BOWLING GREEN - Believe it or not, Bowling Green State University football coach Dave Clawson shares a coaching philosophy with Woody Hayes.
The former Ohio State football coach was renowned for espousing "three yards and a cloud of dust" as his offense of choice. While Clawson doesn't run an offense that draconian, he found himself rooting for three-yard gains during the fall drills the Falcons recently completed in preparation for Saturday's season opener at Troy.
"Our offensive staff and players want a touchdown on every play, and our defensive staff and players want an interception or sack on every play," Clawson said. "On a three-yard play, that means everyone did their job, and the free hitter made a play, a tackle three yards down field.
"That type of football was played a lot more in this camp than it was in the spring."
And that's a good thing for the Falcons, who lost 22 seniors, including 16 starters, from last year's team that earned a berth in the Humanitarian Bowl. Those losses, combined with the youth on the roster - 44 of 85 scholarship players are either true or redshirt freshmen - made mistake-free play the focus of fall drills.
"With a younger team, you want to eliminate missed assignments and missed alignments," Clawson said. "You don't want to beat yourself.
"We don't want the ball going over our head because we didn't make a coverage check. We don't want to take a sack because we weren't on the same page protection-wise.
"That's a concern every year, but the younger you are and the more new starters you have, the more [that is a concern]."
Curiously, the Falcon roster shows two types of inexperience. The first is the inexperience of players who haven't started in college, and the other is players who haven't even taken the field in a college game.
As for the former, the BG two-deep shows that 11 of 23 potential starters - 12 starters are listed on offense - are seniors, although only three have starting experience.
"People make an issue of us being young, but I think we have as many senior starters this year as we did last year," Clawson said. "It's just that our seniors haven't started before.
"Guys like 'Champ' Fells played. A lot of guys are starting for the first time, but they're not playing for the first time."
Fells, a fifth-year senior linebacker and captain, said the idea of running on the field for the game's first defensive play will be a "dream come true.
"I've been a back-up for three years now, so being able to step in, be a leader, and bring my teammates along with me will be an exciting experience."
The Falcons' 23 back-ups include a whopping 13 freshmen, including four players who stepped onto campus for the first time a month ago.
Clawson said he and the coaching staff tried to give the nine "redshirt" freshman as much experience as they could last season.
"Typically a redshirt freshman runs with the scout team," he explained. "Last year we had guys we were redshirting that we gave reps with the second-team offense, knowing we would have to get them ready to play this year."
"We tried to manufacture experience as much as we could. For example, [quarterback] Matt Schilz never ran a scout-team rep: we gave him almost every No. 2 and No. 3 rep we could. We didn't want him to go from running the scout team to being the starting quarterback."
That inexperience has led to an added responsibility for the veteran players: coaching on the field.
"The older guys watch [the younger guys] to make sure they're doing things right," said Ben Bojicic, a captain and junior center. "If they're not, we have to tell them what to do and how we, as an offensive line, need to do it.
"At the end of spring ball we were still feeling each other out, but in fall camp I think we came together."
Contact John Wagner at:email@example.com or 419-724-6481.
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