BOWLING GREEN — It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t clean. And it sure wasn’t easy.
But the Bowling Green State University football team did what it needed to do to claim a 28-7 victory over the University of Massachusetts on a rainy afternoon at Doyt Perry Stadium on Saturday.
The Falcons struggled on offense early, but relied on a stout defense that gave the offense enough time to get untracked. It was a formula that was good enough for BG to improve to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
UMass fell to 0-5 and 0-1, losing for the 16th time in 17 games since moving to the FBS before last season.
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“That one felt hard [to win],” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “We certainly didn’t get off to a good start on offense. … We struggled on offense for a while, but the defense got a lot of three-and-outs.”
Neither offense came out of the gates well as the two teams exchanged eight punts in the first quarter. BG amassed just 68 yards of total offense in that period while the Minutemen had just 47.
After an exchange of punts gave the Falcons the ball on their 9 early in the second quarter, the offense started clicking. BG pushed the ball to its 49, and Matt Johnson faked a pass to Ronnie Moore, then faked a handoff to Jordan Hopgood.
Johnson then threw the ball to Moore on the left sideline, and the freshman weaved through the UMass defense to reach the end zone.
“It was designed for Chris [Gallon], but they double-covered him,” Johnson said. “The line gave me great protection, so I was able to scan the field.
“I saw Ronnie as a check-down. But I only threw the ball to him — he did the rest by making the defense miss.”
After another three-and-out, BG leaned on Travis Greene to push the ball down the field. Greene carried the ball six times for 56 yards to set up a one-yard TD plunge by William Houston a little more than a minute before halftime.
Greene finished with a career-high 160 yards rushing on 22 carries.
“We’re not a big-play offense. We’re not a team that comes out to start the game, and we’re really pretty, pitching and catching it,” Clawson said. “We’re a run-based team, although we’re throwing it better than we did a year ago.
“Sometimes that takes a while to get going.”
Bowling Green scored on its first two second-half drives to pull away, rolling 56 yards on just five plays for the first score. Johnson connected with tight end Tyler Beck from 23 yards out for the touchdown at 10:10 of the quarter.
The second drive again needed just five plays and this time covered 55 yards, with Heath Jackson catching a nine-yard scoring strike from Johnson, who completed 11-of-20 passes on the day for 166 yards.
That was more than enough points thanks to an impressive defensive effort that saw the Falcons allow just 192 yards of offense in the first three quarters, including just 43 yards passing.
BG forced a three-and-out in five of the Minutemen’s first seven drives, and UMass ran just three plays on the Falcons’ side of the field in the first half and eight total through three quarters.
“They are an offense that struggles to make plays, so we came into the game with a ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ approach,” Clawson said. “We were going to concede some plays. … We were going to be a little vanilla and make them earn it, make them chunk their way down the field.
“We hoped that, with the long field, we would get them off schedule or get an incompletion so they didn’t convert a third down — and we would get them off the field.
“We didn’t feel they could beat us if we kept things in front of us.”
The Minutemen pushed to the BG 23 early in the fourth quarter before an interception by Ryland Ward stopped that drive.
On its next possession UMass avoided the shutout, driving 71 yards in 10 plays against the Falcons’ reserves. Mike Wegzyn completed a 24-yard pass to Tajae Sharpe for the score.
“They’ve had two weeks to prepare for us, so we weren’t exactly sure what to prepare for,” said Ward, who had four tackles. “We didn’t want to allow any explosive plays or any balls that got over our heads, and we wanted to create turnovers.
“We wanted to be disciplined in our assignments, and I think that helped us out.”
UMass finished with 280 yards of total offense, including just 96 yards passing as two quarterbacks combined to complete just 11-of-25 passes. Rovers Justin Ford and Gabe Martin led the Falcons with seven and six tackles, respectively.