BOWLING GREEN - The 2003 season starts Saturday for the Bowling Green State University football team.
At least that's the vision Gregg Brandon has preached ever since taking over as the Falcons' head coach last December. BG's focus has been on winning the Mid-American Conference's West Division title, and the road to that goal begins when the Falcons play host to Central Michigan Saturday.
Both teams come off a bye week, and Brandon said his team spent more time getting healthy than it did preparing for Central Michigan.
“It was good from the standpoint we got to heal up and work on some fundamentals,” Brandon said of the week off. “We also got a little more time to prep for Central Michigan, but that really wasn't the emphasis. The emphasis was to get healthy.”
The Chippewas also tried to get healthy in their week off but weren't as successful as the Falcons. Central will come to Bowling Green minus its starting quarterback, a key running back and a starting linebacker among others.
Derrick Vickers will replace the injured Jeff Perry at quarterback, and Brandon said Vickers gives the Chippewa offense a different look.
“Vickers is a mobile kid, and we've got to contain him firmly,” Brandon said. “That will be hard because they rush the ball well and we're going to have to focus on the running game. I anticipate they'll try to spring him a little bit to give them an added guy in their running game.”
Brandon said he's more worried about stopping the Chippewas' running backs than stopping Vickers. Central Michigan leads the MAC with an average of 207.5 rushing yards per contest. Senior Terrence Jackson ranks fourth in the league with 86.7 yards per game while freshman Jerry Seymour, who won't play this Saturday because of a leg injury, stands third with 93.8 yards per game.
“We've got to stop Central Michigan's running game - that's the primary thing we've got to do,” Brandon said. “And we can't have another four-turnover game. But I think we'll shore that up. [Quarterback] Josh [Harris] will be diligent about taking care of the football.”
Brandon added that the Falcons also will have to watch for junior safety James King, who leads the MAC by making 13.5 tackles per game. He has blocked nine kicks in his career, including an NCAA record-tying four in a game against Michigan State in 2001.
“King has demonstrated the ability to make plays, especially in the kicking game,” Brandon said. “We have to be aware of where he lines up, and we have to come up with a way to block him, secure him so that he doesn't hurt us.”
Brandon also would like to see his special teams have a big game. This season the Falcons have not blocked a kick. Last season BG blocked eight, including seven punts.
“We need to create something with the kicking game - return a kick, block a kick, something like that,” Brandon said. “I've been satisfied with the kicking game because we've been sound and we haven't given up any explosive plays in the kicking game, but we haven't created too many, either. I think we're going to have to start doing that if we're going to make a run [at the West title].”
CHANGES TO THE LINEUP: With strong safety Mike Malone out of action Saturday because of a sprained knee, Brandon said nickel back T.J. Carswell will start in Malone's place. Carswell will be backed up by sophomore Tim Arnold, while sophomore Mike Crumpler will take Carswell's spot as the first replacement for starting free safety Jason Morton.
Brandon said he anticipates Malone will return the following week when BG plays at Western Michigan.
The only other major change in Bowling Green's two-deep will be on special teams, where cornerback Janssen Patton may return kickoffs. The Falcons rank last in the 14-team MAC in kickoff returns with an average of 17.1 yards per return, more than a yard less than every other league team.
THE LAST WORD: Brandon looked back at his first four games as a college head coach and said his biggest adjustment has been to watch the game from the sidelines rather than from the coaches' box.
As the Falcons' offensive coordinator the past two seasons, Brandon has spent all of his time up the press box. He said the last time he spent considerable time on the sidelines was as a tight ends and special teams coach at Weber State - 20 years ago.
“I get frustrated being on the boundary. I can't see squat,” Brandon said. “I am not used to that. So I have to put a lot of trust in [defensive coordinator Tim] Beckman and [offensive coordinator Greg] Studrawa upstairs to tell me what's happening. I struggle to watch a game on the sidelines.”