It’s almost Football Time in Tennessee. The folks on Rocky Top are anxious with anticipation as the Volunteers are preparing to open their season in a matter of days in Nashville against the Bowling Green Falcons. Hailing from the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green is not a team to be taken lightly. The Falcons are coming off a 8-5 season and will provide the Vols plenty of challenges. Bowling Green has a dynamic offensive scheme and this post aims to break it down so that fans will know what to expect from the Falcons on Saturday.
Bowling Green’s offense is stylistically very similar to Baylor’s under head coach Art Briles. Before getting his first head coaching gig at Eastern Illinois, Babers spent four years as a Briles assistant in Waco.
The first thing to note about this dynamic scheme is the speed and pace at which the Falcons play. Bowling Green finished as the third fastest team in the nation in 2014, running a play every 18.6 seconds.
Briles has said, “The biggest thing in the success of our offense is the tempo at which we played. I want to be the fastest team in America as far as the number of times we snap the ball.”
Bowling Green will want to put the Volunteers’ defense on its heels early and often by running plays at a very fast tempo. Tennessee’s depth on defense will be key, as they will likely be rotating through the entire 2 deep to stay fresh and to get younger players experience in the first game of the year.
The second thing for Tennessee to be aware of is the wide splits that the Falcons employ with their receivers. A formation like this is the norm for Bowling Green.
Just like Baylor, the Falcons will split their receivers past the numbers, truly spreading the defense. This does two important things. First, it restricts the defense to man coverage. The receivers are so wide that the defense’s only response in man to man coverage. This leaves corners spread out and on an island. Even if a defense calls for zone, it essentially looks like man coverage because the field is so spread out that extra zone defenders aren’t in place to help. The hope is that Bowling Green’s receivers can win their one on one matchups.
Here’s an example. In one of the biggest pays of the year, South Alabama countered the Falcons spread look with a coverage called quarters. This coverage is designed so that the safety and corner work in tandem to defend any deep passes. Here, Bowling Green is spread so wide that the safety is essentially left one-on-one versus a slot receiver, who speeds past him for the game winning touchdown (Note: This is a matchup Babers loves – a speedy slot receiver going deep versus a safety).
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Second, the wide splits clear out the box for the run game. The offense must either commit defenders outside to defend receivers, or inside to defend the run. With the receivers so wide, it is nearly impossible for one defender to do both. This gives the quarterback a clear picture of where his best matchup is on a given play. If the defenders cover the receivers, the quarterback can hand off for an inside run. If the safeties and nickel backs cheat inside, then the quarterback can pull the ball and throw a quick screen to his uncovered slot receiver.
Here is another example from the bowl game. The receivers are so spread out that the box is left wide open, and the Falcons end up in the end zone. The safeties and linebackers are concerned about the receiver screen and fail to defend the inside run.
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These two plays illustrate what Bowling Green really wants to do on offense. They will call a lot of inside run plays packaged with quick passes outside, and also will attempt to stretch the field vertically and throw over the top.
So how does Bowling Green stack up talent wise? They return almost their entire offense from 2014, only losing three players from their 2 deep. Quarterback Matt Johnson started 13 games in 2013 and started the season opener last year, but was lost for the season with a hip injury. Johnson will likely provide an upgrade over last year’s starter, James Knapke. Johnson is much more efficient, completing 64.2% of his passes in 2014 with a 25-7 TD-INT ratio. Both quarterbacks can do damage on the ground as well. Johnson is expected to start, but Knapke provides a proven commodity as the number two.
Receiver is one of the deepest positions on the team, as all four starters return, boasting nice stats. Roger Lewis was the star as a freshman with 73 receptions, 1093 yards and 7 touchdowns while Ryan Burbrink (64-758-3), Ronnie Moore (56-690-5), and Gehrig Dieter (35-460-1) also threaten the defense. The Falcons also add Chris Gallon, a 2013 starter who missed last season with an injury, and Robbie Rhodes, a former 247Sports 5 star recruit who is transferring from Baylor.
Bowling Green also returns their top three backs from last season, led by starter Travis Greene. He, along with backups Fred Coppet and Andre Givens combined for 2192 yards last season with an impressive average of 5.2 yards per carry.
The offensive line returns all five starters and 125 career starts. They are headlined by right guard Alex Huettel and his 41 career starts.
So how will Tennessee attack this scheme? My guess is a lot of man coverage. Cover 1 (not familiar with Cover 1? Read more here.) on early downs so the Vols can have numbers in the box, and Cover 2 Man Under in passing situations to provide safety help.
Jancek should feel very good about how his talent matches up with the Falcons. Tennessee will have favorable matchups up front with their defensive linemen versus Bowling Green’s offensive line. The Vols believe they can get pressure with their front four, and especially on the edge with Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt. We probably won’t see as much blitzing as Jancek is used too because it will be harder to disguise with the wide splits.
Tennessee won’t be too worried about the Falcons’ passing attack because they trust their corners. Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley are good players who can handle Bowling Green’s best options on the outside. The bigger concern is the Falcons slot receivers versus the Volunteers safeties and nickel backs, two positions that have been recently hurt by injuries. Nickel back Malik Foreman can expect to be tested early and often. Versus the Falcons spread offense, either he or Micah Abernathy, the next option at nickel, will likely be on the field for the entire game.
From a personnel standpoint, expect Jancek to rotate his defenders freely. He has already spoken about how he wants to use more of his depth this season, and an early season MAC game is a great time to get younger players experience. Guys like Darrin Kirkland Jr., Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie, Micah Abernathy, and Evan Berry can expect to see the field a lot.
As often as they throw deep, the Falcons will inevitably hit some long passes, but the Vols trust that their defenders can win most of the one-on-one matchups and control the game. As Baylor has proved, this offensive style can be dynamic when the offense has talent equal to or better than the opponent. In the MAC, Bowling Green will likely do lots of damage under Babers. However, in this matchup Bowling Green is overmatched and will likely struggle to find openings in the Volunteers’ defense.