The Falcons' Stephen Stein, a junior, said he was disappointed that he wasn't the starting kicker this season.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
BOWLING GREEN -- Stephen Stein knows a thing or two about high-pressure jobs.
As the place kicker for the Bowling Green State University football team, Stein's job is to be perfect every time he takes the field.
"I tried to make that point with one of my teammates," he said. "I told him, 'You guys get 50, 60 plays -- I only get three or four plays a game.' I have to make mine count, or I lose my job. If they mess up, they get to go to the next down.
"It's exciting that everyone relies on you, but I have to hit everything perfectly. But once I see the ball go through the uprights, it makes everything worthwhile."
Stein, a junior from the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash, entered this year as the back-up kicker to Central Catholic grad Kyle Burkhardt. But when Burkhardt struggled early this season, Stein took over and made 12 of 13 PAT kicks and 8 of 11 field goals.
"I wasn't happy, but I knew that I needed to work on some things," Stein said of not starting the year as BG's kicker. "It was disappointing, but I knew I needed to work on my kicking.
"When I was given the opportunity in the Miami game, I felt I needed to show well."
Stein made 3 of 5 field-goal attempts at Kent State on Oct. 29, but the two misses could have given the Falcons a win. Instead BG trailed Kent by five points until the game's final moments, when KSU scored a touchdown to claim a 28-15 win.
A bigger problem for Bowling Green has been kickoffs, when Burkhardt twice kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Kent State the ball on their 40-yard line.
"We can't make changes," BG coach Dave Clawson said. "We wanted Jerry Phillips to be our kickoff guy, and he has been hurt. We recruited Tyler Tate to handle those jobs, and he has been hurt.
"Kyle Burkhardt is very capable of it, but he hasn't performed well the past few weeks. I know it bothers him, but he's working hard at it."
The Falcons have had seven of their 48 kickoffs this season go out of bounds (14.6 percent), including five times in 13 kickoffs in the last three games (38.5 percent).
Although BG is in the middle of the pack among FBS schools in kickoff returns yards allowed, giving up 844 yards on 48 kicks, those five kicks out of bounds should add 200 yards to the total.
With those 200 extra yards, the Falcons' total of 1,044 yards allowed are topped only by Northern Illinois (1,189 yards allowed) and Toledo (1,278 yards allowed).
And although Clawson may wish to make changes, his hands are tied.
"The bullpen is empty," he said. "Two guys are hurt and not even practicing.
"And that's a position where you need competition. When a guy kicks it out of bounds, you want to give another guy a shot."
HOPGOOD HURT: Clawson said sophomore running back Jordan Hopgood will not play in BG's home game Tuesday against Northern Illinois.
"He's been struggling with a knee [injury] all year," Clawson said of Hopgood. "It's to the point that we're going to shut him down -- and he may not play again this year."
Clawson said losing Hopgood, who last season ran for 167 yards and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns, has been one of the reasons for the Falcons' problems in short-yardage situations.
"He's been our 'wildcat' [quarterback] and he runs that pretty well," Clawson said of Hopgood. "He understands the cuts and can time up the motion.
"When he's healthy, he's pretty good at it. When he can't do it, we're not as effective with it."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.