BOWLING GREEN — Dave Clawson was in his second year as coach of the Bowling Green State University football team the last time it faced Tulsa, its opponent today at Doyt Perry Stadium.
The Golden Hurricane won that 2010 contest by a score of 33-20, and the two teams headed in different directions that season.
“They were really good then: They won 11 games, and they beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame,” said Clawson, whose Falcons finished 2-10 that season. “And they’re really good now: Last year they won 11 games, won their conference, and won their bowl game.
“They have reached a point where they’re not a good team — they’re a really good program.”
One thing that hasn’t changed for the Golden Hurricane from that 2010 meeting is their success, as Tulsa has won at least 10 games in four of its last six seasons.
But the way the Golden Hurricane has continued that successful run has changed under third-year coach Bill Blankenship.
“When I think of Tulsa in 2010, I think of the spread offense and their speed in space,” Clawson said. “Now there’s a much more physical element to what they do on offense.
“Their offensive line is physical, and their two top running backs are NFL prospects. Their quarterback is a Nebraska transfer — and he would start on the offensive line at some schools. He can pound you, he can run by you, and he’s got a good arm.”
Senior quarterback Cody Green is a dual threat, having thrown for 2,592 yards and 17 touchdowns last season while running for 283 yards and four more scores.
If Green hands the ball off, two talented seniors are likely to run with it. Trey Watts ran for 1,108 yards and three TDs a year ago, while Ja’Terian Douglas added 936 yards and seven scores.
Senior linebacker Paul Swan was a redshirt freshman who saw limited action for the Falcons in that 2010 game against Tulsa, and he knows the challenge the defense faces.
“They were fast, and they were a good football team,” Swan said. “Now they are still a good football team, but they are very physical.
“They have more run plays, and they run downhill. That’s something we have to stop.”
The Golden Hurricane aren’t quite as fortunate on defense, having lost a number of starters from last season. The defensive backfield suffered a blow when junior safety Demarco Nelson, an all-conference player last season, was ruled ineligible earlier this week.
“They have the same coordinator [Brent Guy], and he’s had a lot of success at a lot of different places,” Clawson said. “They were a top defense last year. … Their linebacker, [Shawn] Jackson, is one of the best we’ll face.”
Clawson admitted that Tulsa having a lot of unfamiliar personnel on defense does pose some risks.
“That’s the challenge: You are looking at what they did a year ago, and I’m sure there will be adjustments in scheme and personnel,” Clawson said. “That’s the fun of openers, figuring out what they are doing differently and adjusting.”
Clawson said he was excited the Falcons are playing such a high-level opponent.
“This probably is the best nonconference team that we’ve played at the Doyt since Boise State [in 2009],” Clawson said. “That game was an electric atmosphere, and we hope we can get that same atmosphere Thursday.
Swan agreed, adding, “This is an awesome opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get in the headlines if we can win the game.
“It’s going to be a tough task, because they’re a great team. But we feel we have a pretty good team, too.”
And don’t get Clawson started about playing one of the first games of the season.
“That’s awesome — are you kidding me?” he said. “We get to play football before almost anyone else in the country.
“This time of the year, there’s an excitement for college football season here and nationally. … Hopefully we’ll have a great student turnout and a great community turnout, and hopefully we’ll give them a reason to come back.”