Georgia Southern will take on an unfamiliar foe in Bowling Green when they play in their first-ever bowl Wednesday night. Since much of Eagle Nation probably didn't see a lot of BGSU football this season, here's a Q&A I did with Hustle Belt's Bowling Green writer Randy Carpenter.
HW: Being that we're in the same boat not only losing a head coach but losing a second head coach in three years, how is the BGSU fan base dealing with the loss of Dino Babers to Syracuse? Southern fans I think would be more understanding if Willie Fritz went to an ACC program rather than Tulane, but as they say it's better for a coach to get hired out than fired out.
RC: Most BG fans have come to accept that this is life in the Mid-American Conference. If your program is successful, you won't hang on to your head coach for very long. The MAC just can't match the salaries and perks that a Power 5 school can offer. In 2000, we had Urban Meyer as our head coach, he turned our program around in just two short years and he was gone to Utah.
Dave Clawson built this current team and recruited almost every impact player on it. He won the MAC in 2013 before moving on to Wake Forest. Dino Babers was a great hire and he brought in an offensive system that I hope sticks around. I think Syracuse is a great fit for Babers. Give him a few years and he'll have the Orangemen competitive in the ACC. He was rumored to be going to Central Florida before the MAC championship, but Syracuse is a much better job. I am happy for him.
HW: Bowling Green has had a great year, beating Purdue of the Big 10, winning the MAC and reaching double-digit wins even before bowl season begins. What has been the secret of your success?
RC: It has been a great year for Falcon football. In addition to Purdue, we also beat Maryland of the Big 10, and we let the Memphis game slip through our fingers at home.
The key for this team is that the junior and senior classes have been together now for three years. In those years, they've won three straight MAC east division titles, played in three straight MAC Championship Games, won two MAC Championships, and are playing in their fourth straight bowl game.
And, they've accomplished all this under two different coaching regimes. That's why I don't think the loss of Babers will affect them as much as maybe it would another team. This team's battle tested.
HW: What is the buzz in the BGSU fan base about playing against an option team? Is there a lot of "high school offense" dismissal or are y'all worried about stopping the run?
RC: Anybody with a pulse on offense scares Bowling Green fans. The defense has been their Achilles Heel the last two years. Truth is, Babers' philosophy was to just to outscore everybody. He didn't emphasis defense and it showed last year. He made some changes to the staff this year and brought in a new defensive coordinator. That helped, as the defense did play better this year.
But they still give up too much yardage and are prone to giving up the big play at times. The defense did play pretty well once they got into conference play this year, but that was a product of them playing some very bad offensive teams.
I fully expect the Georgia Southern option to give the Falcons defense fits.
HW: Bowling Green definitely knows how to score points. Give me a quick rundown of the Falcon offense. What are some of the players to watch?
RC: It starts at quarterback where Matt Johnson had a video game-like year statistically: 4,700 yards passing, 43 touchdowns, only eight interceptions, 69 percent completion rate. He is the perfect fit for this offense.
He has a deep and talented receiving corps. Roger Lewis is an NFL talent that might petition for the draft this game. Add in speedster Ronnie Moore, 6'4" Gehrig Dieter, and possession guy Ryan Burbrink and Johnson has quite a lot of options for where to go with the football.
And don't make the mistake that this team just throws the football. We won our last three games based on our running game. Travis Greene is the school's all-time leading rusher and he has the uncanny ability to make people miss. When his replacement, Fred Coppet, goes in, there isn't any drop in production. Greene has speed and moves, while Coppet has the power. They make quite a 1-2 punch in the backfield.
HW: The opponents' point totals are pretty varied for this year, ranging from a shutout against Kent State to 59 points surrendered against Tennessee and 44 to both Memphis and Toledo. How much confidence do you have in your defense going into this matchup and who are players to watch on that side of the ball?
RC: As I said earlier, this where most fans worry. BGSU's defense can be scored upon and I expect the Eagles to move the ball and put points on the board against them. The big question will be can Georgia Southern keep pace on the scoreboard with BG's offense.
Linebackers Austin Valdez and Trent Greene lead the team in tackles. The Falcons had to suspend one of their big run stoppers in the middle of the defensive line last week after he was allegedly was caught spiking a girl's drink at a campus bar. So there's one less lineman in the BG defensive rotation to throw at the Eagles' option.
Our defensive backs have created some turnovers with Alphonso Mack with six interceptions and Dernard Turner with four. Still, this group has been better at stopping the run than covering receivers this year.
RC: I think Bowling Green's seniors go out winners and will find a way to win this game. I don't think it will be easy by any means, but I'll say Falcons 42 and Eagles 28.