BGSU’s defense making opposing quarterbacks nervous

By J. Patrick Eaken [email protected]

It is no accident that Bowling Green State University football has won three of its last four games. The Falcons are making opposing quarterbacks nervous.

Karl Brooks, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive end from Lansing, Michigan, leads the nation in sacks with 7½.

Brooks and 6-4, 235-pound senior outside linebacker Demetrius Hardamon have a combined 13 sacks between them. That is the same or more than 48 other FBS programs have as a team.

Brooks is one of two players in the nation with 25-plus tackles, 12-plus tackles for a loss, 5½-plus sacks, two-plus pass breakups and at least one fumble recovery. Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace Jr. is the other.

Brooks’ teammates love the way he plays.

“It’s an awesome thing. You know, Karl is my guy,” said BGSU 6-2, 290-pound senior nose guard Anthony Hawkins, who hails from Mansfield, Ohio.

“I see how hard he works first-hand throughout the summer, throughout the winner, all-year round,” Hawkins continued.

“We’re out there working together and to see how hard he’s working, and to see it coming to fruition for him, it truly makes me happy to see.”

BGSU coach Scot Loeffler said sacks are a major reason why the Falcons are 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the MAC after defeating Miami, 17-13, and Central Michigan, 34-18, in its last two games.

However, it is not just Brooks. The Falcons have 15 different players that have recorded at least one full sack this season, which is the most in the nation. Bowling Green is No. 1 in the nation with 32 team sacks.

“I know that Karl is the leader in the country in sacks, but I think it’s a total defensive effort,” Loeffler said. “Our team, when they’re getting sacks, that means we’re covering well.

“And that means that a linebacker or defensive end is doing a great job with his gap to create an opportunity for a one-on-one spin move, bull rush or whatever technique we’re using.

“So as excited as I am for Karl, I’m more excited for our defense. I think sacks are very equivalent to touchdown passes and completions. It takes a whole effort of the unit. And super excited for our unit.”

In records dating back to 1990, this year’s BGSU team has the fourth-most team sacks over the past 33 seasons.

This year’s BGSU team cracked the top-five during that span in just eight games, while the other teams on the list all played in bowl games, with three playing for a MAC championship. The 1992, 2013 and 2015 teams won the MAC championship.

Lessons learned paying off

Like Loeffler said, the defense has found multiple ways to be effective.

After allowing 492.3 yards per game over the first six games of the season, BGSU’s defense has locked down the past games. During wins over Miami and Central Michigan, BGSU has allowed an average of 247.5 yards.

BGSU held Miami to 189 yards of total offense. It was just the 10th time since 2000 (second time this season, vs. Cincinnati) that the RedHawks were held under 190 yards of total offense.

Bowling Green also allowed Miami to just 10 first downs. BGSU is 4-0 under Scot Loeffler when the opponent has 10 or fewer first downs.

BGSU held CMU running backs to just 20 rushing yards and 60 of the Chippewas 102 rushing yards came on a scamper by the quarterback via a broken play.

In addition, BGSU has recovered 11 fumbles, which ranks second in the nation. The Falcons trail only Duke (15). BGSU 6-3, 220-pound sophomore outside linebacker Charles Rosser is tied for the nation’s lead with three fumbles recovered.

Hawkins says a lot of this is due to a strong defensive front seven. Hawkins says the lessons learned in losses to Buffalo and Mississippi State played a role into how the Falcons are playing now.

“We’re a group that knows it is going to be big for us. We know there is going to be adversity, but we just must keep working, keep moving, keep going,” Hawkins said.

“That’s kind of our motto — just be consistent. It’s not always going to go our way, but we’ve just got to keep doing our thing.”

Even the offense has noticed how the defense has picked up its intensity and 6-4, 240-pound senior tight end Christian Sims says it pays dividends for his “group”, too.

“It shows that the defense has our back, and we have theirs,” Sims said. “So, they go out, Karl is No. 1, and we’ve got a D-line that is going out there and just blowing them out this year.

“Seeing them do their thing and it kind of gives you the feeling that the time is right, and we have to go out there and play for them, too.”

It does not stop with the defensive front — it goes into the linebackers and special teams, too.

PaSean Wimberly, listed as a 5-10, 175-pound junior running back from Toledo Whitmer, is tied for No. 2 in the nation in blocked punts with two. Speed pays dividends as a running back, but as a punt blocker, too.

Wimberly, who was awarded a scholarship a week before the season, blocked a punt at UCLA and another one against Eastern Kentucky.

Darren Anders, a 6-0, 230-pound junior interior linebacker, was a first-team All-MAC honoree in 2021 after leading the league in tackles (10.3 per game) and finishing eighth in the nation in tackles per game.

Anders was one of three FBS players in 2021 with 120-plus tackles, over three sacks, at least one fumbles recovery and one interception (Anders had two) and the only one returning to CFB in 2022.

In the MAC East, BGSU and Ohio (5-3 overall, 3-1 MAC) still trail Buffalo (5-3, 4-0) by one game, but the Falcons are in the hunt.

“We take every week like it’s a championship week. That’s been the mindset since Week 1,” Hawkins said.

“I think as we keep on going just focusing on the details, the little things that will get us through these next four games will carry us through.”