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Published: Tuesday, 8/19/2008

33 magic number for Bowling Green secondary

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
From left, Kenny Lewis, Antonio Smith, P.J. Mahone and Jahmal Brown discuss the goal of 33 interceptions this season at BGSU. Cincinnati led the nation with 26 all of last season. From left, Kenny Lewis, Antonio Smith, P.J. Mahone and Jahmal Brown discuss the goal of 33 interceptions this season at BGSU. Cincinnati led the nation with 26 all of last season.
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BOWLING GREEN - The secondary at Bowling Green State University is getting rather picky in its old age.

A review of last year's game films revealed that Falcons defensive backs had 62 opportunities to intercept passes. As a team, BG had 14 picks.

Assuredly, that ratio is not terrible. Interceptions don't come easily. A quarterback needs to make a poor throw, the defender has to be in the right spot, and then there are those annoying receivers who too often seem to get in the way.

Be that as it may, defensive backs coach Adam Gonzaga was not overjoyed with his unit in 2007. So he posed a goal for the upcoming season - 33 interceptions. For the defense as a whole?

"Nope," safety Jahmal Brown said. "For the secondary."

Considering Cincinnati led the nation in interceptions with 26 last year, it would be simply remarkable for one unit to snag 33 passes.

"I think we can do it," Brown said. "If we make everything count in practice, it will carry over to the games."

A more attainable feat would be to become the best secondary in the Mid-American Conference, and to that, they have a real good shot. Consider the experience in the backfield. Brown, a junior, has started in 23 contests dating to the third game of his career. P.J. Mahone, also a junior safety, was named second-team All-MAC last year despite not becoming a starter until midway through the season. Senior corners Antonio Smith and Kenny Lewis have combined for 58 starts, with Smith responsible for 33 of those. If familiarity breeds success, the guys manning the deep part of the field could be in for a great season.

"I think it's going to show," said Smith, third-team All-MAC last year. "We've been working hard and we've been in the film room discussing our plays and what not. And we've been doing that for a couple of years. We should be better now."

BG ranked third in the MAC against the pass last year, allowing 216 yards per game. In league games, the Falcons' 203 yards given up ranked second. But they know they can get better. Mahone accounted for all except three of the secondary's 10 interceptions, and the group was battered by elite quarterbacks Matt Ryan (Boston College) and Paul Smith (Tulsa). Still, because of its seasoning, the secondary must be considered the strength of BG's defense, and perhaps overall.

"No matter how old you are, you have to be on the same page," Smith said. "You need time to develop, and we've gotten that."

As for their replacements, the situation is somewhat dicey. When BG opens the season Aug. 30 at Pittsburgh, the depth chart will likely read Roger Williams and Robert Lorenzi as back-up cornerbacks, with Keith Morgan and Calvin Marshall as the safety replacements. Williams is a superb kick-returner, but it remains to be seen if he's more than a one-trick pony. Lorenzi is a junior college transfer, who had 14 interceptions over two seasons at Laney College in California.

"They're definitely coming along," Smith said. "I've seen them mature and get better."

Marshall played at safety last year, switched to linebacker in the spring, and has since returned to safety where he backs up Mahone. Morgan, a freshman from Bellefontaine, Ohio, has looked good in camp, and like all four of the starters, was an excellent offensive player in high school.

"I think I'm in the best position I could have been in no matter which school I went to," Morgan said. "I have four players in front of me that have extensive experience. I can sit back and take in as much as I can."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com



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