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October 23, 2013

Rockets Travel to Bowling Green

It was George Allen, while coaching the Washington Redskins, who said: "The future is now." Okay so this Saturday's game is the "Battle of I-75," the long time mega rivalry of two teams separated by some 20+ miles. Got it.

Now, with that brief tribute to history, let's get to the facts at hand. This is a HUGE game for both squads with visions of playing in the MACC game. BG is looking to remain atop the MAC East, currently tied with Buffalo at 3-0 in league play. The Rockets are in a dogfight in the MAC West behind Ball State and NIU, looking to secure their hold of the stick.

Coach Matt Campbell is preparing the Rockets for the most balanced Falcons team they have faced since he arrived at Toledo. BG Head Coach Dave Clawson, 27-30, will surely break the .500-mark this year as he and his intact staff of five years now have a top tier MAC program in place.

The Falcons on Defense
In recent years it was the defense that got the majority of the press. This season the national buzz is on the Falcon's red zone defense and rightfully so. They are ranked number one in the nation, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on just half of their red zone trips. The folks in Starkville, Mississippi took notice as the Falcons blanked their Bulldogs in the second half of State's 21-20 win.

The BG defense is loaded with experience with just three sophomores in the 2-deep defensive depth chart. They rank third in the MAC in stopping the run allowing less than 164 ypg. Even adding in Navy ground stats, the Rockets are allowing 182 yards on the ground, fifth best in the league. Against the pass, BG is second in the conference allowing about 191 yards per game. In total, the Falcons are the number one defensive unit in the MAC - the Rockets are fifth.

When you consider the top tackler for the Falcons, DJ Lynch, ranks 300th nation, it's obvious that their success is a team effort. UT's Junior Sylvestre is tied for ninth in the NCAA in total tackles per game with Chase Murdock tied for 27th.

The Falcons move side-to-side well with the opposition having some success running to the edge with speed backs and wide receivers. The Falcons are giving up five yards per rush with the Rockets allowing less than four yards per carry. Most of the pass completions against BG are the quick outs for minimal damage. This group does not miss many tackles. The secondary is subject to getting beat deep on out-and-ups patterns.

The Falcons on Offense
The offense, ranked third in the MAC and tied for 30th in the nation, is averaging 467 ypg. The Rockets rank fourth in the league with an average per game of nearly 416 yards.

Offensive coordinator Warren Rugglero employs more offensive formations than Wood County has corn fields. BG uses multiple offensive formations giving a different look on most every play. As good and deep as the defense is the offense may be just as good or better.

A major key to the Falcons offensive success is the maturation of redshirt sophomore QB Matt Johnson. Early this year he locked onto his receiver. Now he is going through his progressions and looking off the defense resulting in a pass completion of 64.1%. He ranks third in the MAC in passing efficiency behind Tyler Tettleton and Keith Wenning. Johnson has nine TD passes with just three INTs and has not thrown a pick in his last three outings. Another development has been Johnson becoming much more of a passer than a runner. Earlier this year he had an element of Jordan Lynch to his game, running the ball with some regularity. Now he is focused on passing, leaving the running game to his cadre of ball carriers.

The receiving corps is highlighted by Shaun Joplin who is coming into his own. He is running good routes and consistently making critical grabs. The key to this group's success is the number of Brown and Orange receivers. The top eight Falcons receivers have an average yards-per-catch of ten yards or more. I'm including Chris Gallon, the second leading receiver, who is averaging 9.7 yards per catch. By comparison just three of the Rockets' top four receivers, who have 87% of UT's receptions, average more than 10 yards per catch. Reedy, averaging 9.6 ypc, is included in this group.

The running game has not missed a beat following the departure of 1,000+ yards rusher Anthon Samuel. Sophomore scat-back Travis Greene, who has accounted for less than half of the Flacons' rushes, ranks third in the MAC in total rushing yards and rushing average per game behind David Fluellen and Jordan Lynch in both categories.

Andre Givens, 6.8 ypc average, and Fred Coppet, 4.9 yards a carry, give Greene time off. In short yardage situations, particularly near the goal line, William Houston enters as the battering ram. Despite averaging just 2..5 yards a smash, he has tallied a team high seven TDs. At 6'0", 262#, Houston is the largest running back in the MAC.

Greene doesn't break tackles but rather avoids and slips would-be-tacklers. His cutting ability and his always-moving-forward motion is why he is rarely tackled for a loss. Just as impressive is his ability to hold onto the football not fumbling once this year on 135 rushes. To make matters worse for defenses, he can catch the ball out of the backfield.

And then there is All-MAC tight end Alex Bayer, a Mackey Award Watch List candidate. He is a standout pass receiver and blocker. Along with fellow tight end Tyler Beck, Bayer plays a big part in the BG passing game as well as blocking on the edge for Greene and his fellow RBs.

Falcons Special Teams
BG is third in the MAC and 21st in the nation in punt return defense, allowing just 3.84 yards per return. Their kickoff coverage is also good giving up a bit more than 20 yards per return.

Anthony Farinella has nearly 37% of his kickoffs go for touchbacks. Rockets' Jeremiah Detmer has an amazing 63% of his kickoff not being returned.

Tyler Tate has been a fairly consistent field goal kicker (8 of 11) with his misses coming from 33 yards out and beyond where he is five of eight. He has tendency to miss wide left when he is off.

Punter Brian Shmiedebusch, two-time All-MAC punter, is having a good year averaging nearly 41 yards per punt. Statistically, Vince Penza is having a better year but, when a punt is returned, the Rockets are giving up nearly 10 yards per return.

WR Ronnie Moore is averaging a bit less than 20 per kickoff return with a season long of 30 yards. The sure-handed Ryan Burbrink handles punts returns for an average of 12.4 ypr. including a 67 return for a touchdown. Reedy is averaging less than 10 yards a return with a long of 33 yards.

What to Look For
Look for the Rockets to pressure QB Johnson from the Falcons' left end on rushes and corner blitzes.

Look for the Falcons to line up in an I-formation and passing out of it.

Look for tight coverage on TE Alex Bayer from Rocket linebackers.

Look for WR Ronnie Moore on the fly sweep, coming in motion from his left wide out position.

Look for RB (Greene) lining up on the outside hip of the OT then looping back for the hand off - a variation of the counter trey.

Look for the Falcons to put seven and eight into the box to stop the run and force Owens to throw the ball.

Look for the Rockets to have another multiple sack game, getting to Johnson at least three times.

Look for BG's running game to feature pulling linemen to get Greene seams outside the tackles.

Look for triple stacked wide receivers with the back wide out dropping back for an apparent screen pass, but Johnson instead hands off to a running back on a quick-hitter.

Look for Reedy to be more involved in the running game on flanker sweeps.

Look for the Falcons to put pressure on Penza.

Look for the Rockets offensive line to spread out the Falcons defense.

Look for the Rocket defense to get their hands up to deflect at least two of Johnson's passes.

Look for the Rockets to isolate WRs on CB's one-on-one using out-and-up deep patterns.

Look for BG to use a play action pass to the short side with two receivers on fourth and short. A WR doing a quick out and a TE slipping behind the defense.

Look for the Falcons kickoff team to bunch towards the left side, kicking to the left side of the field from the left hash mark to contain Reedy.

Look for Terrance Owens to quick pitch to RB to hit the edge.

Forecast: Chilly with a high of 50 and winds out of the WSW at 14 mph with gusts to 25 mph having an effect on the kicking game.


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