DETROIT — Two of the bigger questions concerning Bowling Green football this season are — can the defense improve and who is going to catch the ball on offense?
|File photo. Je'ron Stokes catches a pass during the Falcons' spring game in April. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)
The Falcons were 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference in 2011.
Senior defensive tackle Chris Jones and redshirt junior quarterback Matt Schilz are confident that both areas will be under control when the Falcons start the 2012 season on Sept. 1 at Florida.
In six of eight MAC games last season, BG allowed 27 or more points. Overall in conference games, BG allowed an average of 29.4 points per game.
Jones said the defensive focus has been stopping the run and not missing as many tackles as the team did in 2011.
“You want to be a run stopper. If the run is stopped, then teams are forced to pass,” Jones said on Tuesday at the MAC media day.
“As a defense, you hate to get scored on,” Jones added. “It’s your job as a defense to get our offense in good field position so they can put points on the board.”
Jones said the team has worked on improving its tackling and wants to be around 85 to 90 percent in tackling efficiency.
Schilz will be looking for new targets as receivers who combined for 176 receptions for 2,518 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2011 have completed their eligibility. Included in that group was first-team all-conference pick Kamar Jorden, 78 receptions for 1,089 yards and 12 scores.
Among the receivers looking to make an impact this fall are Shaun Joplin; Je’Ron Stokes, a transfer from Michigan; Herve Coby; and Heath Jackson.
“It’s probably the most talented group that we’ve had,” said Schilz, who is a redshirt junior this fall. “This year we won’t know who is going to step up until we start playing. Those guys are young and very talented. They are becoming more focused each workout. That has been a challenge for me, to get them ready.
“It’s not going to be a big drop-off. Those guys are going to fit right in and they are going to do a good job,” Schilz added.
The Falcons also have a strong group of tight ends who can catch the ball as well as the running backs.
Both Jones and Schilz want to work on the turnover numbers as the Falcons were a minus-13 in 2011. The defense forced only 15 turnovers, including nine recovered fumbles. The Falcons turned the ball over 28 times, 14 lost fumbles and 14 interceptions.
“A lot more winning teams have a positive turnover margin,” Jones said. “When you have a minus-13 in turnover margin it doesn’t make out for a successful season.
“We have to step up our game, getting picks or causing fumbles, and give our offense good field position.”
“That has been on my mind since last season,” Schilz said about the turnovers. “We have to make less mistakes on offense.
“That’s an individual goal I have for next year, seven turnovers max,” Schilz continued. “If I throw six less interceptions last year, we win more games. We might win three or four more.”
The Bowling Green-Toledo matchup is very early this season, falling on Sept. 15 at Toledo. It’s the first conference game of the season for both teams.
“This doesn’t deal specifically with Toledo, but I think your rivalry game should be the last game of the season,” said Dave Clawson, who is starting his fourth season as BG’s head coach. “I just think it’s great having that juice going into the last game.”
However, Clawson realizes that in the MAC the last game of the season is the Friday after Thanksgiving and the students are not on campus.
“Part of what makes a rivalry a rivalry is the student involvement,” Clawson said.
Clawson said he would like to see the BG-UT game played late in October or on the first Saturday in November.
“It would be great to have a protected date, but that’s tough to do,” Clawson said.
“At the end of the day, both programs know that the rivalry is a big rivalry game, it’s a big football game. So whether it’s the first game of the year or the last game of the year, the importance of the game certainly doesn’t change,” said UT head coach Matt Campbell, a former assistant at Bowling Green. “I think our kids understand that will be a huge weekend in Toledo, Ohio.”
Bowling Green was picked to finish second in MAC East in a vote of 17 conference media members.
Ohio received all 17 votes to win the MAC East. Bowling Green was second with 91 points.
“As a team our goal is always to win a MAC championship. We want to be No. 1,” Jones said. “It’s nice to see that people are respecting us a little bit more.”
The complete poll was: East, 1) Ohio (17), 119; 2) Bowling Green, 91; 3) Miami, 84; 4) Kent State, 76; 5) Buffalo, 52; 6) Akron, 31; 7) UMass, 23; West, 1) Toledo (7), 87; 2) Northern Illinois (5), 83; 3) Western Michigan (4), 79; 4) Ball State, 42; 5) Eastern Michigan, 34; 6) Central Michigan (1), 32.
Ohio was the pick the win the MAC championship game with five votes. Toledo received three votes while Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan each received one. Six voters did not select a winner of the championship game.