BOWLING GREEN - Somewhere between being widely applauded for his spread offense and feeling the pain of narrowly missing a championship last year, Gregg Brandon realized he'd gotten too much of a good thing.
For years Brandon, Bowling Green State University's coach, had dreamt up ways to beat opponents with the pass. But by the end of last season, he was having nightmares about the run.
Brandon believes last season's near-miss at a berth in the Mid-American Conference title game came in large part because his team wasn't able to run the ball when it needed to. With star quarterbacks like Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs, putting up points through the air seemed too easy. When Jacobs got knocked out last season with a shoulder injury, it became apparent that the Falcons needed more than just a backup, but a backup plan.
With that in mind, the Falcons spent last spring and training camp reworking their offense and rededicating themselves to moving the ball on the ground.
The results are showing in the first two weeks of the season.
Led by two mobile quarterbacks and the installation of a fullback, the Falcons are averaging 287.5 rushing yards per game, ranking fifth in the nation.
"We're really having fun with it," Brandon said.
The Falcons (1-1) nearly had three 100-yard rushers Saturday against Buffalo, with Anthony Turner rushing for 127 yards, Freddie Barnes 99 and tailback Dan Macon 97. Fullback Pete Winovich also had 37 yards on two carries.
Quarterbacks Barnes and Turner each had at least 20 rushing attempts, which Brandon wants to cut down on. He said there's "a lot of feel involved" on when he uses one or the other. One reason the pair are so effective is their different styles of running.
"Anthony's a little bit more of a stronger runner, better breaking some tackles in the open field, whereas Freddie's going to dip, make a move and make you miss," Brandon said. "But Anthony's got some of those moves too. We've been on him to use some of those rather than just run a guy over."
Macon's performance, which included four catches for 33 yards, got overshadowed in the chaos of the triple-overtime game, but Brandon wants to increase his touches. Although Winovich (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) has had success in his limited carries, his primary role is as a blocker. The primary runners have been loudly singing his praises.
"Pete blocks perfectly. I've never seen him miss a block," Barnes said. "Every big run I've had, I always see Pete come out of nowhere, whacking somebody, freeing me up. On the touchdown I scored in overtime [against Buffalo], somebody was coming right for me and Pete came out of nowhere and saved us. Pete wasn't even supposed to be there, that wasn't even his job."
Brandon said the running game is doubly important because it helps the Falcons' defense, both in time-of-possession battles and being able to stop the run.
"We really emphasized in the spring to become a physical football team again, and establish the run," Brandon said. "We also thought it would really help our defense. We practiced against it all the time. We had difficulty at times last year stopping better rushing teams. To be able to step up against the run, holding Buffalo to 105 yards, hold Wisconsin to under 300 yards total offense, that plan is coming to fruition."
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