BOWLING GREEN — It was déjà vu all over again Saturday at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Last year the Bowling Green State University football team trailed Akron at halftime after struggling on both sides of the ball.
The Falcons pulled things together that day and claimed a victory that really got the team rolling towards a winning season.
On Saturday BG again trailed the Zips early, but got things rolling on both sides of the ball for 21 second-half points in a 31-14 victory at Doyt Perry Stadium.
“I think coming out we underestimated them a little bit — just a little bit,” said BG tailback Travis Greene, who scored twice while running for a game-high 142 yards while adding 71 yards receiving. “In the second half we made the corrections. We picked up everything they were doing."
Akron came out firing, scoring touchdowns on each of its first two possessions and piling up 139 yards on 15 plays. Junior rover Gabe Martin, who finished with five tackles, said the Falcons defense didn’t panic after its slow start.
“I went up and down the sideline telling people to settle down,” he said. “Nobody was too rattled — the confidence in this group is amazing.
“Last year we were down to then 10-0 at the half, so we had been in that position before. It’s not a good position to be in, but we never count ourselves out.”
After allowing 199 yards of total offense in the first half, including 140 yards passing, BG throttled the Zips in the second half. The Falcons gave up just 97 yards of total offense, including 59 passing yards.
“I thought Mike Elko, our defensive coordinator, made some great adjustments,” said Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson. “We were playing a lot of soft-corner coverage and conceding a lot of short throws, and we played a lot more ‘Cover 2’ in the second half to try and help our corners.
“We defending the running game with a ‘short’ box, and we did a better job of that this week than we did two weeks ago.”
Meanwhile the Bowling Green offense, which had 98 yards on the team’s first five possessions — with 64 of those coming on a drive that ended with Tyler Tate’s 29-yard field goal — found some traction late in the first half.
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The Falcons drove 65 yards on 10 plays, with Shaun Joplin catching a 22-yard slant pass from Matt Johnson for a touchdown just 1:41 before halftime.
After surrendering six sacks in the first half, Bowling Green (4-1, 2-0 Mid-American)rolled in the second. The Falcons scored touchdowns on four straight possessions and piled up 238 yards of offense without surrendering a sack.
“I thought our offensive coordinator, Warren Ruggiero, made some great adjustments,” Clawson said. “When we were dropping back and taking time, they were getting there.
“I thought we were more patient in the second half, and we moved the launch point — you saw a lot more three-step and a lot more sprint-outs. … I thought it was smart play-calling by coach Ruggiero.”
It helped that Johnson was perfect throwing the ball in the second half, completing all 11 of his pass attempts for 153 yards.
“We thought he was hurt at halftime,” Clawson said of Johnson. “But he’s a throwback. He’s a ballplayer, and he makes plays.
“That’s playing quarterback. The pocket isn’t always going to be pretty, and the play isn’t going to look like we drew it on the chalkboard. Some times you have to improvise.
“Good football players make that kind of play. Matt Johnson is a good football player.”
Still, the Falcons led just 24-14 as Akron (2-3, 0-1) drove to BG’s 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-goal play Martin was able to bat down a potential TD pass by the Zips’ Kyle Pohl, forcing a fourth down field-goal attempt that Akron’s Robert Stein bounced off the left upright.
“Initially I was supposed to cover the fullback in the flat, but I got outleveraged to the flat,” Martin said. “[Aaron] Foster took off and covered him for me.
"So I was in-between, trying to figure out what to do. I saw the quarterback settle his feet, and I jumped up. I wish I could have [intercepted] it, but it worked out in our favor.”
Bowling Green followed with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown that salted away the win — an 11-yard TD run by Greene — while taking 8:07 off the clock, effectively closing the door on the Zips.
“That was the game — those two plays and that series,” Clawson said.