BOWLING GREEN — Dave Clawson is the CEO of Bowling Green State University football, and like most CEOs he measures how his business and his employees are doing by bar and line graphs.
The BG coach has an employee at quarterback named Matt Schilz who has started 35 career games, including the last 32 in a row, heading into his final season. He is No. 3 in school history in passing yards and fifth in touchdown passes at a place that has had its fair share of good quarterbacks.
But Clawson doesn’t like the direction of the graph. It starts with a fairly flat line — the Falcons were awful in Schilz’s first season, but they would have been awful with Johnny Unitas at quarterback, too — then soars during the 2011 season before finally dropping off considerably a year ago.
With the Falcons returning 17 starters and predicted to be a factor in the Mid-American Conference title race, Clawson has picked an interesting time to run a wide-open competition at quarterback.
Schilz’s graph arrow trends opposite that of BG’s football business. In his best season, the Falcons went 5-7. When his level of play and production dropped off in 2012, the Falcons were 8-5 and played in a bowl game.
Truth is — and the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Schilz is the first to admit this — BG won last year despite him. They became a run-heavy offensive team that relied on a stingy defense, turnover margin, and field position to, at one point, win six straight games.
In 2010, when the Falcons were 2-8 with Schilz under center and 2-10 in all games, Clawson said his quarterback “showed a lot of courage and won the respect of the locker room. He didn’t complain about the bad protection or all the dropped balls. He played hurt. He did his best.
“His second year we saw real growth. We won some games, and he kept us in games against teams that were better than us. If you were charting it or graphing it, he was definitely on an upward trajectory.”
Last year was a different story, although Schilz played well early, especially in nonleague games against Florida and Idaho.
“We figured, ‘We’re on our way,’ ” Clawson said. “Then maybe he got hurt. But he didn’t play well, and we made a philosophical decision to be a physical team, to run the ball, and lean on defense. And we won games. But we did it without very much of a big-play threat.”
So Clawson opened up the job last spring, and it’s still open.
Schilz and his good buddy, sophomore Matt Johnson, are 1-2 in the quarterback battle with redshirt freshman James Knapke showing promise as well.
The Falcons will hold their final scrimmage on Sunday, and a decision will be made about the starting quarterback by this time next week so that one player can get the majority of snaps in advance of the season opener Aug. 29 against Tulsa.
Clawson insists this was not done as a motivational tool for Schilz.
“This is no gimmick,” he said. “It’s a real competition. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair to the other guys. I owed it to the team and the program to open the job up and do it this way. As a coach, you’d like it to be clean and easy, but sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it can’t be rushed.
“If Matt Schilz is our starter, it will be because he truly earned it. If not, it is because somebody outplayed him.”
Schilz, a fifth-year senior, insists he won’t let that happen.
“I think I’m a competitor, and I always play my best when I’m pushed,” he said after practice Tuesday. “We’ve never had close to this kind of competition since I’ve been here. This is great for me.
“I know the numbers I put up last year weren’t good enough. With the kind of depth and good players we have, this team is ready to step to the next level, and I have to do the same thing.”
In one way, the competition is uncomfortable because he and Johnson have “bonded in a way I’ve never experienced before during my career,” Schilz said. “So I think we’re trying to keep it impersonal, and we’re approaching it that we both want what is best for the team.”
But there’s no question Schilz, who was recruited to BG from Arcadia, Calif., wants to be the man for that team.
“Being out there on the field, the feeling of building and winning, that’s everything,” he said. “Football isn’t easy. Handling the pressure isn’t easy. With everything you go through being out there and a being a part of winning is the ultimate.”
The question about Matt Schilz has never been whether BG can win with him, but whether the Falcons can win because of him.
“No question, we can,” he said. “I think this team can do great things. The competition has been good for me, and I think I’m playing better than ever. I wouldn’t want anyone else out there.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.