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BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The Bowling Green State University football team was hoping for a repeat of its season-opening magic when it played Virginia Tech on Saturday.
In their season-opener at Florida, the Falcons gave the nationally-ranked Gators all they could handle before falling in the fourth quarter.
BG wasn't able to repeat that performance against the Hokies. In fact, a disappointing day offensively put too much pressure on the defense, and the Falcons suffered a 37-0 loss at Lane Stadium. The shutout marked the first time BG had not scored in a contest since the 1998 opener at Missouri, a span of 169 games.
"We got beat by a much better football team, but we didn't play well," Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. "We couldn't sustain anything on offense, and obviously when you get shut out, it's not a good day.
"We're not where we need to be, and we're not where we want to be. And we've got a lot of work [to do] to get there."
The Falcons fell to 1-3 on the season in large part because of their struggles on offense, which managed just 71 yards of total offense in the first half. BG's best chance to score when the game was still in the balance came on its second possession, when a 17-yard punt gave the Falcons the ball on their 45.
A penalty gave the Falcons a first down on the Hokies' 34, and quarterback Matt Schilz had wide receiver Je'Ron Stokes open in the back of the end zone. The throw was late, and by the time Stokes caught it, he was out of bounds.
"Missing that pass to Stokes at the back of the end zone was painful," Clawson said. "You scheme something, it works exactly the way you want and you get it that wide open -- but instead of a touchdown, it's an incomplete pass."
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Eventually the Falcons were forced to kick a field goal, and Stephen Stein's 43-yard attempt hit high off the right upright. After that, BG managed just 44 yards on 17 plays the rest of the first half and punted four times.
"We weren't executing," Falcons' tight end Alex Bayer said. "We had penalties that set us back, but as an offense you need to bounce back from that.
"Our defense played great. The score might not reflect that, but when [the offense] is going three-and-out you don't put the defense in the best position.
"And we have to finish drives. When we're driving, we seem to get into the red zone and get stuck. That's something we have to focus on and get better at."
The defense did play well in the first quarter, limiting Virginia Tech to 43 yards. But the Hokies used a 13-play, 80-yard drive that included 59 yards rushing on seven attempts to find the end zone on a 10-yard scoring strike by quarterback Logan Thomas to J.C. Coleman.
"Every week we're trying to stop the run," said BG linebacker Paul Swan, who finished with six tackles. "We were very confident in the game plan we had. We had a great week of practice.
"We saw some success in the first quarter, and then the game started rolling on. They scored on us, and they just kept scoring."
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Thomas accounted for 51 yards on that first drive, including 20 on the ground. He kept rolling in the second quarter, completing a 42-yard touchdown toss to Dyrell Roberts midway through the period before capping a nine-play, 62-yard drive with a one-yard QB sneak to make it 21-0 at halftime.
"When you play a team as physical as they are, with [Thomas] at quarterback, you've got to commit to stopping the run or they're going to go up and down the hill," Clawson said. "They have a 6-4, 232-pound receiver [in Roberts] who runs a 4.3 40 -- so pick your poison.
"Are you going to play a light box against a 260-pound quarterback who runs a zone read and power read? Or are you going to play single coverage on a 230-pound receiver who can run by you?
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"We loaded up against the run. If we don't, [Thomas] runs up and down the field 20 yards at a time."
In the third quarter, the Falcons had to punt on their first drive, and the Hokies responded with a seven-play, 61-yard march that Michael Holmes finished with a two-yard TD run. Virginia Tech added a field goal and a touchdown in the final quarter to complete the Falcons' lopsided loss.
While the Hokies (3-1) had 396 yards of total offense, Swan said the BG defense can bounce back.
"Guys just have to keep believing and know we can do it," he said. "We talked a lot about moving on to the next play -- don't worry about what happened on the play before, just move on.
"But I think in some cases we just didn't move on from past plays. And it snowballed on us."
The Falcons now need to do more than bounce back from a bad play. They need to rebound from a bad loss as they return home to host Rhode Island in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Doyt Perry Stadium.
"We have to put this game behind us," Swan said.
"It definitely is tough. But that's where the older guys have to come in and lead, and know that it's going to get better."
Bayer agreed, adding, "If we would have come out here and won, we still would have needed the same mind-set. You can't focus on one game for the entire season. You have to move on.
"All of our goals are within reach right now. This game doesn't define our season."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.