Corrected version: Changed the season record last year for Northern Illinois.
BOWLING GREEN — Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, Bowling Green’s defense brings joy to coach Dave Clawson.
The rest of the time, which was Wednesday afternoon, pained him.
The Mid-American Conference announced its football all-league teams and one BG defensive player, safety BooBoo Gates, was named first team.
We’re talking about the seventh-ranked defense in the United States of America, the fifth best scoring defense … by far the best in the MAC in both departments.
“And we’re in a conference known for offensive fireworks,” Clawson added, shaking his head, then shrugging his shoulders, then running out of ways to emote.
OK, now that we’ve gotten all that negativity out of the way, the Falcons can certainly live with being almost shunned. The all-conference vote is in a way an affirmation that the BG defense is not its parts, but the sum of its parts.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko talks about the “mosh pit” approach to defense — controlling the line of scrimmage, playing the gaps and running lanes, going sideline to sideline, and directing the ball to the spot they want it, and 11 guys tackling as one.
In 12 games, nine of them wins, the Falcon ‘D’ has surrendered 22 touchdowns and allowed averages of 13.8 points and 296.6 yards per game. If you eliminate one stinker at Indiana (601 yards, six TDs, and 42 points) the numbers would be bordering on invisible.
Three seasons ago, BG was 2-10 and couldn’t stop a shadow. One player had 134 tackles. If he hadn’t they’d still be adding up points. In 2013, the leading tackler, linebacker D.J. Lynch, has 67.
“We play the system so well, guys pile into that mosh pit and we can’t tell who should get the credit for tackles,” Elko said.
So the All-MAC voters looked elsewhere for stars. Some other voters maybe saw it otherwise.
BG plays Northern Illinois Friday night for the MAC championship. Based on the BCS rankings, NIU is the 14th best team in the country. The Huskies are in their fourth straight league title game. They followed a 11-1 season with a perfect 12-0 regular-season finish. They have Jordan Lynch at quarterback. They’re MAC elite.
Did you notice the Las Vegas line? Last I saw it was three points. It doesn’t seem like nearly enough … unless… unless somebody out in the desert is voting for BG’s defense.
“Very few offenses have the firepower Northern Illinois does and very few defenses have accomplished the things our guys have by buying into team defense instead of making individual plays,” Elko said. “As a result, it’s like two freight trains headed at each other.”
The Huskies have derailed most every defense they’ve faced. Elko calls NIU “the best we’ve seen.” Jordan Lynch is one of those rare guys who get better when the score gets more in doubt. Ask Toledo. Ask Ball State.
Maybe, on Friday at Ford Field, we’ll ask BG. Maybe we’ll find out if the boys on the Vegas Strip sense something the rest of us might not.
“Can we handle [NIU’s] offense? Yes,” Clawson said. “Can we handle their players? That’s another question. They’re really good. Their numbers are off the chart.”
The key, of course, is tackling, something the Falcons have done very well. But one or two slips…
“Watch the films,” Clawson said. “If you eliminate a handful of missed tackles on Lynch, they’re probably not 12-0.”
And if BG had more defensive stars and less of a star defense, the Falcons probably wouldn’t find themselves within 60 minutes of a championship.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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