BOWLING GREEN - A football season is a series of tests - 11 examinations of what a team has learned and what it can produce under pressure. Bowling Green State University has gone 4-1 as the season nears its halfway point, failing just one test as it has doubled its win total from all of last year.
The Falcons will be facing something akin to a trigonometry midterm this weekend when they travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., to face Western Michigan (3-2). It will be much like the rigorous workout they got two weeks ago against Marshall when BG suffered its only loss - there will be little margin for error.
The Broncos have senior Jeff Welsh at quarterback, and speedy senior Josh Bush leading a skilled group of receivers. Welsh has connected on 98 of 160 passes for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Bush averages five catches per game. Western Michigan likes to mix the run and the pass, but the mix is often quite pass-heavy.
“Those guys are both keys, and a big part of what we do offensively,” Western coach Gary Darnell said. “We'd like to get the ball in Josh's hands 12-14 times a game, and it's important to us to find ways to get it in his hands. As far as Jeff goes, he just has a feel for the game and he's the guy who has to change it in our favor. And we have all the confidence in the world that he can.”
The Broncos, co-defending champs of the Mid-American Conference's West Division with Toledo, have defeated Bowling Green three straight years. Breaking that streak will require passing a test the Falcons failed two weeks ago when Marshall went pass-crazy.
“Our secondary was tested against Marshall, and we'll face a similar group of receivers at Western Michigan,” Bowling Green coach Urban Meyer said. “They are very athletic and very fast, and we'll need to be able to put pressure on the quarterback and cover the receivers. It will be very similar to what we faced at Marshall as far as the kind of athletes and the talent at the quarterback position.”
The Falcon defense had a solid outing against Kent State last Saturday, bottling up freshman quarterback Joshua Cribbs as BG rolled to a 24-7 victory. The week before Marshall's Byron Leftwich directed a couple of late scoring drives that left the Falcons on the short end of a 37-31 verdict.
“I think our defense did an outstanding job against Kent State,” Meyer said. “We kind of missed them against Marshall when they were thoroughly outplayed, but we're glad to see them back. That was a good team we faced in Kent State, but I think our defense did some things to take them out of their comfort zone, and that was our goal.”
Western Michigan will be tougher to rattle, since the Broncos have moved into the MAC's upper echelon under Darnell, finishing either first or second in the West the past four seasons.
“In my mind, this is one of the few programs right now that is at the head of the class,” Meyer said of Western Michigan. “This team is a legitimate contender and can play in a lot of conferences.”
Darnell said he sees a different Bowling Green team this season - one that has been charged with the intangibles that have brought about the dramatic turnaround under Meyer.
“They remind me a lot of our team a few years ago in that they play with a great deal of emotion and they've got a whole bunch of guys who say, we're better than our record from last year,” Darnell said. “It's one of those euphoric situations down there, but they have to be good players, too. My wife can say she's euphoric, but that doesn't make her win football games. It's a chemistry thing, and they've definitely got it going.
“They played Marshall to their knees. Marshall had to come from behind to win and nothing catches our attention like that. They have 16 of their starting 22 in their fourth or fifth year in the program and that's an experienced team.”