Weekly Preview: Terps vs. Bowling Green
Opponent: Bowling Green Falcons (0-1, 0-0 Mid-American Conference)
Location: Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium (54,000)
Date: Saturday, September 12, 2015
Time: 12:00 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: Big Ten Network, Maryland Sports Radio Network
Series Record: N/A (First meeting)
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Maryland’s first FBS opponent of the 2015 season will be the Bowling Green Falcons out of the Mid-American Conference. The Falcons are fresh off of a 59-30 loss to #25 Tennessee at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. Like many games along the East coast last weekend, it was delayed 80 minutes for lightning. Bowling Green was never really in this game, as their defense failed to stop the Volunteers’ offense, who ran for 6 touchdowns on them.
Ever since Urban Meyer became the head coach in Bowling Green, Ohio in 2001, the Falcons have been known for their high-scoring, up-tempo offenses. Bowling Green was the first place that Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen installed their now-famous spread-to-run offense. While they only coached the Falcons for two years before moving on to Utah, they left a lasting impact on the program. After Dave Clawson left to become the head coach at Wake Forest after the 2013 season, the team hired former Eastern Illinois head coach Dino Babers to lead the program. He had immediate success, leading the team to the Mid-American Conference Championship Game and winning the Camelia Bowl over South Alabama.
Mike Lynch and Sean Lewis are in their second years as Bowling Green’s co-offensive coordinators. The Falcons’ offense is essentially a modern west-coast system out of spread formations. The team will run primarily short and intermediate passing routes to set up longer passes down the field. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll never run the ball. In fact, Lynch and Lewis boast a very balanced offense which accomplished a nearly perfect 50/50 balance between the run and the pass in 2014. Senior quarterback Matt Johnson leads the offense in 2015 after suffering an injury early in the 2014 season that forced junior James Knapke into action. Johnson went 27-for-49 against Tennessee, throwing for 424 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also added 22 yards on the ground, highlighted by a 20-yard run.
Junior receiver Gehrig Dieter led the Falcons in receiving last week, catching 7 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. He has excellent size at 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds, making him both a deep threat and a red zone target for Johnson. Senior slot receiver Ryan Burbrink is also an excellent target for Bowling Green, and he hails from Shady Side, Maryland. Last week, he caught 4 passes for 70 yards and also carried the ball once for 7 yards and a touchdown. Johnson did an excellent job of spreading the ball around last week, as 11 different players registered at least one reception. The Falcons’ rushing game is more of a committee approach, with junior Fred Coppet and senior Travis Greene splitting duties. Both players combined to rush for nearly 100 yards on 19 carries last week against Tennessee.
While Bowling Green’s offense can be very explosive, their defense leaves a lot to be desired for Babers. Brian Ward is in his first season as the team’s defensive coordinator, as former defensive coordinator Kim McCloud was moved to assistant head coach after last season. Ward served as the defensive coordinator at Western Illinois from 2012-2014. After running a 4-2-5 defense last season, the Falcons have moved to a more conventional 4-3 defense which is very similar to Maryland’s scheme. They will run a 4-3 Under scheme, made popular in recent years by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL. This scheme isolates one pass-rushing defensive end, while bringing the strong-side linebacker close to the line of scrimmage on the other side to help stop the run. Senior Taylor Royster is the defensive end that the Falcons will isolate. He is very undersized, standing just 5-foot-10, but as Terrapins fans know, undersized defensive linemen (Andre Monroe) can still make a big impact in opposing teams’ backfields.
The Terrapins boast a record of 1-0 (0-0 Big Ten Conference) after a 50-21 season-opening win over Richmond last weekend. The entire country took notice of junior defensive back William Likely’s performance in the return game, as he broke both the Big Ten and Maryland records for punt return yards in a single game with 236. He is currently ranked 12th all-time on Maryland’s list for punt return yards in a single season after just one game. Likely returned one punt for a touchdown, and would have returned two if one had not been called back for a block-in-the-back penalty against senior linebacker Avery Thompson.
But Likely was not the only one to shine in the Terrapins’ big win. Greg Studrawa’s bigger, stronger offensive line mauled their way to 341 rushing yards for Maryland’s running backs. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has moved to a more downhill, power-based running game with his crop of more immobile quarterbacks unable to contribute very much in the option running game. The two most common runs were power and counter, which both pull the back-side guard into a hole between the front-side tackle and guard, leading the way for the running back. Locksley seemed comfortable pulling either left guard Mike Minter or right guard Andrew Zeller in this game, but will likely lean more heavily on Zeller for this as the season moves on. While the line looked much bigger and more physical, they also have not lost the agility that they have boasted for the past few years. Another play that Locksley ran a good bit was a twist on the conventional power run, where he pulled the front-side guard in a run which tested the edge of the defense. This is often seen on toss sweeps, but Locksley had quarterback Perry Hills hand the ball off instead of tossing it.
Speaking of Hills, much has already been said about his first start under center since his true freshman season in 2012. He completed 12 of his 21 pass attempts for 138 yards. He also threw 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, and added 25 yards on the ground. He spread the ball around well, completing passes to 7 different receivers. Both of his touchdown passes were over 20 yards. However, head coach Randy Edsall was fairly underwhelmed with Hills’ performance. He was certainly not nearly as accurate and consistent as he needed to be, and missed quite a few open receivers. He missed at least one touchdown pass on a wheel route to fullback Kenneth Goins, Jr. early in the first quarter. For now, Edsall is sticking with Hills, and for good reason. In order to maintain continuity offensively, a head coach cannot change his mind on a quarterback each week. Hills now has the opportunity to get better this week before the team’s game against Bowling Green. He was chosen over Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman for a reason, he just has to get his success in practice to carry over into games.
Maryland’s new 4-3 defense was solid in its debut under defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski. The team took a little time to get their pass-rush going, but ultimately wreaked havoc in Richmond’s backfield in the second half. Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson and defensive end Jesse Aniebonam were the two stars in this regard, with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue having a fairly quiet day. Middle linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. was as good as advertised, flying around the field to the ball, and proving to be an excellent run-stopper and leader defensively. Defensive back Sean Davis had quite a few nice tackles, and his run-stopping instincts are very unique for a cornerback.
The Terrapins’ goal against Bowling Green has to be to continue the success that they had last week on the ground. The Falcons allowed 399 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns to the Volunteers last week. If Maryland is able to run the ball for that kind of success, it takes a lot of pressure off of Hills, and also keeps the Falcons’ potent offense off the field. Bowling Green has two 5-foot-10 starters on its defensive line, so Maryland’s defensive line will need to get low and use their superior strength to push these players back. Using play-action rollout passes to get Hills some easy completions should also help the junior quarterback.
Dudzinski’s defense will likely operate primarily out of their nickel package which takes strong-side linebacker Jalen Brooks off of the field in favor of defensive back Alvin Hill. You will also probably see Aniebonam get a lot of playing time in the stead of defensive end Roman Braglio, as Aniebonam is the better pass-rusher. The Falcons love to employ a lot of short-yardage passes, so Maryland’s defensive backs should be ready to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage to knock them off their timing. Defensive linemen should also get ready to have their hands up to swat balls down at the line of scrimmage, as Johnson is just 6-feet tall. If the Terrapins can force a few incompletions in a row, they can use some of their heavier, more complex blitzing schemes and really come after Johnson in the pocket.
Zack’s Keys to the Game
- Keep Johnson off the field – Maryland’s offense needs to operate at a good, methodical pace in order to limit the possessions of Bowling Green’s offense.
- Run, run, run again – The Terrapins’ offensive line should have no problem running the ball against the Falcons’ defensive line. If they can do this, it helps keep Bowling Green’s offense off the field and also takes pressure off of Hills.
- Get Perry some confidence – While the running game has to be a priority, it has to be important to get Hills some easy completions early on screens or play-action rollouts. Keeping him confident heading into a potentially tougher South Florida defense will be crucial for his development.
- Let’s get physical – …at the line of scrimmage. Maryland’s defensive backs need to be able to keep Bowling Green’s receivers off their stride by jamming them at the line. Naturally, this has its risks, so safeties Anthony Nixon and A.J. Hendy need to be ready to defend deep routes.
Zack is a financial analyst for a defense contractor in Washington, DC. The Owings Mills native focuses most of his efforts on Maryland Football recruiting and individual coach and player pieces; but also covers Terps Basketball. He has established relationships with Big Ten beat reporters across the conference, which he utilizes in his game previews. Now a Sr. Terps Analyst for BSL, Zack can be reached at: [email protected]