Jerett Sanderson were men against Troy, combining for 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. Sanderson is severely undersized and could be overmatched against bigger opponents, but he's clearly pretty fast. Meanwhile, Basler's got the size, but we'll see if he's got the speed. This unit was a significant strength against Troy, and if BGSU has a chance, it's because guys like Basler and Sanderson are playing pretty tremendously well.
The strength of the 2008 BGSU defense, this unit has to replace both starting cornerbacks, but at least they return both safeties. With 95 tackles and 3 INTs in 2008, P.J. Mahone is the unequivocal star of the defense. He's a bit undersized, but if the Falcon defense is going to make a big play, he's the most likely culprit. The CB position is a concern, but at least there is some experience there.
Sophomore cornerback Adrien Spencer clinched last week's victory with a 64-yard pick six with two minutes left, and overall Troy QB Levi Brown did not have a lot of room to maneuver in the passing game, completing 64% of his passes, but for just 6 yards per pass. The LB corps was wreaking havoc, and that may have helped the secondary, but as with the other units, BGSU's secondary certainly passed its first test last week. It's certainly a step up, however, from Tebarius Gill and Jerrel Jernigan to Danario Alexander, Wes Kemp, Jared Perry, etc.
Well...they've got a good punter. Not a lot of experience here, but they do have some guys like Tyrone Pronty who could turn into good returners. A redshirt freshman kicker is always a bit of a concern, especially considering the Mizzou game will be his first ever road game.
Against Troy, neither return game was a factor; meanwhile, BGSU made its only field goal (and all four PATs) and averaged a respectable 36.6 net yards per punt.
In other words, we didn't learn anything bad about the Falcons' special teams unit, but we really probably didn't learn anything at all.
Three Keys to the Game
Stay out of Passing Downs
Bowling Green faced far too many of them last week in performing better on Passing Downs than Standard Downs, and that must change with a better opponent. Whether it's the short passing game or infinitely better running and run-blocking, the Falcons will need to get a lot more yards on first downs than they did last week, else Tyler Sheehan will be getting to know the lawfirm of Smith, Smith and Coulter very intimately.
Meanwhile, for Mizzou, one of the key recipes for an upset is Passing Downs. Passing Downs increase the likelihood for turnovers (just ask Texas Tech) or quickly stalled possessions, and Bowling Green will obviously want a few of those if they want to have a chance.
The Running Game
Similar to the last Key, whichever running game operates better will go a long way in determining the winner. Both Sheehan and Blaine Gabbert are good passers, but again, you want as few awkward situations as possible. Derrick Washington and the Mizzou running game did not click until the fourth quarter last week, and Bowling Green could be a good opponent for figuring out how to get back on track. It's great that Gabbert can run as well as he can, but...well, every trip past the line of scrimmage for Gabbert is another opportunity for injury, so it would be better for everybody involved if D-Wash (and, of course, "Number Infinity" Kendial Lawrence) carry the burden on the ground. The loss of De'Vion Moore to a minor high ankle sprain could hurt, but this will give Lawrence a shot at the big-time. Hopefully he doesn't fumble.
No more disrespect card for Mizzou, sadly. The Tigers will need to find new motivation, as an offseason of grumbling about preseason disrespect vanished with one great performance. Bowling Green is certainly good enough to throw a major scare into the (almost) packed house at Faurot Field if Mizzou isn't properly motivated or suffers from any sort of hangover.
Now...I'm not saying Mizzou will have a problem with motivation--I would hope that with guys like 'Spoon and Baston around, people would stay on top of their game most of the time. But if they do, then that opens the door for missed tackles and poor blocking, turning short Bowling Green passes into long gains and 2nd-and-4's into 2nd-and-9's. A lot has been made about how Gary Pinkel was quietly confident this offseason, knowing he had himself a helluva team. Well, that team is too young not to suffer some letdowns here and there, and they'll need to bring it more often than not Saturday evening.
I disagreed with my numbers three times last week--I thought Oregon would topple Boise State, OU would murder BYU, and Florida State would handle Miami relatively easily. In all three cases, I was wrong and the numbers were right. Therefore, I'm sticking with them again. The numbers say Mizzou by 19. With a -20 spread, that screams STAY AWAY FROM THIS GAME from the betting perspective, but it does mean another relatively easy win for Mizzou. We'll say Mizzou 35, Bowling Green 16. Possession offense from Bowling Green keeps Mizzou from clicking too much, but The Scorpion feasts on passing downs, and too many Falcon drives stall out for them to pull together a serious threat.
(Then again, last week the numbers said Mizzou by 10, and they were 18 points off. So maybe I should go with Mizzou by 37 instead, huh?)