Rivalry & Homecoming - Falcons Against Rockets

Make no mistake about it, this is the game everyone had circled on their calendars. Bowling Green and Toledo isn't your typical Mid-American Conference game. Our Tom Mauter previews the 81st edition of the rivalry.

Tom Mauter, staff writer, Rocket Digest, tjmauter@comcast.net

October 12, 2016

Five and counting . . . .   Fifth year Falcon seniors have never beaten Toledo.

The Falcons are coming off their fourth straight loss, a 30-24 defeat at the hands of the Ohio University Bobcats.  The last score was on a Morgan heave into the end zone tipped out to Fred Miller who grabbed it at the two and worked his way for a touch down by stretching the ball out over the goal line. This was on a 4th and 27 at the OU 37-yard line with 1:24 left in the game. Onside kick failed and any hope for a miracle come back was dashed.

As BGSU DT Gus Schwieterman said in a post game interview on the turf of Peden Stadium, “It’s time for a gut check.”

Things are bleak in Wood County when the highlight of college football season is the celebration of the Doyt Perry Stadium turning fifty. The Falcons (1-5, 0-2) are doing a spot-on act of both the Killdeer’s broken wing dance and the tumbler pigeon’s reverse somersaults plugging earthward  . . . but it appears not to be an act. They have fallen from the heights of the MAC to ground level as if shot out of the sky. 

They did hang on to edge North Dakota University, not to be confused with the Bison of NDSU, 27-26, for their only win of the 2016 season.

For a dozen Falcons players on the 2-deep chart, this is their first year to be involved in the Battle of I-75 including first year HC Mike Jinks. Coach Jinks says that from the moment he stepped off the plane from West Texas he has heard a lot about this rivalry game. He is excited for himself and his team to be part of it. It’s a huge game for his team with an opportunity to beat the Rockets. Realistically, any shot at a bowl game has to start with a win Saturday.

Falcons on Offense:

Head Coach, Mike Jinks replaced senior James Knapke with redshirt freshman James Morgan at quarterback beginning with the Eastern Michigan game. While dropping the Eastern game as well as last Saturday’s contest at Ohio University, both contests were close, decided by three and six points respectively. Given their opening 77-10 lost to Ohio State and the 77-3 spanking by Memphis in the last OCC game this season, the Falcons had reason to fold their wings and fly south. This group did not but fought hard in their first two MAC contests.  

Quarterback James Morgan (6’4”, 215#) is mobile in the pocket, gaining time by moving to locate receivers. He is effective on roll-outs hitting open receivers with a live arm. He has been growing more comfortable in the FFO – falcon fast offense and will run when necessary or, on occasion, by design. Although, this will be his third career start, it will be his first Battle of I-75 game experience.  He did get some PT in the opener at the Horseshoe, completing nine of ten passes, so a packed Glass Bowl may be somewhat tempered from his perspective.

The Falcons offensive scheme is similar to past seasons, running a play about every 20 seconds. They mix passing with rushes, going with what produces results. In only two games did they have more rushing attempts than passes thrown. Despite losing five of their top six receivers from last year, the Falcons offense remains pass centered.

Returning WR Ronnie Moore has the most experience of the otherwise young receiving corps. He is also Morgan’s security blanket receiver.  His 22 catches, with a 10.2 yards per grab average, have not yet included a touchdown. Moore is used to run the wildcat formation and has attempted a couple of passes from his WR position.

Speedy sophomore WR Scott Miller has risen to the top as the leading receiver in numbers with 39 receptions, four for touchdowns and an average of 78.5 yards per game. Redshirt Junior WR Teo Redding is emerging as a sure handed receiver with 16 catches and starting half this year’s games. His route running is still a bit of a work in progress. Freshman Marquis Zimmerman (5’10”, 160#) has been a hit and miss factor with seven of his 16 receptions coming in the OSU opener. The tallest side receiver is sophomore Deric Phouthavong (6’4”, 207#) who had earned starter status in the first four games. The Falcons switched out his WR position for a tight end against the Eagles and opted for JC transfer Vanel Dossous to start last week in Athens.  With three catches, one for 18 yards, the other two for losses against the Bobcats, I would look for Phouthavong to return to the starting line up.

The Falcon running game is senior Fred Coppet  (5’9”, 213#). He has 108 of the team’s 238 rushes and three of the total rushing touchdowns. Navarro College transfer Josh Cleveland (5’8”, 176#) brings speed to the backfield. His 51 carries are the second highest with a team high 6.2 yards per rush. Redshirt junior Donovan Wilson (6’0”, 220#) full back, a Georgia Tech transfer, is a short yardage specialist scoring twice out of his 31 total carries.

Falcons on Defense

Redshirt junior DT Gus Schwieterman (6’2”, 265#) has stepped up as the leader of the defensive front four, leading the Falcons with 6.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks. NT Izaah Lundsford is the only starter on the plus side of 300 pounds.  This lack of bulk is a contributor to their giving up nearly 220 yards per game on the ground.

The team’s leading tackler, by far, is line backer Trenton Greene with 60 total tackles, 31 of which are solo take downs. He ranks 16th in the nation and third in the MAC. Fellow line backer Austin Valdez, All-MAC performer last year, is second to total tackles playing well against the run and in pass coverage.

Speaking of pass coverage, the Falcons are giving nearly 300 yards per game with the worst passing efficiency defense in the MAC and near the bottom nationally. Redshirt senior CB Alphonso Mack is the best player in the BG secondary with five break ups and six pass deflection plus an INT. He also has 27 total tackles. Hybrid LB/DB Brandon Harris leads BG with two picks to go with two pass break ups and four deflections. Harris has two TFL and a sack as part of his 24 total tackles.

The Falcons defense is also last in the MAC in stopping teams on third conversions. The highlight of BG’s defensive stats is in the red zone. They rank 80th in the nation and more in the middle of the MAC team defenses. By comparison, Toledo and Northern Illinois are tied for 75th nationally in the red zone defense. The Rockets have allowed opponents to enter the red zone 15 times compared with 25 for the Falcons and 30 visits against the Huskies.

Falcons Special Teams

Punter Joe Davidson is the top punter in the MAC and tied for third in the nation with a 48.1-yard average per punt. Thirteen of his 35 punts have gone for more than 50 yards with a season long 79 yards last week. The BG punt coverage team has been solid allowing 3.7 yards per return with a long of 11 yards on 11 returns. Certainly hope Corey Jones is not retreating after Davidson’s punts. He provides enough excitement without racing backwards to make catches.

Nick Fields kickoffs have been okay with four of twenty-four kickoffs going for touchbacks. The coverage unit has held opponents to an 18.1-yard average with an average starting point at the 28-yard line.

The Falcons return units are starting at their own 23-yard line on average on kickoffs while returning punts a meager 1.7 yards per return. Scott Miller has a long punt return of ten yards and a long of 37 yards on kickoffs.

Players to Watch

  • #2 LB Trenton Greene will be all over the field but pay attention to #1 LB Austin Valdez who left the Ohio game late with an apparent rib injury; while he did not return on defense against the Bobcats, he has not shown up on an injury list so it will be of interest to see if his performance is back to normal
  • #3 James Knapke may well see playing time dependent upon #12 James Morgan’s left knee; it was rolled on late in the Ohio game on the next to last offensive play – his pass into the end zone occurred as he hobbled out of the pocket; he was not asked about his knee in the post game interview and, like Valdez, Morgan is not on any injury list as of this article’s publication
  • #46 K Jake Suder, a Central Catholic grad, may be a key to helping BG staying in the game, at least early; connecting on four of six attempts, he has lacked both consistency and range; home town crowd to bring out his best

What to Look For: 

  • ·      Secondary for BG to play off to prevent over the top big plays from the Rockets opening up the short and mid-range pass patterns for Woodside
  • ·      Rockets to attack the edges stretching the Falcons 4-3 defense opening up the middle for Hunt and Swanson on the ground and Roberts in the air
  • ·      Sophomore CB Robert Jackson to face quick outs as he plays off in coverage; Jackson looks to dislodge the ball from receivers and running backs alike
  • ·      No sacks of Woodside
  • ·      Falcons to use five wide receivers set leaving the middle of the field open for Morgan to run
  • ·      Rockets, not sacking an opposing quarterback for the first time this season against EMU, will come from the edge resulting in multiple sacks
  • ·      Pressure to be a factor forcing Morgan or Knapke to make a misthrow or two or three  
  • ·      Nick Fields to put BG kickoffs five yards deep or more into the end zone
  • ·      TO Redding targeted as receiver along the sidelines
  • ·      Rockets special cover teams to keep tabs on Scott Miller, who is dangerous as a kickoff returner and punt returner
  • ·      More playing time for RB Josh Cleveland
  • ·      A Rockets punt return of 10 yards+
  • ·      TE Hunter Folkertsma to be more involved in the BG passing game
  • ·      Kareem Hunt to better his season average of 110+ yards per game rushing
  • ·      Lowest number of total penalties by both teams in any Rockets game to date
  • ·      Rockets to get off to a much faster start than against the Falcons than the Eagles

Game Info

  • Weather forecast – Sunny with a high of 71% degrees; 0% precipitation, 55% humidity with winds of five to 10 mph out of the SSE
  • Kickoff at 3:30 pm ET
  • Broadcast on ESPN3 and Altitude Sports Channel (413 on DISH and 681 on DIRECT TV)

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