Opponent preview: How will Bowling Green's linebackers impact the Boise State offense?

On the arm of Tyler Sheehan, the hands of Freddie Barnes, and the perplexing circus offense of Dave Clawson, the Bowling Green Falcons have shown promise, disappointment, and mediocrity in their first three games. But the key to their success on Saturday against the Broncos might just lie in their overlooked linebacker corps. How will Boise State attack the linebackers? What other factors might make a difference? Will we see a repeat of last year's Bowling Green squeaker?


3-0, (1-0)

No. 8 Boise State at Bowling Green

Kickoff: 5:00pm MT, TV: KTVB, ESPN360 Radio: 580 KIDO

Weather forecast: Thunderstorms, high of 72

Spread: Boise State by 16.5


1-2, (0-0)

 

Last week versus Marshall

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via www.herald-dispatch.com

Highlights

If you are the Idaho Statesman and you are looking for a storyline heading into Saturday's game against the Falcons, it will be this: Tyler Sheehan threw the ball 62 times versus Marshall last week. Freddie Barnes has 42 catches in three games. Dave Clawson is a mad scientist genius.

The aerial show against Marshall came as a result of an inability to run the ball, according to BGSU head coach Dave Clawson. To paraphrase, Bowling Green did not think it could run the ball effectively against Marshall. Put another way, Tyler Sheehan might throw the ball 100 times on Saturday night against the Broncos.

All of this begs the question: Isn't Dave Clawson just a young version of Hal Mumme? And isn't the Clawfense the Air Raid?

The week before versus Missouri


The Missouri Tigers, America's No. 24 team, nearly lost at home to Bowling Green and needed a second half comeback to avoid the upset. Balance on offense helped the Falcons as RB Willie Geter rushed for 99 yards and a score to go with Sheehan's 46 passing attempts and no picks.

On another note, did you catch the news anchor's opening line on the above highlight video? "Too soon"? Really? Then not being able to contain his laughter at his own joke? This guy needs to be in the Boise market, competing with Justin Corr and Troy Oppie on a nightly basis.

Bowling Green offense

  • LT Brady Minturn
  • LG Shane Steffy
  • C Ben Bojicic
  • RG Scott Albert
  • RT Tyler Donahue
  • TE Jimmy Scheidler
  • WR Ray Hutson
  • WR Freddie Barnes
  • WR Chris Wright
  • QB Tyler Sheehan
  • RB Willie Geter

Last year, WR Tyrone Pronty was the biggest offensive threat for the Falcons against the Broncos. Pronty is out for this game with a broken foot.

Also, starting tight end Jimmy Scheidler is questionable for the game with an ankle injury.

As far as the rest of the offense goes, the Falcons prefer to pass against teams they know they can't run against (Boise, i.e.). Tyler Sheehan might put up some gaudy completions/attempts numbers, but his average isn't that hot. Same goes for Freddie Barnes. At eight yards per catch, Barnes is a workhorse but not really a deep play threat. Of course, you miss a couple of tackles and then ...

Bowling Green defense

  • DE Brandon Jackson
  • DT Nick Torreso
  • DT Kevin Alvarado
  • DE Angelo Magnone
  • LB Cody Basler
  • LB James Schneider
  • CB Roger Williams
  • CB Adrien Spencer
  • SS Keith Morgan
  • FS Jahmal Brown

Starting strong safety and leading returning tackler P.J. Mahone has been suspended for undisclosed, Titus Young-esque reasons. It is ironic that an undisclosed team rule violation keeps Mahone out of this game, since the same circumstances kept Young out of the Falcon-Bronco clash last year.

The defensive line lost everyone from last year and is starting over fresh.

Bowling Green special teams

Bowling Green coaching

Head Coach Dave Clawson

Reviled a little as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, Clawson was considered a genius by many for orchestrating successful attacks in the lower college ranks at Richmond and Villanova. He's living off the reputation of those prior coaching experiences, and he has some pretty decent shoes to fill, replacing departed head coach Gregg Brandon whose on-field product was decent but whose off-field control of the team was questionable.

Why Bowling Green's linebackers might make a difference

Two weeks ago, this matchup between Bowling Green and Boise State looked a lot better than it does this week. The Falcons were just coming off a near miss against Missouri. Now, they're fresh off a wha'-happened against Marshall.

Still, there is no reason to think that the team that showed up to take Missouri to the wire won't be the same team that shows up on Saturday against the Broncos. You'll hear this week about how BSU will have to slow down the high-flying Bowling Green passing game, and perhaps more importantly, shore up the tackling on all those pesky receivers. Line play will be hugely important for Boise State, and on paper, it is decidedly in the Broncos' favor.

The one area that Bowling Green might be able to make an impact is with its linebackers, arguably the best part of their season thus far - certainly the best part of their defense.

Against Missouri, the linebacker trio had 20 tackles, two TFLs, and a forced fumble. They helped control the Missouri offense on first and second down, forcing the Tigers to go to the air on third down. And for the first half of the game, it worked wonders. Missouri didn't reach the end zone until the final minute of the third quarter, and the Falcons nearly pulled the upset.

Individually, each of Bowling Green's three starting linebackers - Jerett Sanderson, Cody Basler, James Schneider - has played well.

  • Basler: 27 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 FF
  • Sanderson: 20 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 FF
  • Schneider: 21 tackles, 0.5 TFL

Spotlight on LB Cody Basler

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For Basler, his Bowling Green career has amounted to one giant participation trophy. Since his redshirt freshman season, he has participated in every single Falcon game ... and he has started five of them.

One of his starts last season (against Wyoming) saw him nab an interception and recover a fumble, good enough to earn MAC East defensive player of the week, but he has spent most of his career looking up at the depth chart, behind BGSU regulars like Erique Dozier and John Haneline.

With Dozier and Haneline gone this season, Basler steps into the starting role. He is flanked on the strongside by the only returning front seven player for the Falcons, Jerett Sanderson, and with James Schneider on the weakside, the trio forms an all-senior group. Best of all, Basler is playing like he belongs, leading the team in tackles and TFLs and setting the tone on defense.

His story is a little reminiscent of Ellis Powers, a player who bided his time before starring as a senior. In that regard, my hat's off to you, Cody Basler, because I absolutely love Ellis Powers and anything even remotely resembling him.

How Boise State has handled linebackers so far this season

The Broncos have faced some very solid linebackers in the first three weeks of the season (Oregon's Spencer Paysinger, Miami's Caleb Bostic, and Fresno's Ben Jacobs). Here are a couple of ways that Boise State has found success against opposing linebackers.

In the running game

Blocking backs

Anyone else think Richie Brockel has had a quiet season?

I had this very thought more than once over the past couple of weeks, but then I remembered: Brockel is at his best when he is blocking and pointing at people with a football while crouching. And no one ever notices blocking! (Football pointing, people notice. They do.)

Brockel and to a lesser extent Dan Paul have been solid blockers this season when Boise State has run from the two-back set. Of course, this doesn't happen too often since Boise State is too cool for that stuff. Instead, you'll often see Brockel lined up as a tight end, where he typically assumes an assignment on a defensive end or an occasional outside linebacker. Boise State can be successful when they get Brockel out in space on defenders, whether he's coming from a fullback or tight end position. Richie Brockel, I'm sorry I ever doubted you.

Combo blocks

Since Boise State runs so much out of a single back set, the onus is placed on the offensive linemen to get out and get on the linebackers. The combo block is a popular way to have them do this.

The block typically begins with a double team at the line of scrimmage. Once the defensive lineman is contained, one of the offensive linemen peels off and gets after a linebacker. Having athletic linemen like Thomas Byrd, Will Lawrence, and Kevin Sapien sure helps.

Active running backs

When the blocks aren't there by the Boise State linemen, Bronco running backs often take matters into their own hands. Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper have done a fantastic job this season of setting up blocks and getting the defense out of position. On numerous long runs, they have started one direction and cut back the opposite, causing linebackers to get caught in the wash and left out of the play.

Against linebackers who are overly aggressive, this style of running works very well.

In the passing game

Boise State has not used its tight ends nearly as much this season as you might expect. Combined, Kyle Efaw, Tommy Gallarda, and Richie Brockel have 10 catches (seven of which are Efaw's). Boise State used tight ends the most in their victory over Oregon, hitting Efaw four times.

Since the tight end has not been a prominent fixture of the offense just yet, Boise State has found other ways to take advantage of linebackers in the passing game.

Crossing routes

Several of the Broncos' biggest passing plays have come on crossing routes beyond the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Boise State has been able to take advantage of the linebackers who sit too close to the line of scrimmage or don't drop fast enough by slipping in receivers behind them.

Screens

Getting players out in space is a good way to avoid having to deal with linebackers. Boise State does this as good  as anyone, and it has the agile linemen needed to get downfield and block.

Tools left in the toolbox

Matchups

Against Fresno State, the Broncos motioned Jeremy Avery out of the backfield and to the end of the formation as a receiver. Result? 10-yard gain and a first down. Let's see this more often! Good things happen when Boise State uses motion and shifting to its advantage. There have been occasional mismatches created with good playcalling and design, and I imagine we will see a lot more as the season progresses.

(Note: Anyone think the Bronco offense will be saving things against Bowling Green for use later in the season? No sense giving anything away against an easier opponent? This thought just crossed my mind.)

Tight Ends

As I mentioned above, the tight ends could be a bigger part of the offense than they have been so far. Kellen Moore might be looking for them more often on Saturday night, and honestly, he seems more comfortable when he has completed a few short passes to the TE. Is that what's plaguing him? Your theories are welcome in the comments.

Play Action

There have been a couple issues with play action so far this season.

  1. Pass blocking hasn't been flawless.
  2. Boise State runs a lot of plays from the shotgun.

In regards to the pass blocking, I think that Boise State should have an easier time on Saturday. This should be a reason to involve more play action into the gameplan, especially if the running game is clicking.

The second part is a little touchier. Is play action effective when it happens in the shotgun? Can we all agree that it is less effective than going from under center? Boise State has used shotgun play action several times this season, often rolling Kellen Moore out of the pocket afterwards. It has worked successfully on occasion. I'm still not sold, but I'm willing to be convinced.

How Bowling Green linebackers can be effective

Play assignment football

Getting out of position is absolutely killer against Boise State. Wonder how there were so many big plays by the Broncos against the Bulldogs? On many occasions, Fresno linebackers did their job and were in position to make good plays. Other times? Eh. Bowling Green LBs need to worry about their assignments above all and trust their teammates to handle the rest.

Flow to the ball

This comes second to playing assignment football (you don't want to flow too far and blow your assignment). If Bowling Green linebackers don't react fast to what they see, they are going to be toast. Jeremy Avery hits the hole too hard. Kellen Moore is too precise. Titus Young is too fast. Plus, Boise State players break a lot of tackles. Flowing to the ball will help limit the broken tackles that turn into big gains.

Get some help from up front

Even if Bowling Green's LB trio does its job, it could still be a long day. The front four for the Falcons needs to step up to make the LBs' job easier. Can they do it? Boise State's young offensive line tore up Oregon's young defensive line, and Bowling Green has a very green D-line. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Hope Boise State attacks in other ways

The linebackers might end up being off the hook, depending on what Boise State's gameplan is. Some Bronco fans want to see Kellen Moore rekindle the deep passing game, and with absences in the BGSU secondary, this could be an option. Personally, I think that Coach Pete will want to shorten this game, establish a running offense, and get out of Ohio with a win as fast as he can. We'll see.

Conclusions

It will take a huge effort for Bowling Green to pull off the upset on Saturday, and I believe that effort starts with the BGSU linebackers. But that's not to say that there are other areas that will be just as important for BGSU vs. BSU.

  • Can Tyler Sheehan win throwing 70 passes? Or will Bowling Green need to run the ball effectively?
  • Can Freddie Barnes do what Ryan Mathews tried to do - win the game all by himself?
  • Will offensive mistakes doom the Broncos? What is their margin for error?
  • Does this Bowling Green team have what it takes to match last year's effort? Are we in store for another 20-7 slugfest?
  • Which Bowling Green team will show up? The Missouri almost-killer? Or the Marshall roadkill?

Those are just some of many areas to watch in Saturday's game against the Falcons. Which factors are you most interested in? What players need to step up and which ones are due for breakouts? Curious how much Doug Martin will be used?

I'll turn it over to the comments now. Share your thoughts and analysis. I'm looking forward to it.

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