When Bowling Green’s nonconference schedule was released, everybody had their thoughts and emotions. Most said the schedule was too hard — two Big Ten teams and a Southeastern Conference opponent, all on the road, and a home game with one of the top Group of 5 teams in the country.
Falcons coach Dino Babers had two goals coming out of the nonconference stretch. He wanted to have a good enough record to have a chance at a bowl game, but most importantly, he wanted to come away with his starting quarterback.
He succeeded in both.
Bowling Green is 2-2 heading into Mid-American Conference play, and Matt Johnson is still as healthy as he’s ever been.
“We feel like we’ve got two good (quarterbacks),” Babers said. “But obviously one starts in front of the other. It was very important that he came out healthy so that he could start the East for us.
“I’ve never had an opportunity to play the Eastern teams with Matt Johnson. I’d like to see what that looks like.”
To ensure Johnson’s health, Bowling Green did a few things different offensively, Babers said, suggesting that opponents can watch film to figure out exactly what on their own.
“You can’t totally protect him when they’re out there,” Babers said, “but there was a lot of things we would not do against those opponents that could have helped us win those games. We just couldn’t put him at risk.”
Still, Johnson ran 41 times through the first four games, but take out the 13 sacks, and that leaves 28 rushing attempts for the fleet-footed quarterback. He has ran for 116 yards and a touchdown.
But Johnson has been careful in his running — that’s how he was trained over the summer.
Not only did Johnson have to mentally prepare for his first live snap in almost a year, Babers and the coaching staff wanted Johnson to learn how to protect himself when he gets outside the pocket.
So why not look at two prime NFL examples?
Johnson spent hours during the summer watching film of Russell Wilson with the Seattle Seahawks and Robert Griffin III with the Washington Redskins — two of the better scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL.
Griffin III, now in his fourth NFL season, has suffered numerous injuries — both head and bodily — while Wilson is widely known as a smart runner who knows how to avoid unnecessary hits.
“We took a lot of Seahawks film and said, ‘Here look, here’s an NFL guy showing you how to do it. We need to do it that way,’” Babers said of conversations with Johnson. “Based off the people we were playing coming out of the gate early there were some big, nasty cats on the other side of the ball and we had to find a way to protect himself.
“He can run and still be a part of our offense and still protect himself at the same time. I really think he took that to heart and he’s brought that to his game.”
NOT SATISFIED: Even with the tough four-game schedule to open the season, Bowling Green isn’t completely satisfied after 2-2. The team isn’t marginally upset either.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re excited,” Johnson said. “The Memphis game I kind of feel like we let it get away from us. I wouldn’t say we’re disappointed because going into last week we had the potential to be 1-3. … I’m not really sure exactly what to call it.”
“We’ve been faced with challenges, and as Coach Babers put it, we’re battle tested and we’re ready to go in MAC play,” said defensive tackle Zach Colvin.
MAC OPENER: The Falcons have a tough test to open the Mid-American Conference season in a date with Buffalo. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday at UB Stadium.
The Bulls (2-2) bring a veteran offensive line, a senior quarterback, and a strong slate of skill players offensively, in addition to new coach Lance Leipold, who came from Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater. Leipold went 111-8 and won six national titles as the head coach at Whitewater from 2007-2014.
“I think Buffalo’s offense is the strength of their team,” Babers said. “Their defense is good but I just think they have so much experience on offense, which makes them dangerous to our defense. They can obviously get out there and play a ball-controlled offense and keep the ball away from our offense and our defense has to find a way to get stops on a very veteran group. … It’s difficult. Their backs are just as big as Purdue’s running backs, their offensive line is just as big, and their receivers are just as tall.
“I’m a little uneasy about it. I’d rather not be opening up with (Leipold) in the East.”
A TAD RUSTY?: Johnson finished Saturday’s game at Purdue 43 of 59 for 402 yards and a touchdown an interception. It was the lowest yardage he has thrown for this season, the next-lowest being 424 yards in the season-opener.
Johnson felt he could have been a bit better.
“I definitely thought that out of the four this was my worst game,” he said. “I thought I did some good things. I thought I brought my feet into it, which really helped move the sticks in some key situations.
“There were a couple throws that got away from me. The interception just sailed on me. There was some rust to that game but I still feel good about where I’m at.”