After Week 1, the more skittish among Wisconsin Badger fans felt like they could breathe easier. Western Kentucky went out and got itself some of a prohibitive MAC contender in the Bowling Green Falcons and took them down, 59-31. Quarterback Matt Johnson was hurt late in that ball game and will miss the rest of the season. Sure, the Dino Babers offense went out and put 45 on VMI the very next week, but that was an FCS school. Those are supposed to come to where you are and make you feel better about yourself.
(Hi, Western Illinois!)
Anyway, long story short, Bowling Green is Wisconsin's Week 3 opponent, Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. Last week, Indiana couldn't get Bowling Green off the field and BGSU quarterback James Knapke engineered a 45-42 upset(?) over Indiana. Now the Falcons travel to Madison with a swagger to their step and an offense that gives enough of a worry to Badger fans to consider the possibility of an upset.
More on the game
Bowling Green Q&A with Hustle Belt
Randy Carpenter from Hustle Belt, the best damn MAC blog around, stopped by to preview Saturday's game with us.
More on the game
After all, the Big Ten isn't a league where you face the Air Raid offenses of the world. Seventy-five offensive plays in a game usually means you went 3 yards and a cloud of dust on some peoples. Bowling Green gets to the line and runs plays as fast as humanly possible, and while it's not superb on a per-play basis, on volume alone they are getting over 520 yards per their first three games.
Knapke has a couple of threats he's been relying on. Running back Travis Greene has gone for over 100 rushing yards his last two games and crossed the endzone in all three. Wide receiver Roger Lewis has shown the talent that once made him a commitment to Ohio State before his grades became a question, and he faced multiple criminal trials. He's averaged 10 catches for 122 yards per game and has taken a lot of pressure off the rest of the receiving class in the wake of Jeremy Gallon's injury and allowed Heath Jackson to remain a solid second option through the air. Add to that Bowling Green's blocked punt for a scoop-and-score as well as a punt-return touchdown, and you have an offense with a myriad of ways to make with the plays and points.
I'm not saying the Badgers are doomed. Not by a long shot. It's just that this offense is too good to be completely stopped.
The good news? The Badgers' defense is athletic and versatile. They locked down LSU until Warren Herring got hurt, and Western Illinois really didn't have any place to go. If you slow down Greene, Bowling Green's offense would probably bog down toward the red zone. Kicker Tyler Tate has also already missed two field goals on the year. The Falcons like your West Virginia and Baylor in that they will throw a lot of short stuff and aren't prone to try and kill you over the top. So, if you trust Wisconsin's ability to tackle in space, you trust the defense can get off the field.
You also trust Wisconsin can win comfortably, because while Bowling Green's offense is great, that defense is pretty much the opposite. Tanner McEvoy should be able to build off of his performance last week going up against a passing defense that is dead last in terms of yardage allowed (412 yards per game) and tied for 109th in terms of yardage allowed on a per-play basis (8.1). With Alex Erickson, Sam Arneson and the Badgers working the running backs into play, the Falcons can't sell out to stop the run.
This means Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement get that bye-week healing and a rush defense that ranks 76th nationally. If you look at it logically, you might see both runners get as many carries as they can. You know, if Andy Ludwig doesn't let them disappear. Add to that the fact that Bowling Green has allowed its opponents to convert on 48 percent of third downs, and you have a game where Wisconsin's offense should be able to withstand every jab the Falcons throw.
As it goes, and if you're into that sort of thing, this game has been one of the biggest line-movers in the direction of Wisconsin. This means those betting people think Bowling Green might be a bit of a paper tiger. I trust the Falcons' offense to keep the Badgers' first-stringers on the field, but this is a game that shouldn't have the agita of the last two.