BOWLING GREEN -- Much of the attention surrounding Western Michigan, Saturday's opponent for the Bowling Green State University football team, has focused on its high-powered offense.
And that makes sense when you consider the Broncos rank 13th among FBS schools with an average of 331.5 yards per game that also tops the Mid-American Conference.
But BG football coach Dave Clawson has noticed something else: the Falcons will face a team with top-notch special teams when they take the field at Waldo Stadium Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
"Right now [Western Michigan is] setting the standard in the conference in special teams," Clawson said. "They have good specialists. But it's obvious they invest a lot of time in special teams because they are really well-coached. Their kickoff return is very well-coached. They're in the top four in every category in the conference, and it's no accident."
The Broncos rank second in the MAC -- and fourth nationally -- in kickoff returns, with 29.07 yards per return. They also are second in the league in punt returns (12 yards per return) and third in net punting at 38.36 yards per kick. By comparison, BG is seventh in the league in kickoff returns (20.76 yards/return), 11th in punt returns (5.27 yards/return) and lead the league -- and rank second nationally -- in net punting with 43.64 yards per punt.
Why is good special teams play important?
"Every special teams play involves a major shift in field position or a team scoring points," Clawson said. "I think this year we've done a good job of winning the special teams battle. We've done a better job with it, but Western has done a great job with it."
Western Michigan's fine play on special teams have combined with solid efforts on both offense and defense to give the Broncos a misleading 3-2 record. The two losses were on the road to undefeated Big Ten schools (Michigan and Illinois), and last Saturday WMU went on the road to knock off Big East member Connecticut 38-31.
The Bronco offense is led by junior quarterback Alex Carder, who has completed 107-of-154 passes for 1,283 yards and 12 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
"Right now, their offense is a well-oiled machine," Clawson said. "They are executing at such a high level.
"Their quarterback might be playing at as high a level as anyone in the country, and their receiver Jordan White is an elite receiver -- he can play anywhere in the country, and he'll be playing on Sundays next year. But it's not just him; their collection of receivers, from one to five or six, may be as deep as anyone in the conference. You can't say, 'All you need to do is cover White' because someone else will beat you.
"I'd enjoy watching them if we didn't have to play them."
White, a senior, ranks second nationally with 43 catches and has 549 yards and five TDs. Close behind are seniors Robert Arnheim (21 catches, 277 yards, 1 TD) and Chleb Ravenell (15-199-4). But the key is Carder, who has impressed the Falcons with his toughness.
"Their quarterback is a great player," BG sophomore rover BooBoo Gates said of Carder. "Watching him on film, he takes a lot of big hits -- and he gets up. He's a tough guy. And White is a good receiver. He's fast and big, and he's shifty in space."
For the second week in a row the Falcon defense will face a quarterback to threw for more than 400 yards in his previous game, as Carder finished with 479 yards in the UConn win. But there are differences between the WMU offense and that of last week's opponent, West Virginia.
"Western Michigan has more quick plays, where they wing the ball onto the perimeter and let their receivers make plays," Gates said. "We need to get lined up, know where their people are, and play hard and fast."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.
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