BOWLING GREEN - With all the hoopla surrounding the Bowling Green State University offense, it's easy to overlook the defense.
But it was the defense that made a statement in a 23-3 victory Saturday over Central Michigan.
The Falcons held CMU to 284 yards of total offense. What's more, Bowling Green limited the most productive rushing game in the Mid-American Conference to just 158 yards, almost 50 yards below its season average.
Chippewas coach Mike DeBord said the BG defense certainly had his attention even before Saturday's game.
“They are a very `salty' unit,” DeBord said of the defense. “They're very aggressive. They get off their blocks, and they run and pursue. They're playing as a unit, playing as a team, and they're playing with a lot of confidence.”
On Saturday the Bowling Green defense was especially impressive in the second half. When Central Michigan twice mounted long third-quarter drives, BG forced the Chippewas to kick a field goal - which was missed - and then go for a first down on fourth-and-one - which failed.
Then in the fourth quarter the Falcons really got tough, allowing CMU a total of four yards on 10 plays split over three drives.
“We knew Central Michigan was going to be a difficult opponent,” said linebacker Mitch Hewitt. “Their offensive line is impressive. They are physical, and their running back [Terrence Jackson] was physical. We just stuck together and played hard.”
The game plan, according to Brandon, was to try to shut down Central Michigan's ground game and force quarterback Derrick Vickers, subbing for an injured Jeff Perry, to pass.
“I knew they couldn't beat us throwing the football,” Brandon said. “They had struggled doing that and they struggled again today. The key was to get to third down and hopefully force them to throw.”
CMU had 16 third-down plays and converted only six. Of the eight times the Chippewas faced a third-down play of greater than five yards, they got the first down only once.
“I think [defensive coordinator] Tim [Beckman] game-planned them pretty well,” Brandon said. “Central Michigan runs the ball with an old-fashioned style of `I'm going to run the ball here, you try and stop me.'
“And they mounted some drives and chewed up some yards. But we kept throwing stunts and blitzes and line movement at them and hung in there and kept them out of the end zone.”
While the Falcons allowed Central Michigan an average of 4.0 yards per play, the Chippewas had 40 of their 71 plays gain three or fewer yards and had just seven plays cover more than 10 yards.
“The big plays can make or break you,” said cornerback Keon Newson. “You concentrate on not letting anybody get by you, reading your keys and just playing really tough.”
Newson leads the team with 48 tackles (29 solo, 19 assists) this season, followed by Hewitt with 44 (23 solo, 21 assists).
After five games the Falcon defense leads the MAC in fewest points allowed per game (13.8) and total defense (303.0 yards per game). BG ranks second in passing yards allowed per game (172.2) and also second in rushing yards allowed per contest (130.8).
“You play championship defense, you have a solid kicking game, and you take care of the ball on offense - move it and control the clock like we did today - and there you go,” Brandon said. “That's a great recipe for victories right there.”
BIG POSSESSIONS: Junior wide receiver Cole Magner has developed a reputation as a `possession' receiver, meaning he is the go-to guy when the offense need a first down.
Magner played that role to perfection against Central Michigan, tying for the team lead with six catches good for 66 yards. All six of his catches resulted in first downs for the Falcons; three of the catches came on third down, while a fourth converted a fourth-and-four from CMU's 27 on a BG first-quarter drive.
That continues a seasonal trend for Magner; of his team-leading 35 catches, 25 have resulted in first downs. And eight of those first-down receptions came on third-down plays.