Georgia Southern-Bowling Green Preview
Dino Babers is off to Syracuse, but Bowling Green has already landed a successor who seems plenty capable of carrying on a budding offensive tradition - even if he was coaching Texas high school ball four seasons ago.
There's still one more game before Mike Jinks will man the sideline for the Falcons - their meeting Wednesday in the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, against a Georgia Southern team that's also bridging the gap between coaches.
While the Eagles (8-4) are making their first postseason appearance in their second season in the FBS, the Mid-American Conference champions will try to close out their season with a second straight bowl victory and first 11-win season since 2003.
Bowling Green (10-3) sent Babers off with a 34-14 win over Northern Illinois in the MAC title game on Dec. 4 with 501 yards of total offense. The Falcons rank fifth the FBS with 43.4 points per game and fourth at 561.0 yards, topping all teams playing outside the Big 12. They failed to top 500 yards once.
Jinks replaced him on Dec. 8 after filling the associate head coach and running backs coach roles at Texas Tech, another impressive offensive program. He spent three seasons there after being hired from the high school ranks following the 2012 season. The former Angelo State quarterback's rise is on hold while interim head coach Brian Ward leads the Falcons through bowl season.
While it might appear to be a gap between regimes, Ward sees it as a chance to cap an important season on the highest note possible.
"This is an opportunity for our team to win an 11th game, finish the season being ranked," Ward said. "There are still a lot of goals out there. And having those goals and fulfilling those goals - this is a team that set out to win the MAC East, they set out to win the MAC, they set out to win a bowl game. ... We win a bowl game, we have an opportunity to finish the season ranked in the Top 25, which makes this a significant year in (Bowling Green) football history."
That's all been made possible by bouncing back from a 44-28 home loss to Toledo on Nov. 17 with a 48-10 win at Ball State leading into the conference title game. In the consecutive victories, the Falcons limited Ball State and NIU to 261.5 yards per game with eight takeaways for a plus-6 turnover margin.
Top rusher Travis Greene had a career-high 183 yards against NIU and averaged 6.24 yards per carry in the last five games. The Falcons also feature the nation's leading receiver in third-team All-America Roger Lewis (1,476 yards), but Ward still expects his offense to be pulled from its comfort zone.
"My first reaction was great opponent, great challenge, and they're going to give us a lot of different looks and a lot of different things to prepare for offensively because they're very different than what we've seen," Ward said.
Georgia Southern hasn't yet hired the successor to former coach Willie Fritz, who accepted Tulane's job. The Eagles will be led by interim head coach Dell McGee as they complete their transformation from an FCS power to a bowl-eligible member of the Sun Belt.
The regular season ended with losses in two of three, but the first of those was a 23-17 overtime defeat at Georgia on Nov. 21. Two weeks later, the Eagles fell 34-7 at home to Georgia State, showing a second-half deficit isn't something their offense can handle.
"They won the battle up front on the offensive and defensive lines," Fritz said. "We had a hard time running the football against them and then we had to pass, and we're not a passing team."
That might be an understatement, given Georgia Southern's 129 passing attempts for an FBS-low 742 yards - just over half the total Lewis pulled in on his own. That certainly doesn't mean the Eagles didn't move the ball. Their 4,267 rushing yards and 6.47 per carry both led the nation, and top back Matt Breida ran for 1,586 on a ridiculous 8.19 per rush.
As one-dimensional as that may be, Bowling Green is bracing for the possibility of plenty of offense on both sides.
"They play a different style of football on offense than we've seen, so it could be an explosive football game," Ward said.