BOISE — In our Humanitarian Bowl edition of Better Know a Foe, we talked with BJ Fischer of FalconBlog, which has been documenting Trials and Triumphs in the BGSU Falcon Nation since 2004 — we salute that kind of commitment to the alma mater!
We reciprocated over on FalconBlog with a Vandal Blog Swap.
Tell us about Bowling Green — football history, bowl history, etc.
Bowling Green has been playing football since 1910. During the 1950 and 60s we had a very strong program, winning the small college national title in 1959. The 70s, 80s and 90s saw on and off success, ending the decade with among the worst periods in the history of the program. Starting in 2001, the program turned around under the leadership of Urban Meyer and this continued for a couple years under his OC, Gregg Brandon. Brandon was let go last year, and replaced by Dave Clawson.
This is Bowling Green’s ninth bowl appearance, and BG is 4-4. The Falcons have won four of their last five. However, no conversation about BG’s bowl history would be complete without a couple of disaster stories. The first was in 1985 when BG was undefeated but Coach Denny Stolz took another job the week of bowl prep. Stolz, his assistants, and his entire team apparently had their mind on other things as Fresno State beat BG 51-7. Then, in 2008, BG went to Mobile for the GMAC Bowl, playing Tulsa. Despite a seemingly even matchup, BG never showed up and was beaten 63-7, the worst defeat ever in bowl history.
How do Bowling Green fans view this bowl/matchup – is it a ho-hum affair or a pretty solid game from your perspective?
Bowling Green fans are excited about being in a bowl game this year. To come off a 6-6 season with a new coach, and actually get better and earn post-season play is a nice reward for our team. I especially feel good for our seniors, who are getting the opportunity to play in a bowl game after toiling in an underachieving system.
We certainly understand that it is a “see your breath bowl” and not in a glamorous warm weather climate. (Other MAC tie-ins include Toronto and Detroit, so, you know…). We have a cohesive team and they are happy to have been able to stay together for another month to prepare for this game.
We are also looking forward to playing Idaho, which presents a nice challenge to us.
Freddie Barnes — an unreal individual performance this season. What’s he been like to watch and how key will his play be?
It has been a true honor to watch Freddie Barnes this year. I was at the Catch-22 game where he nabbed 22 passes, and it was simply an incredible performance. Obviously, teams know that we are looking to get him the ball, and yet he can still get open. He gets a lot of credit for this… he is a smart player who knows how to find open spaces against almost any defense. Also, our unheralded OC Warren Ruggerio has done a great job moving Freddie around to find him space.
One misconception people have is that Barnes is some kind of system creature. Yes, he does catch the occasional bubble screen, but most of his catches have been downfield, and he has made some huge plays, earning key first downs and touchdowns with hard running after the catch. He delivered a withering stiff arm to help spark a miracle comeback against Kent and he scored the winning TD in the last minute against Buffalo. He is a true football player.
Offensively, who are the Falcons’ playmakers and what lineups should we look for?
Well, aside from Barnes, the next key playmaker is senior QB Tyler Sheehan. Sheehan has a great senior season, and was the second best QB in the conference, after Dan LeFevour. While BG’s running game has struggled most of the year, Willie Geter is a great playmaker and can catch the ball as well. Jimmy Sheidler is dangerous at TE as well.
BG plays a lot of multi-receiver sets, however, is no longer a pure spread team. Coach Clawson says he is not a “system” guy, and will do whatever is needed to get the ball to playmakers in space, and that’s what you should look for.
Defensively, who are the Falcons’ playmakers and what lineups should we look for?
Much like the Vandals, the Falcons have struggled on defense for much of the year. The defense did improve down the stretch. Probably our best defensive player is LB Jarrett Sanderson, but S PJ Mahone is also a real ball hawk and a very good football player. Other playmakers include LB Cody Basler and CB Roger Williams. The defense will be without D-lineman Kevin Alvarado, who is suspended.
On defense, we typically do not have the bulk to defend the run in our base set, so you will see BG do a lot of stunting and ru blitzing to try and get extra guys around the ball. Similarly, BG will blitz to get pressure against the passing game.
The Falcons did the reverse of the Vandals, starting cold and heating up. What changed?
Well, the first thing that changed was we began to plays teams called Kent State, Akron and Miami instead of teams called MIssouri, Boise State and Marshall. Also, our playmaking S PJ Mahone was suspended for much of this time, and when he returned the defense improved and started to get some stops and some turnovers. With the exception of the Boise loss, all of BG’s losses had come down to the final drive, so the Falcons were probably better than their record indicated. The win at Kent was key. BG scored twice late to win the game on the road, and then picked up some confidence that helped them with a nail biting win against Buffalo and then work its way through the softer part of its conference schedule.
What will the Vandals have to do to beat Bowling Green, and what should the Falcons do to upend Idaho?
I think the game will come down to who can get a stop or two on defense. I expect a very high scoring game, based on the performances of both defenses. One or two key stops could really make a difference. Obviously, Idaho will have more fans present and a home game feel. I do think it will be a highly entertaining game and I’m looking forward to seeing if the Falcons can finally get a win on the blue turf.