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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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In the Trenches: A look at one of the driving forces of BG’s nationally recognized defense

The+BGSU+defense+getting+a+sack+on+Ball+States+quarterback
Drake Harlett
The BGSU defense getting a sack on Ball State’s quarterback

If you haven’t heard, Bowling Green’s defense is not only one of the best in the Mid-American Conference, but in the country as well.  

The defense allows just over 180 passing yards per game, putting them inside the top 20 in the nation. They’ve forced the most turnovers in the country with 22. 

While the secondary is doing a fantastic job, it all starts up front at the point of attack. 

Bowling Green’s defensive line coach, Julian Campenni, says that the coaching staff has been drilling one thing into the minds of the D-line: attack.  

“Anytime we’re around the ball, we want guys attacking the ball. Whether it’s a ballcarrier trying to punch it out, whether we get free and we have a chance to knock the ball out of the quarterback, just constantly reinforcing in our guys, attack the ball,” Campenni said. 

He says even if you don’t have a chance to get to the quarterback and make a play, get your hands up if you’re on the line. 

“We say tips and overthrows lead to interceptions, so there’s been times where we’ve been effective in our pass rush, getting a hand up, tipped passes lead to interceptions,” Campenni said. “Getting pressure, overthrows are a lead to pressure, and the guys in the back end have done a great job of making those plays and catching the ball.” 

While the defensive line is one of the stronger units of the program, it wasn’t expected to be that way.  

Between last season and this season, there was a lot of change to the Falcon front four. 

Karl Brooks, who led the team in sacks in 2022, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Walter Haire, who notched 30 tackles last season, graduated. Along with that, multiple linemen hit the transfer portal. 

This forced guys who were nothing more than rotational to have to step up coming into this season, and they’ve delivered.  

“I think it’s exciting for them because, obviously last year we had guys like Karl and Walt who got the lions’ share of the reps, so some of those guys didn’t get to play as much as they wanted to. Now with those guys not here, it’s an opportunity for those guys to be able to come in,” Campenni said. “A guy like Ali Saad, Jordan Porter’s done a great job, Dierre Kelly now. Guys that, last year they got some reps, but to be able to get a lot of reps, I think it’s exciting for them – they wanted to play, and they worked their tails off this offseason. It’s hard to replace a guy like Karl or Walt, but I think those guys have done a great job at coming in and giving us really quality snaps.” 

Senior defensive tackle Anthony Hawkins has been one of the mainstays on the defensive line, and he says coming into the season, it was a next man up mentality all the way.  

“The mindset was next man up. Like you said, we lost a lot of pieces, but a lot of guys that we still have in this room had experience prior to this season, so I think that played a big part. Those guys are ready to come in and make plays,” Hawkins said. “Dontrez Brown, of course, Ali Saad, Jordan Porter stepped up a lot. That’s off the top of my mind, but we had a lot of people step up this season and make plays.” 

Dontrez Brown, or “Trez’ as his coaches and teammates call him, has been the biggest star up front.  

The senior defensive tackle from Fremont, Ohio has set career highs in every scoresheet category except one. 

But his impact stretches beyond the box score. 

“I saw it coming. Trez, since he’s gotten here in the COVID year, he’s gotten better, and better, and better, and better, you know,” Campenni said. “The thing that’s frustrating for him, maybe us at times, is it doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but he completely takes over games. He’s always been a guy on the rise. It means a lot to him, he’s a super accountable guy on the field, off the field, so it’s no surprise that he’s having the success that he’s having, because he’s gotten better every year he’s been here.”  

Brown has been one of the keys to BG’s turnover success. He’s recovered two fumbles and has gotten at least one of his hands on three passes through November 4.  

After three seasons as a member of the second unit, Brown wasn’t expecting to have the season he’s having, he just wanted to do his job.  

“I didn’t really see it coming. Last year, I was second string, so I know this year I had big shoes to fill with losing Walt, so I just came in thinking I was going to do my job,” Brown said. “As far as preparation, just being out here with Coach Camp, working with the D-Line, doing drills on days we’re not usually out here. Just getting that extra work.” 

Of course, helping his team out is one big reason why he keeps the intensity up, but there’s also another factor. 

Bowling Green’s turnover chain. 

“I think it makes it exciting, it’s a catchy tune, Turnover Chain,” Brown said. “Just hearing the crowd go crazy, hearing it on the speaker. It just makes me want to get another one.” 

The turnover chain came out twice against Ball State, and fans may have the opportunity to see it again on the road against Kent State, who the Falcons battle on Wednesday night. 

Kickoff out at Dix Stadium is slated for 7:00 p.m. 

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn). 

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