FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — A look at the scoreboard at Gillette Stadium on Saturday showed the Bowling Green State University football team had claimed a 24-0 win over the University of Massachusetts.
Yet the first question Falcons coach Dave Clawson had to face after the game was whether he was happy with his team’s performance.
“Any time that you go on the road and win a conference game, you’re happy,” he said. “Are we capable of playing better? Absolutely.
“It was sloppy. I was unhappy with the penalties, and we got off to a slow start on offense in the first half, and we never really got into a rhythm.”
The offense struggled, and the Falcons committed a debilitating 15 penalties. And yet a monster performance by the BG defense helped it claim its fourth straight victory.
Bowling Green improved to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the Mid-American Conference by limiting the Minutemen (0-7, 0-4) to 118 yards of total offense, including just 33 yards passing.
The result was the Falcons’ first shutout since a 52-0 thrashing of Western Michigan on Nov. 6, 2004.
“Our defense was absolutely dominating,” Clawson said. “How can you find any fault with our defensive effort?
“Those guys were unbelievable. … Fortunately we have a defense that keeps us in games like this.”
Bowling Green took advantage of field position to score in the first quarter. The Falcons took possession of the ball on the UMass 35 midway through the period and eventually found the end zone on a 16-yard pass from Matt Schilz to Shaun Joplin.
Both teams struggled offensively the rest of the half, with neither team gaining more than 36 yards on a drive.
The good news was the BG defense allowed 53 yards on 32 first-half plays, giving up just three first downs. Of those 32 plays, eight went for no yards or negative yardage and there were 11 incomplete passes, meaning just 13 of those plays had a positive gain.
“A lot of that was just a three-man rush,” Clawson said. “Our D-line is playing well.
“Plus we defended the run well and made them one-dimensional. That’s the secret to our success: If we can defend the run and make the other guys one-dimensional, we can tee off.”
The Bowling Green offense managed just 66 yards on the 22 plays after the TD.
“It wasn’t frustrating,” said Schilz, who completed 21-of-36 passes in the contest for 188 yards and a score. “We knew they were playing us tough, and we had to try and get chunks with every play.
“We knew the defense was playing pretty well, and we knew we just had to come out and not make any mistakes.”
The Falcons gave themselves some breathing room with a pair of touchdowns 51 seconds apart late in the third quarter.
Bowling Green picked up the pace of its offense midway through the period, running plays almost as soon as the ball was spotted. The result was a seven-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by a two-yard TD pass from Schilz to Alex Bayer.
“We just decided to attack and go fast and change rhythm,” Clawson said. “We had to do something different, and I thought it really helped us.”
On its next possession UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn threw a pass that Dwayne Woods picked off and returned 48 yards for a score that gave BG a 21-0 lead with 2:51 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons fashioned a nine-play, 34-yard drive to start the fourth quarter, and Tyler Tate came on to make a 42-yard field goal, the longest for Bowling Green this season.
That was more than enough scoring thanks to the defense, which also intercepted four passes in the contest. Besides the pick by Woods, Jude Adjei-Barimah had a pair of interceptions while Jerry Gates added the fourth.
Gates claimed his interception on a fourth-down play that began on the BG 41 after a penalty pushed UMass back from the 31, the closest the Minutemen came to the Falcons end zone in this contest.
“When a quarterback’s under duress he’s going to take chances,” Clawson said. “[The turnovers] are great to see.”
Still, the game was far from satisfying for Clawson, who watched his team commit 15 penalties that set them back 130 yards.
“I’m more upset about the penalties [than anything else],” he said. “It was sloppy.
“If you take away the penalties, the level of play is a lot better. The penalties killed us on field position.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.