Clawson hoping experience serves BG well
Bowling Green is returning a veteran team this season as the Falcons look to improve on their 5-7 overall record and a 3-5 Mid-American Conference mark from 2011.
"For the first time since we've been here, we have a number of starters back. When that happens, you really start at another level," said Dave Clawson, who is starting his fourth season as BG's head coach.
There are three points of emphasis this spring from a team standpoint:
1. Having a better turnover margin. Last season, BG lost 14 fumbles, and threw 14 interceptions while making six interceptions and recovering nine fumbles.
"Last year with a positive turnover margin we are probably a bowl team," Clawson said. "I think we were minus-13 which was 117th in the country. We turned it over 28 times and only generated 15. That's a number that has to flip.
"We have to establish the habit of taking care of the football ... We have to create the habit on defense of 11 guys pursuing to the football," he added. "If we do that it will make a huge difference in how many games we win."
2. Continued improvement in rushing differential. In 2010, Bowling Green rushed for an average of 62.8 yards per game while giving up 207.8. With the emergence of freshman Anthon Samuel at tailback last fall, the Falcons improved their rushing average to 122.9 yards per game. BG still allowed 203.4 yards on the ground in 2011.
"We improved last year running the football ... It was a significant jump, but we still need to get better." Clawson said. "Our rushing defense has to make a huge step. We would like to get the offensive numbers up and the defensive numbers down so that we're to the point that we start out-rushing people."
3. Bowling Green has a veteran team returning for 2012, and Clawson hopes that experience translates into victories.
"We were in so many tight games for a young team last year. Now that they've had that experience, we can eliminate those mistakes that cost you those games," Clawson said. "Now that we're not young, experienced players can't make those mistakes.
"We were talented enough to win more games last year. The reason we didn't, because at times we beat ourselves. One of the things experienced teams do is that they learn from their mistakes; they don't repeat their mistakes. If we don't repeat those mistakes, we don't beat ourselves."
Five newcomers participating in spring practice:
--Five players from the 2012 recruiting class enrolled at Bowling Green in January and are taking part in spring drills -- WR Michael Allen; LB Coy Brown; TE Scott Davis; WR Jermal Hosley; and C (David) Kelii Kekuewa.
--There are 15 players who were redshirted last season and 14 of them are participating in spring drills -- DE Bryan Baird; WR Herve Coby; OT Fahn Cooper; WR Diontre Delk; WR Chris Gallon; WR Travis Greene; QB Matt Johnson; DB Johnny Joseph, DE Shaq Hall; OL Alex Huettel; OL Christian Piazza; PK Tyler Tate; and DB Dernard Turner. RB Andre Givens was also redshirted and is taking classes to gain his eligibility.
WR Shaun Joplin -- Is being given every opportunity to become Bowling Green's No. 1 receiver. BG receivers who combined for 176 receptions for 2,518 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2011 completed their eligibility.
"That's the one position you lose a lot of reps (repetitions), but Shaun Joplin started to come into his own last year," Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson said.
Joplin had 21 receptions for 292 yards and a touchdown last fall.
OL Alex Huettel -- A redshirt last season, Huettel is working at right guard. BG head coach Dave Clawson said Huettel was a standout on the scout team and had a good offseason, and will be given the opportunity to start.
QB Matt Johnson -- Redshirted last season, Johnson is getting time with the No. 1 offense this spring as BG head coach Dave Clawson wants to have two quarterbacks ready. Johnson will start the season at the No. 2 behind Matt Schilz.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a long way to go, but to me spring is about developing players at three different levels. Number one, getting the guys who haven't played before, playable. (Number two) is getting the guys who have played to a level that they can start, play at a high level, and help us win. And then the last part is to take those returning starters and get them to a level that they are among the best in the league." -- BG head coach Dave Clawson.
Strategy And Personnel
2012 OUTLOOK: BG head coach Dave Clawson has been building to this season since he was hired four years ago. He has a full roster and veterans returning at almost every position -- including QB Matt Schilz; RB Anthon Samuel; DT Chris Jones; and LB Dwayne Woods Jr.
"This is more numbers than we have ever had in spring practice. This is the most experience we've ever had in spring practice," Clawson said."That's three years of recruiting, now four. It's having very little attrition in your program. It's keeping guys eligible and keeping guys here. And because of that now your spring practice is a much more productive practice."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Matt Schilz is getting ready for his third season as Bowling Green's starting quarterback.
And while the Falcons' offense showed improvement last season, Schilz will be working with basically a new set of wide receivers and he'll be behind a revamped offensive line.
Last season, Schilz was 245-of-412 for 3,024 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, starting all 12 games. His numbers improved greatly from 2010 when in 10 games he threw for 2,223 yards with eight touchdowns.
Shaun Joplin, Je'Ron Stokes, a transfer from Michigan who is eligible this fall, and Michael Allen, a junior college transfer who enrolled at Bowling Green in January, are getting a lot of looks at wide receiver.
Due to injuries, the tailback position is a little thin this spring, but if Anthon Samuel is ready to go for the fall, the Falcon should have a good running attack.
Although he played in only nine games because of injuries in 2011, Samuel rushed for 844 yards and five touchdowns on 144 carries. He also had 15 receptions.
On the line, Chip Robinson, Kyle Bryant, Jordon Roussos, Dominic Flewellyn, and Dominique Wharton, all return with starting experience. BG head coach Dave Clawson is making some position changes this spring as he looks to get his five best linemen on the field at the same time.
"I haven't been able to talk about this many offensive linemen since I've been here. That's a position that takes a long time to rebuild," Clawson said. "I finally feel like we've got good players and we're going to go 8, 9, hopefully 10 deep."
Tight end is another position with depth. The tight ends are also used as H-backs in the backfield in place of a fullback.
Alex Bayer and Tyler Beck are the top returnees in the group -- Bayer at tight end and Beck as the starting H-back. Bayer was fourth on the team last season with 20 receptions for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Bowling Green is building depth on defense.
Falcon head coach Dave Clawson hopes that pays off this season, especially with having fresher players at the end of games.
"We have been so thin on defense that players have had to play too many reps (repetitions)," Clawson said "We are hoping we can play 21, 22 guys on defense and keep guys fresh.
"We want to keep the competitions going. I want a lot of guys coming back in August thinking they have a chance to play a lot of football for us."
The added depth should also help the special teams, Clawson said.
The Falcons need improvement on defense as in six of eight Mid-American Conference games last season, BG allowed 27 or more points. Overall in conference games, BG allowed an average of 29.4 points per game in 2011.
Two all-conference first-team performers return to anchor the defense -- Chris Jones at defensive tackle, and Dwayne Woods at linebacker. Both will be seniors in 2012.
Jones had 47 tackles, 81/2 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles last year as a force in the middle of the line.
Woods led the MAC in tackles with 134 in 2010 and followed that up with 111 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss, last season as BG's middle linebacker.
Other top returnees are Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates, who will play either rover or safety; and DeVon McKoy, Darrell Hunter, and Cameron Truss at cornerback.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Bowling Green has two of the top special teams specialists in the Mid-American Conference returning this season -- P Brian Schmiedebusch and KR Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates.
Schmiedebusch, who started his college career at the University of Findlay, averaged 45.3 yards on 57 punts in 2011 at Bowling Green, with 19 punts of 50 yards or more and 18 punts which landed inside the 20-yard line. He had a long of 81 yards. He was a first-team all-conference pick.
"We have the best punter in the league coming back," BG head coach Dave Clawson said. "As good as he was, he can still get better. He needs to work on consistency, but he has such an upside. He's a good athlete who is getting stronger. That is a position of strength on our football team. He's a football player who happens to kick."
Gates returned 38 kickoffs for 981 yards (25.8-yard average) and a touchdown last season. Gates was second in the league and set a BG single-season record for return yardage. He was a second-team all-conference selection as a kickoff return specialist.
Gates, a starter on defense for the Falcons, is also a hard-hitter on the special teams coverage units.
The Falcons are looking to improve on long distance field goals.
Stephen Stein, a walk-on, took over all the place-kicking duties, except kickoffs, early last season. He finished 8-of-11 on field goals with a long of 39 yards, and 24-of-25 on PATs.
"Stein was accurate last year, but the longest kick we attempted last year was 41 yards," Clawson said. "We've got to be able to say when we get the ball inside the 25-yard line, we're going to get points. Last year we could say when we got the ball inside the 20, we would get points. We would go for fourth downs not out of philosophy, but out of necessity.
"If you look at our kick numbers last year, our percentage was way up. But a part of that was we only attempted short field goals. ... It's clearly an area where, if you're going to be an elite team, eventually you're going to have to kick a 45-yard field goal to win a game. It's something we haven't shown the ability to do yet."
Tyler Tate was a scholarship kicker last season, but he was hurt and was unable to kick in a game.
Matt Oczypok enters his fourth season as a scholarship kicker with the team, but he has never kicked in a regular season game.
The Falcons used a 2012 scholarship on Anthony Farinella, a kicker from Downers Grove (Ill.) South High School. A highly touted kicker, who was also a state champion in wrestling and a state qualifier in the 800 meters, Farinella will compete for playing time in the fall.
WR Je'Ron Stokes -- Sat out last season as a transfer, but should be one of Bowling Green's top three receivers in the fall.
C (David) Kelii Kekuewa -- Junior college transfer who enrolled early and has looked good in spring drills.
WR Michael Allen -- Junior college transfer who enrolled in January, and could help at wide receiver. Allen had originally signed with San Diego State, but was a class short of graduating from East LA Junior College and kind of fell off the recruiting radar. In 2010 at East LA he had 51 receptions for 674 yards and four TDs.
S Josh Pettus -- Currently finishing his class work at College of DuPage. A big physical safety, Pettus will be given a chance to contribute right away when he arrives for fall camp.
--RB Anthon Samuel, the conference freshman of the year in 2011, fractured his wrist during a March 24 practice. After surgery on March 26, he is out until at least the end of May.
"He's doing well and all indications are that he'll be full strength by the end of May," BG head coach Dave Clawson said. "Those things happen in spring and when they happen, you keep your fingers crossed and hope that it's an injury that allows them to get back for the summer program and not require them to miss fall camp.
Clawson said the surgery "went well and it was a pretty standard straight forward procedure."
--RB Jordon Hopgood is not practicing this spring.
--DE Bryan Thomas and DB Jude Adjei-Barimah are limited in what they can do in drills after surgery last fall.
--WR Jared Cohen from Golden West College (Calif.) was a late signee to the 2012 recruiting class. He had 47 catches for 625 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at Golden West.
--The unknown factor at RB is Andre Givens. Givens originally signed a letter of intent with Pittsburgh. Instead of going to Pitt, Givens enrolled at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y. where he saw limited playing time. He is now enrolled at Bowling Green, but is not yet on the team, as he attempts to gain his eligibility.
"Hopefully, Andre Givens will get himself eligible," Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson said. "He's in school taking classes. He has to pass so many credits with a certain GPA (grade-point average). If he does that he will become eligible in the fall and practice with us in fall camp."