BOWLING GREEN — The Bowling Green State University football team’s defense ranks fifth among FBS schools in scoring defense, allowing 13.8 points per game, and is seventh in total defense, allowing 296.6 yards per contest.
But in the past four games, the Bowling Green defense has found a way to raise its level of play, a big reason the 9-3 Falcons claimed the Mid-American Conference’s East Division title.
Thanks to that crown, the Falcons will face No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game Friday at Ford Field. The contest, which will be televised by ESPN2, starts at 8 p.m.
Senior linebacker Paul Swan said it was not a coincidence that the BG defense improved after back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Toledo.
“Those were two tough losses, and two games we felt we should have won,” he said. “We knew we had to win all four November games to be in the position we are in right now. I think we locked in, reset our focus, and really elevated our play.”
The numbers bear that out.
In the last four games, BG has allowed just 701 yards of total offense, including just 229 rushing yards. The Falcons have given up less than 100 yards rushing in each of those games, while opponents have completed just 45 percent of their passes and averaged 118 passing yards per game.
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey expressed admiration for BG’s run defense, which hasn’t given up a running play longer than 15 yards in the last four games.
“They attack the line of scrimmage and force the offense to run east and west,” Carey said.
And the pass defense has improved as the health of the Falcons’ defensive line improved. Junior end Charlie Walker was hurt in the season opener against Tulsa, while senior tackle Ted Ouellet was injured against Murray State.
The other starters, senior tackle Jairus Campbell and junior end Bryan Thomas, also were “dinged up” early.
“We’re healthy on the D-line right now,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “I don’t think any of those guys were more than 70 percent healthy during the first two months of the season.
“That’s where having some of those long weeks [between games] have helped us become healthier on the D-line more than we have been all year. You’d never think you’d say that as you get into your 13th game, but I don’t think early in the year those guys were playing at the level they are capable of because they weren’t healthy.”
The result is a strong pass rush that has resulted in 15 sacks in the last two games, often despite using as few as four players to generate pressure.
“When you can control the line of scrimmage and get a pass rush with four guys, it makes playing defense in the back end a lot easier,” Clawson said.
The result has been a string of four straight one-sided victories. BG has outscored its last four opponents 176-17 and has not allowed a second-half point — the defense has given up just one touchdown in those games.
What makes the performance of the BG defense even more impressive is that the focus is not on one particular player. Junior linebacker D.J. Lynch leads the team in tackles with 67, less than six per game.
“There’s not really one guy who’s out there making all the tackles, making all the plays,” Swan said. “Everyone — from the D-line to the linebackers to the safeties and cornerbacks — is making a play at some point.
“That’s the way our defense is built, for all of us to make plays. Everyone is doing their part.”