Defense, special teams struggle in opener

One thing the BGSU football team stressed in the offseason was that they needed to improve their defense and special teams.

Although Saturday was a tough first test, it was not as much of an improvement as they might have liked. The Falcon defense had a hard time making tackles against the bruising running game that Wisconsin brought to Cleveland.

“We had a pick and knocked some balls down. I think [John] Stocco is a good football player; their line is a Big Ten line,” said coach Gregg Brandon. “We had trouble at times tackling them but I think our defense hung in there pretty well.”

The Badgers managed 212 yards rushing, 133 of them coming from running back P.J. Hill. The Badgers found the end zone three times on the ground as BG struggled to make stops.

“It was real difficult,” said safety P.J. Mahone. “I myself missed a lot of tackles. Their backs were a lot bigger than I was used to.”

The Falcons did have a few things to be proud of, though. In the first quarter it was fourth-and-1 and they were able to stuff Dywon Rowan at the 7-yard line to maintain the 7-7 tie and get the ball back.

The euphoria was short-lived, though, as Wisconsin linebacker Jonathan Casillas blocked Alonso Rojas’ punt attempt and recovered it in the end zone to take a 14-7 lead. BG’s oddly spread out punt formation was figured out early by the Badgers special teams – it was the first punt of the game after all.

That was just part of the special teams woes – Rojas’ longest punt was 42 yards. Another one of his punts traveled just 25 yards to the BG 42-yard line and the coverage team overran the return man and he ran it back to the 7.

“We gave them the short field twice in the first half with the blocked punt and the shank,” Brandon said. “Our defense had a goal-line stand early which was pretty impressive, but then I think they wore out.”

Freshman kicker Sean Ellis also had a disappointing day as all of his kickoffs failed to reach the end zone. He did make both his extra point attempts, though, which were a problem last year for the Falcons.

One highlight for the special teams was a successful fake punt attempt that went for 16 yards. A direct snap to Pete Winovich caught the Badgers off guard and the fullback rumbled up to the 44-yard line. Freddie Barnes would find the end zone 12 plays later.

The game was a good test for the Falcons. When they reach Mid-American Conference play they should have an easier time stopping the run. The special teams needs work, but both the punter and the kicker are freshmen and should improve with time.

“I think this will help a lot in the future. I don’t think the running backs in our league will be as big as these guys, so I think it will help out a lot,” Mahone said.

BG begins MAC play Saturday against Buffalo. The defense should have an easier time stopping the Bulls.

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