Brandon says Bowling Green will come ready to play

Bowling Green Head Coach Gregg Brandon (pictured left) talks about Saturday's showdown with No. 2 Oklahoma. Brandon's Falcons return 20 starters from an 11-3 team that nearly upset Ohio State in last year's season opener in Columbus. Brandon and the Falcons also knocked off then-No. 16 Purdue last season, 27-26, last September in West Lafayette.

The Oklahoma Sooners will open their 2004 season against Bowling Green this Saturday at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. A year ago, the Falcons finished 11-3 and beat Northwestern in the Motor City Bowl, 28-24. The Falcons also pushed Ohio State to the limit in Columbus last season before losing 24-17. They also went on the road to beat Purdue 27-26.

The Falcons return nine starters on offense, nine on defense and both their punter and kicker. Despite the success of Bowling Green and their returning starters, the Sooners are big favorites (33-point favorites). But without question, the Falcons are looking forward to taking on the second-ranked Sooners.

Recently on WWLS, Bob Barry Jr. and I had a chance to talk to Bowling Green Head Coach Gregg Brandon about Saturday's season opener.

BBJ: What are your thoughts on the opening game against Oklahoma?

GB: "It is a heck of an opener, there is no doubt about that. I would be lying to you if I said anything else expect that they are one of the top three overall programs in the country, bar none. Year-in-and-year-out Coach Stoops has done a fabulous job with that program. They are who everybody wants to be like. For us to have an opportunity to play them is an extreme challenge for our program. Our kids are excited to play Oklahoma. I don't know how we will do, but I know that we will be ready to play."

JH: I have always admired your team, and last year you had an incredible run. You have always played BSC teams incredibly close or beat them. Do you feel sometimes that your success is almost a secret?

GB: "I will guarantee you that Oklahoma knows who we are and they are not going to take us lightly. They certainly are going to be ready to play us because that is the kind of coaches they are there. I know a lot of their coaches and they will prepare that team. Wwe have proven that we can play with a lot of people, and this is just another opportunity to do that."

BBJ: Talk about the MAC conference, which always plays great football with teams like your club, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Ball State. You can just go on-and-on."

GB: "I think last year was a kind of a break through year for our league as there were some big victories for our conference. I think all along our league has had great football. There are great players in our league and there are great coaches. It didn't surprise me when the teams that pulled the upsets pulled those off. It is a salty conference with great competition and great talent."

JH: You have to break in a new quarterback as Josh Harris, your great quarterback from a year ago, graduated. Tell us about your new signal caller?

GB: "Omar Jacobs is the guy, and Norman is going to be a heck of a place for him to get his baptism into college football as a starter. We know that Omar is going to be ready to play. Josh was a great player for us and Omar has been in our system for two years. He knows what we are running and what is expected. The thing that Omar has to learn to do, not only against Oklahoma but throughout the season, is to manage our offense and play within his abilities and the system. Once he feels comfortable his playmaking ability can emerge.

"He does have Josh Harris type playmaking ability, but right now we just want to get Omar comfortable in your system. He played a little bit last year, but he has never really been battle-tested under fire as he has played mostly in mop-up situations. Norman is a heck of a place to jump into the fray."

BBJ: Describe your offense and what style of offense that you will bring to Norman on Saturday. You return a 1,000 receiver in B.J. Pope, and you have some weapons on offense don't you?

GB: "We have experience at the receiver position and at running back. In our offensive line we have to reload a little bit, but we have quality players back in the line and we have more depth than we have ever had there, especially quality depth. The one big spot to fill offensively is at quarterback."

JH: What is your style of play on defense?

GB: "We have about nine to nine-and-a-half kids that have played a lot of football last year. We lost two key players in Jason Patton, who is with the Steelers now, and Jason Morton, who started for four years here. So, with those two guys we have some big shoes to fill there. We have some good depth in the secondary and some guys that can take those spots that we lost in graduation.

"They have already stepped up in camp and we have a couple of young guys that I am excited about. Defensively, we have always been good here, but the last couple of years we have been over shadowed by our offense. However, our Defensive Coordinator, Tim Beckman, is always prepared and our defensive is very aggressive and attacking. It is very similar to Oklahoma in that we run well and we don't stand in one place for too long."

BBJ: Since you have played against other big name quarterbacks in the past you probably aren't going to be overwhelmed by a Heisman Trophy winner like Jason White or an offensive like Oklahoma's, right?

GB: "We talk all the time about big plays and Oklahoma feasted on big plays last year. If you studied their defense last year, their defense gave them the ball at midfield or across the opponents 50 more often than not. And it doesn't take much for them to drive fifth yards. I think our offense has to take care of the football for one thing, and our defense can't give up the big play. We need to keep the football in front us and need to run and tackle."

JH: Could you talk about some of the players that we will be watching out for on Saturday form your squad?

GB: "On defense, we have two great ends in Mitchell Crossley and Devon Parks, who are two impact players for us. Both of those players have done well for us. Mike Thaler is a veteran inside at nose tackle, and our linebacker Jovon Burkes is our captain at middle linebacker. He is an outstanding player and one of our top players on defense. Keon Newsom is a safety that can play out on the corner if we need him to. Those are the guys who have been impact guys for us.

"Offensively, Cole Magner is a 100-catch guy last year as a receiver and he is a good player. P.J. Pope was a first-team All-MAC running back. James Hawkins and Charles Sharon are two other receivers that have caught 60 to 70 balls in any given season and have been in the system for three years. Scott Mruczkowski, our center, is a good football player and a Lombardi candidate. Those are probably the guys that jump out just on the top of my head."

BBJ: You say that your guys will not be awed by coming to Oklahoma, so I assume they are excited about an opportunity like this?

GB: "Oh yeah. Our kids want to play the best because they know that at any time in Division 1 football that you are going to be measured against the best. That is what our program goals are. Our program goals are to be playing in September. We don't get the big piece of the pie like the big boys, but we have a very nice bowl tie-in with the Motor City Bowl and the GMAC Bowl. Our goal is to get back to one of those. To do that, we need to win our league games.

"Oklahoma is not a league game and it really doesn't have anything to do with what we do in December. However, it would be an awesome victory for our program if we were able to win that game. Again, for us to be where we want to be in December we need to win the West in our conference and then get back into that Championship game."

JH: Your special teams play has always been good and so has Oklahoma's under Bob Stoops. That is going to be quite a match-up isn't in the opening game?

GB: "Our special team's philosophy is that we want to be sound, and again don't give up the big play. They have a great return game and do an excellent job in that phase. I'm not real excited about punting the ball to them. It would be nice to go through the whole game not have to punt, but I don't anticipate that happening. We hope to be able to keep them off balance in that area. Our kicker, Shaun Suisham, is a good one and we need to control that phrase of the game. He needs to kick the ball deep and he needs to hang it. Hopefully, we will protect it and that we will have a chance by executing well in the kicking game."


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