MADISON - Dino Babers doesn’t believe in momentum or he is playing very coy.
Either way, Bowling Green’s first year head coach went biblical when explaining how the Falcons – fresh off a home win against a Big Ten opponent – don’t match up well with a Wisconsin team on the road.
“This is a big time football team,” Babers said of Wisconsin. “I don’t know what our chances look like. I imagine they’re not good but if you give us five flat rocks and a slingshot, maybe we have a chance. It’s a David vs. Goliath story. It’s going to be a heck of a job up there. We’ve got to see what we can do.”
But with head coach Gary Andersen getting an opportunity to watch the Falcons’ 45-42 victory over Indiana with his team on a bye week, Wisconsin’s head coach isn’t buying Bowling Green (2-1) will be a push over when the Badgers (1-1) host the Falcons at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“They are a championship team,” said Andersen. “They expect to win. They expect to play at a high level, and I would expect nothing else out of them. They’re well coached. This will be a tremendous challenge. As you see, the world of college football is getting closer and closer from the bottom to the top in a lot of different areas and we need to make sure we do all we can because we'll be challenged in this football game.”
For both head coaches, nothing will appear to challenge them more than their opponent’s offenses. Babers describes the Badgers as huge, big and physical. Andersen describes Bowling Green’s offense as “really fast,” which might be an understatement for the team picked to win its second straight MAC conference.
After running 71 plays in each of the first two games, Bowling Green kicked it up a notch in its home victory over Indiana, running a school-record 113 plays for 571 yards. Apparently even that’s not quick enough.
“Our offense understands our goals and where we’re going to be at,” said Babers. “We’re slowly learning the process and we’re trying to get better every day, but it’s not where we want it to be.”
Leading Eastern Illinois to a 12-2 record and a No. 2 FCS national ranking, the Panthers outscored their opponents 675-319, led the nation in yards per game (589.5) and points per game (48.2) in 2013. With quarterback Jimmy Garappolo – a 2014 second-round pick of the New England Patriots – running the offense, the team averaged 372.4 yards per game through the air and 217.1 yards per game on the ground.
After Bowling Green averaged 70.2 plays per game - exactly the same as Wisconsin – a year ago, Babers was determined to push the pace and test a Wisconsin defense that held the Leathernecks to 34 total yards and six 3-and-outs after the game’s first two drives.
“They do run, they do move quickly,” said Andersen, as Wisconsin has faced 68 plays against LSU and 51 against Western Illinois. “They are up on the ball. It is always a challenge … We can't allow their pace to affect the game in a positive way. It will cause us some issues, but we have to be prepared for it.”
After losing quarterback Matt Johnson, who threw for over 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, in the season opener to a hip injury, sophomore James Knapke hasn’t missed a beat. Against Indiana, James – using a combination of wide receiver screens, short pitch-and-catches and the deep throw - completed 46-for-73 passes – both single game school records - for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons had nine different players catch passes Saturday, including freshman Roger Lewis catch 16 for 143 yards, saw running back Travis Green run for 123 yards and registered five scoring drives of at least 75 yards and each being at least 10 plays, all things that helped the Falcons’ beleaguered defense survive giving up 582 total yards and 42 points.
“I really thought it was one of those battles where you have a champion, meaning the Big Ten Conference, and you have the MAC conference trying to win a game over a champion, and you’ve got to take it from them,” said Babers. “Nobody is going to give you the game. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to hit, you’ve got to tackle them and try to score points and take it from the champ. I thought we battled well in that aspect, and I thought it was a 15 round fight that happened to go our way.”
After beating its first power five opponent since 2008 and its first Big Ten opponent since 2007, Bowling Green is trying to record multiple victories over power five conference schools for the first time since 2002.