2020 preview

Discussion of the Falcon football team.

2020 preview

Postby MarkL » Mon Jul 06, 2020 10:53 pm

Figured I'd spark the board a bit during the off-season funk. These are my thoughts going into the 2020 season and I'd love to hear what everyone is thinking. And as a disclaimer, I'm writing this with the supposition that the season will be played out as expected. I can't predict anything about how the virus will impact the football season, how it will impact preparation, how it will impact games. So I'll stick with what I know, and it's not epidemiology.

Offense:
  • First thing. Regardless of how the QB play goes, we are going to miss Grant Loy. That guy was a leader. He worked as hard as he could every day and inspired everyone around him to do the same. His career as a starter is 2-5 I think. And yet, that first win, the epic upset over UT that ended the worst losing streak in BG history and also sent our biggest rival on a nosedive, cemented him as BG legend.
    • I wish Loy nothing but the best at Auburn and beyond and will remember him as one of my favorite players to ever wear the orange and brown.
  • That statement standing, the QB play in 2019 badly hurt the offense. I didn't realize until just now exactly how putrid the season passing numbers were: 56% completions, 9 TDs, 15 ints, <2000 yards, all QBs combined. That's ugly.
  • The QB situation should be dramatically improved this year. Matt McDonald was a great recruit for Loeffler at BC and has suffered the misfortune of being stuck behind other great players and missing the 2019 season. I bet that guy cannot wait to get back to football.
    • I've seen a small amount of video on McDonald. Big arm, good footwork, no idea how he will be under pressure.
    • Regardless, this will be his fourth year learning from Scot Loeffler. I expect significantly improved QB play over 2019.
  • I'll be honest about the receivers. I don't know what to think. Given the passing offense woes, we didn't get to properly evaluate the receiving corps. So keep the 2019 QB stats in mind when I lay out the entirety of returning receivers:
    1. A TE with 55 for 659 yards and 4 TDs
    2. A WR with 20 for 298 and no TDs
    3. A RB with 27 for 267 and 3 TDs
    4. A TE with 8 for 72 and 1 TD
    5. A RB who only played four games with 10 for 71 and no TDs
    6. A WR with 2 for 54 and no TDs
    7. A WR with 1 for 14 and no TDs
    8. A WR with 3 for 11 and no TDs
    9. A TE with 2 for 4 and no TDs
    10. A RB with 1 for -3 and predictably no TDs.
    • That's right, in your top five returning pass catchers, only one WR. Weird. I have to say there is one bit of good news. All the 2019 pass catchers who do not return were seniors. We're losing bodies by graduation, not by dropouts or arrests.
    • Only three returners have caught TD passes, and none of them are WRs.
    • I know Quintin Morris is officially a TE but he played 2019 more like a big receiver. I'm curious if he will transition more toward TE this year.
    • Ortega-Jones played well as a freshman. 6-2 frame, good speed. He hasn't found the end zone yet and will hopefully fix that soon.
    • Going into 2020, there's going to be a lot of freshmen WRs. Of the ten receivers on roster, six are either true or RS freshmen. So I don't have much to say other than I've heard good things about some big plays from young WRs.
  • As for the backs, start with Andrew Clair. Glad to have him back. Way back in 2017 he put together some nice games, picking up critical first downs against Miami and had a string of four straight 100 yard games. He only had two 100 yard games in all of 2018 and only had one good game in all of 2019, against Akron.
    • What I hope to see from him is some development. He looked like Anthon Samuel as a true freshman. It would be awesome to have a solid feature back.
    • Bryson Denley filled in nicely and provided an extra gear at opportune moments in 2019. I think he's a better receiving back than Clair.
    • The remaining returning backs combined for 100 and no TDs in 2019. So depth will be a concern. There is high proven upside with Clair and Denley, If one of them gets injured, it's anyone's guess.
  • And ... the offensive line. The O line will be by far the weakest unit on offense. I read that the total combined returning starts at O line is low 20s. There are going to be new faces everywhere.
    • Redshirt freshmen and maybe even true freshmen will have to play. That is a scary proposition for 2020 that could pay off in future years.
    • The two returners on the line are Derek Downs and Tim Tanner-Blair. Both on the right side of the line. I would hope one of them can switch to the left side to spread out the experience. Whatever they do, the notion of a fresh center along with a fresh guard and tackle, and only one year starting experience for the veterans is a tough proposition.
  • There are two ways to look at the potential of the offense.
    • One, the offense will get as far as the line will allow them.
    • Two, the offense was hurt badly in 2019 by QB play and now with better QB play, the offense will open up and be more efficient.
  • Either way could play out. Or both


Defense:
  • The 2019 defensive stats were as ugly as most recent years. Look at some of the rushing yards surrendered in games:
    • Kansas State - 333 yards, 5 TDs
    • Kent State - 375 yards, 2 TDs
    • Western Michigan - 399 yards, 6 TDs
    • Ohio - 342 yards, 6 TDs
    • Buffalo - 455 yards, 7 TDs.
  • In just the final two games (Ohio and Buffalo), the rush defense yielded nearly 800 yards and 13 TDs. Wow. The team completely ran out of steam down the stretch and ran into a couple of run happy teams. Bad combination.
    • For some context, in the 2012 8 regular season MAC games, the team gave up 832 rushing yards and 7 TDs, and in 2013 890 and 4.
  • The pass defense gave up under 200 yards per game. Sounds good, right? That is deceiving as teams focused on the run all game, as they certainly could if they so wished. 24 TDs surrendered to 7 interceptions, not exactly signs of an elite pass defense.
  • Loeffler inherited a pretty bare cupboard on defense. I couldn't believe this when I saw it. Of the 12 DLs, 11 LBs, and 15 DBs on current roster, 6 of each are either true or redshirt freshmen.
    • It shoud be no surprise that defense has been the focus in recruiting.
  • The defensive line returns two starters (Karl Brooks (4.5 sacks) and Demontae Haigler) along with several players with experience. Note that defensive linemen by nature rotate far more than offensive linemen which accounts for as many defensive linemen as have recorded tackles.
    • Honestly I'm not able to guess who will be the starting four linemen. That will shake out in camp.
  • There are two returning starting LBs in Coleman and Roberts. I don't know who will be the third starter. It is nice to have starting experience return at LB.
  • In the defensive backfield, Jerry McBride returns for what feels like his eighth year. He missed around half of last year and it will be nice having his leadership back. Caleb Biggers and Jordan Anderson started a bunch of games and return. Anderson was just a true freshman and started half the season.
  • There also are several DBs in the transfer portal. Just because a player has entered his name in the portal does not guarantee he will be elsewhere. Still, expect some defections from the DBs.
  • The defense quite simply has to improve for the team to take a step forward. In the three wins last year, the team gave up a total of 16 points. In the 9 losses, the team gave up an average of 50 a game. The team beat two bad teams and got up to knock out a rival, and was non-competitive against most others.
  • As the players were under their third defensive coordinator in three years, there is natural slack to cut. I expect the defense to improve. I'm not expecting a leap.
  • I'm curious about everyone's thoughts on Brian VanGorder. We've all read the criticism of him that his schemes are too complicated. I don't think complicated schemes were the issue, but rather lack of talent, bulk, and depth. How much of the problematic defense, and specifically end of year meltdown, is on the DC, rather than on other factors ie prior program culture?
  • And you also have to consider that the play of the offense negatively impacted the defense more often that not. The offense only converted 33% of third downs on 184 attempts. That means an average of 15 third downs a game, only converting 5. That is a ton of times the offense forced a tired defense into a bad situation.
    • Loeffler calls it "complementary football". If the offense is more efficient with improved QB play, it will help the defense every bit as much as it helps the offense.

Schedule
Rather than game by game, I'm going to give preliminary thoughts on the opponents organized by division

MAC East opponents
The way I see it is there will be an upper four and a lower two in the East. Any of the upper four have a legit shot at winning and I can easily make an argument for any of them, and the chasm between the two groups is pretty large.

Buffalo
  • Buffalo returns an 1800 yard rusher and plenty of starters from a defense that finished the season hot.
  • If you ask me, Buffalo was the MAC's best team at end of season. They started spotty and finished dominant.
  • Their weakest spot was the passing game, which was wildly inconsistent, but it didn't matter much with the rushing game.
  • They've got some offensive linemen to replace. Still, if I had to predict the MAC east winner right now, I'm going with Buffalo.

Ohio
  • Unbelievable that for three straight years of Nathan Rourke at QB, Ohio never made it to Detroit.
  • In 2019 they lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and even with Rourke, they had a disappointing season. OU was favored by most to win the East but needed a couple blowout wins over the bottom two of the conference to get to 6 wins.
  • They return a lot of talent including nearly all of the offense, but have to replace a great QB. If the QB play is not much of a dropoff, OU could return to Detroit. I'm not counting on it.
  • So for the first time in a while I'm going with somebody other than Ohio to win the east. Watch they win the MAC this year.

Miami
  • They won the MAC east by beating Buffalo early, before the Bulls really got going, and then won the MAC title game with some big early plays.
  • Miami brings back most starters on both sides of the ball so there's good reasons to think they repeat. They won the MAC with a true freshman QB so there's plenty of room for improvement.
  • Miami went 5-0 in one possession games, and 2-7 in the prior two years. They won close games and it made the difference.
  • 2018 was a senior filled team IIRC so to win it a year later with more youngsters felt like a fluke. So I'm not picking for a repeat.

Kent State
  • Year three of the up tempo crazy offense at Kent, after a strong finish and one hell of a fun bowl win over Utah State.
  • Kent will be tough and the blowout loss BG suffered at Kent was a rough way to open conference play. It wasn't as demoralizing as Memphis 2016, mainly because there were three years in between of demoralization, but it was close.
  • QB Crum returns as a senior along with all but the center on the line, though they lose a lot of offensive skill positions and most of the front 7 on defense.
  • Hopefully a more consistent offense by BG will help keep our defense from getting exhausted.

Akron
  • Us and Akron are the bottom two of the east. Akron was dreadful last year and certainly can't be worse this year.
  • If you've seen the Amazon Prime show "The Boys", you'll know the quote I'm going to reference. This quote from the show is directed to a superhero banished to Sandusky, Ohio, and could double as a motto for our team this year. "At least we aren't a s**thole like Akron."


MAC West opponents
I'm starting to talk myself into thinking the east will be better than the west this year. Weird.

UT
  • Our upset of UT came at their peak. Nobody had been as successful as Brian VanGorder at pressuring the QB and forcing mistakes, along with slowing the run.
  • Later opponents continued that strategy after our game and also found that UT's defense was porous.
  • New defensive coordinator and a lot of talent should keep them competitive but UT is not my pick to win the west.

Eastern Michigan
  • The MAC West was weak in 2019 and still EMU only finished 3-5 with a pretty veteran squad. There's some good depth there as Chris Creighton has been recruiting and building well. They lose a lot of talent on both sides of the ball this year.
  • In the last three years, EMU has beaten Rutgers, Purdue, and Illinois. This year they have Kentucky and Missouri. Any chance they make it four years in a row with a big win?

Northern Illinois
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot happened? NIU changed coaches and drove off the cliff. I mean, nowhere nearly as bad as we did in 2016.
  • Defending champs, returned a good QB and plenty of pieces of a great defense, and dropped to 5-7. It is anybody's guess where they go in 2020.

Non Conf opponents:
OSU
  • In 2016, we lost by 67 points. If we lose by 66 or fewer, I'll call it progress. And given how stacked they are and how thin we are, that may not actually happen.
  • If you ask me, OSU should be ranked #1 going into the season. They are stacked. I know they've got a great running back to replace. I'm not playing any sad violin for whoever takes over and gets to run behind that line and have a playmaking dual threat QB a few feet away.
  • Clemson showed the world how to stop Justin Fields: have an NFL caliber defensive line that can take away his legs and play sound defense in the secondary.
    • About that 66 point margin of defeat goal?

Robert Morris
  • Just beat the FCS team soundly. Please.

Illinois
  • Lovie Smith is building something. They went to and lost a bowl game, the first time in the postseason since 2016.
  • He has patiently recruited and developed players, and brought in a high profile transfer QB in Brandon Peters to elevate the offense. Sound familiar at all?

Liberty
  • In Liberty's first year as an FBS team, they went to and won a bowl game. Good for them.
  • Along the way, it was an unimpressive 8 win season, beating Buffalo before they got good, losing to Rutgers, beating a couple FCS teams and a few low end FBS teams, and beating NMSU twice in the regular season in an odd bit of scheduling.
  • They lose a ton of starters on offense.

Overall thoughts
  • 2019 was in every possible way a year 0 for Loeffler. The expected QB departed after spring practice so a renowned QB coach was left with a walk-on QB and a QB who had quit the game due to injury and was working at Home Depot.
  • Loeffler inherited a defense that was thin, had been battered by attrition, and never felt real success.
  • Overall, he inherited about a worst-case scenario and culture. I'll never forget about how he and so many others described improvements in "how the team lined up" after spring practice in 2019. Baby steps.
  • That team beat our biggest rival for the first time in a decade. That aside, it was the same story as previous years. It takes years to build a program and it showed.
  • On paper, it is hard to see improvement. I see a roster with some good talent starting in most places but thin and young almost everywhere.
  • Away from the paper, I see a culture that is turning around. I've heard from several folks that spring practice, or at least the little amount that the team was able to do, looked entirely different. It has looked the way it is supposed to look. It looks like a proper FBS football practice with no wasted time, players honing in on proper technique, and older players showing leadership.
  • I cannot realistically expect a one year complete shift in culture. Spring practice is of utmost importance for young teams and early indications about work ethic and progression are good. It is anybody's guess how the team will respond after tough or frustrating losses.
  • Realistic win count ceiling: 6. Floor: 2. This feels like one of those seasons where the team makes real progress on and off the field but it may not yet translate to wins. Sounds frustrating.
  • So I'll split and say 4-8 is a realistic record and leave the door open for better.
  • The proposition of relying on so many freshmen at key positions is scary. Regardless of recruiting levels, the term "freshman mistake" exists for a reason. If the freshmen happen to play well, that is a good reflection of this coaching staff.
  • Builds are frustrating and also fun. Each win is that much more memorable. One of my favorite moments as a Falcon fan was the 2010 win over Marshall. It was one of only two wins that year but so memorable because players like BooBoo Gates, Kamar Jorden, Chris Jones, Matt Schilz, and Jordan Roussos made plays. Those guys were all key parts of the turnaround.



I actually wrote the initial version of this up back in May. Normally I don't have time to do this kind of research, and normally I don't get into the football mood until July. And then came the virus. Working from home means two hours of every day not spent in traffic, which means more time for work on other projects. So I decided to put all this together, not knowing if I'll have time to do it later.
And then came the news that BG baseball would be canceled. At that, I decided to hold off on finalizing and posting the preview. Everybody knows that BG football is a massive expense, and currently is not generating enough revenue to fund other sports at the level we would all like. If football were less expensive, baseball would never have been cut. Posting the preview then felt like dancing on the grave of the baseball program. Of course, we all saw the amazing news that baseball is back and I'm sincerely hoping that program returns to championship levels of play.

So what is everyone thinking about the 2020 BGSU Falcons? Am I being too pessimistic? I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts, especially given the off-season tempo of the board.
MarkL has spoken.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby roguewarrior » Tue Jul 07, 2020 8:45 am

I think the offense will be markedly improved over last season, with McDonald. The receivers are a question mark, only because the ball could not get to them last year. Ever. They will be between adequate to great. Catching the ball in stride down field to move the sticks, will do wonders. The defense will be improved greatly, because they might get a rest and not start every series inside their own 50. They will not win the MAC, and they are not shocking the world...a QB with deep understanding of the offense, Who can UNDERSTAND the defense he is facing,................... will change everything. If we end up with a similar record, but are IN a every game in the 4th quarter, will be a vast improvement and put us on the cusp of becoming legit.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby mbenecke » Tue Jul 07, 2020 8:59 am

I think McDonald is going to make a world of a difference if the offensive line gives him time to make throws. If we start winning a few battles upfront on both sides of the ball, we'll be more successful than some expect.

It's great to have Clair back. He's a legit star when he's healthy, so we need to make sure to keep him that way. Denley is a great receiving back and a nice way to balance Clair's running attack.

I like the young pieces in our secondary to take a step forward, with Anderson/Biggers following McBride's lead.

We're thin, but the culture is changing. You can really feel the atmosphere around the program shifting. I'm not predicting a MAC title this year - not by any means. But I do think we will show tangible improvement on the field (after week 1) and this team will be heading to the moon before you know it.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby MarkL » Tue Jul 07, 2020 4:00 pm

roguewarrior wrote:If we end up with a similar record, but are IN a every game in the 4th quarter, will be a vast improvement and put us on the cusp of becoming legit.

I think that is a legit goal and a plausible outcome. I am fully supportive of Loeffler and his efforts. He is building the program the sustainable and slow way rather than patching holes by taking chances on lots of junior college transfers. It will be awfully frustrating if the record looks similar ... and also encouraging if the losses are closer.
Terry Bowden wrote a column about program builds before his return to coaching. He said there is a progression in program building: lose big, lose small, win small, and finally win big. Last year was definitely the lose big step. Hopefully time to move to the next step.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby BPardonMyTake » Wed Jul 08, 2020 11:29 am

Great write up. I fully expect this season to be another "I can't wait for basketball" type of year in terms of BG, but I will surely be watching and hopefully we keep it close enough vs OSU and Illinois to at least watch the 3rd quarter and compete in every MAC game. Always exciting to start actually using the ESPN+ subscription again! Aside from the shaky O-line, we should be able to sustain more drives and keep the defense off the field with a couple solid running Backs to go along with Mcdonald.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby BGSU33 » Tue Jul 14, 2020 9:57 am

MarkL wrote:Ohio
  • Unbelievable that for three straight years of Nathan Rourke at QB, Ohio never made it to Detroit.
  • In 2019 they lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and even with Rourke, they had a disappointing season. OU was favored by most to win the East but needed a couple blowout wins over the bottom two of the conference to get to 6 wins.
  • They return a lot of talent including nearly all of the offense, but have to replace a great QB. If the QB play is not much of a dropoff, OU could return to Detroit. I'm not counting on it.
  • So for the first time in a while I'm going with somebody other than Ohio to win the east. Watch they win the MAC this year.


Ohio just added a grad transfer QB in Armani Rogers, a very highly rated kid coming out of high school who went to UNLV. He was the Mountain West freshman of the year a few years ago, he's huge at an impressive 6-5 for a dual-threat QB, and he can run like the wind. He pretty much fits the mold perfectly for what they need and do in that offense.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby MarkL » Wed Jul 15, 2020 2:05 pm

Is Armani Rogers brought in to Ohio to start at QB? He's a career sub 55% passer. I don't think he's been the UNLV starter for a while. Dude is a great athlete. Not sure he's starter QB material but rather change of pace.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby zete » Thu Jul 16, 2020 9:23 am

Thanks for posting, Mark.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby BGSU33 » Thu Jul 16, 2020 3:33 pm

MarkL wrote:Is Armani Rogers brought in to Ohio to start at QB? He's a career sub 55% passer. I don't think he's been the UNLV starter for a while. Dude is a great athlete. Not sure he's starter QB material but rather change of pace.


Rogers missed time each of the last two years with injuries. While his career completion percentage has been average, he can kill you with his legs - AND - Ohio is loaded everywhere else on offense. Their OL, WR's, RB's and TE's are stacked. To bring in an experienced and proven guy like him to man that position is exactly what they were looking for. Ohio's offense has been one of the top offensive units in the country every year for much of the last decade. When you look at the QB passing numbers of many of their QB's, most seasons their completion percentage is average to above average. However, then you see what their QB's are also rushing for as well, and you see why they're so good and so dangerous. Ohio has been absolutely toying with BG the last several years, it's been boys vs men. As for last year, Loeffler was very composed much of last year's grueling season. But there was one game last year where after the game - he was very bothered and you could tell he was fuming. It was after the humiliating loss to Ohio. And that game could have been much worse than it was, fortunately Frank Solich is a classy coach. While we had a lot of losses and many blowouts against us last year, go back and watch Loeffler's pressers afterwards, I'm talking each and every one of them, and then watch his presser after the Ohio loss. He saw first hand how far behind Ohio that BG is, and clearly got a taste of what it's going to take to win the East and get to Detroit, and that's to beat Ohio. Clawson said the same thing himself, and once we started beating them, we started going to Detroit and winning MAC Championships (despite still losing to Toledo). Now Loeffler is saying the same thing. While Ohio isn't always in Detroit, they are ALWAYS in the MAC East race, and in the years they don't win the East, often the East team that beats them is the team that goes to Detroit. Ohio simply reloads and doesn't have to rebuild from season to season. They aren't losing transfers in the numbers like other MAC schools are. They aren't replacing their head coach every few years despite all their success. Hell, they even have more bowl wins in the last three years (3) than I believe the MAC has combined in that time! Their only shortcoming is the elusive MAC title, which they willl get. But they are always a top-tier team in the conference. Ohio is the MAC's model program. And BG is still a world away.
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Re: 2020 preview

Postby Flipper » Sat Jul 18, 2020 10:41 am

He's been injured the last two years? How will he kill you with his legs from the sidelines?
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