Continuing our series of Q&A's with opposing blogs, I exchanged questions with Matt Sussman of the MAC Blog Hustle Belt. Matt had a series of good ones for me that you can read here, and was gracious enough to take the time to answer some for us. The main topics of concern seem to be whether BG's offense can move the ball on WVU's 3-3-5 and how well WVU will rebound from an emotional, mistake-filled loss against LSU. But hey, at least we agree on an approximate final score...and the greatness of Don Nehlen.
Country Roads: The MAC had a run in the mid-2000s where teams knocked off BCS foe after BCS foe. What happened to put an end to that cycle and what do MAC teams need to do to return to that level of fearlessness?
Matt Sussman: When did this streak end? Last year Temple beat Big East champion UConn and took down Maryland 38-7 last week. Ball State beat Indiana to start the season. Toledo upset Purdue, Colorado and Michigan in the last three years. Two years ago CMU upset Michigan State and three years ago BGSU upset ranked Pittsburgh. It may not be the type of upsets they had circa 2003 but they still do exist in smaller quantities.
There was a decline, however, in "great" MAC teams after about 2004. Even during CMU's four-year dynasty they only had the one marquee win (Michigan State) but kept falling in the big nonconference matches. Because there haven't been "great" teams lately we've seen six different division winners in the last three years.
I don't know how they can get back to that, but one thing they desperately need is head coach retention. Consider they lost five coaches in the offseason, including both division winners, to hire-aways or firings. Other than Frank Solich (OHIO) and Bill Cubit (WMU) who are in their seventh seasons, the other 11 MAC schools have head coaches who began no further back than '09.
CR: How are Falcons fans feeling about Dave Clawson? He was heavily ridiculed at Tennessee, but seems to have found his niche at BG, going to a bowl game in his first season before slipping to 2-10 last year. He now sits at 3-1 with only a narrow loss to Wyoming on the record. Can he make BGSU into a MAC contender?
MS: We all sort of knew that 2010 was going to be painful by virtue of who they lost on offense (Tyler Sheehan and Freddie Barnes both set school records, and Barnes set an NCAA one) but two wins on a season really hurt. That hadn't happened in a while. Our hope was dashed. There were four games last year they lost on the final play.
That he was able to win on the road at Idaho and Miami with a very young team (and a true freshman running back) shows promise that Clawson can bring 'em a MAC Championship in the next few years. Probably not this year. Maybe. But they look like a bowl-eligible team, and that will keep him in town for a couple more years ... at least until Tennessee hires him back as head coach.
CR: What one offensive player and defensive player should WVU fans watch out for?
MS: I can't really pick one playmaker, so I'll defer to the quarterback. Matt Schilz has been able to use two primary receivers and a host of ancillary targets with great accuracy. He won't run on you but his offensive line has given him proper time to set and chuck it, for the most part. He does have a tendency to hold onto it a big long. So there's your game plan. Get to the quarterback and everything else falls apart.
On the defensive side ... same game. Junior defensive tackle Chris Jones leads the team in sacks and is one of just three upperclassmen on the first-string defense. I'm going to beg your question and mention a second: linebacker Dwayne Woods, another junior (as well as a Jr. in the namesake sense) leads the team in tackles for loss. Both were All-MAC last year. If they play their game, that'll allow the secondary in the 4-2-5 scheme to make some plays, as they've done so far this year.
CR: What does BGSU have to do well to pull the upset? Can the Falcons spring a special teams score? Do they have a secret weapon? Or are they relying on WVU shooting itself in the foot with turnovers and stupid penalties?
MS: A traditional MAC upset requires big plays and practically no turnovers. A blocked punt. A stop on fourth down. Several stops on third down (they're second in FBS on third down defense with a 22.8 percent conversion rate against). And the big plays will help. They had an inordinate seven return TDs (kickoff, punt, interception, fumble) last yaer, which I think was top five in the country.
They could do everything "right" on Saturday, running the ball for four yards per carry and Schilz can pass for 350, but they will not be able to match up pound-per-pound to WVU on fundamentals and moving the chains. Basically they'll need, luck and opportunity, and gifts.
CR: Straight up picks are easy, so let's have some fun. Depending on where you look, WVU is a 20-point favorite and the over/under is 60.5. Where's your money?
MS: Oh, shrewd lines, both of them. Giving BG 20 points seems generous but then again their last eight losses were by 1, 24, 21, 3, 24, 1, 24, 2 and 44 points. Could be close, could be ugly. I'll say BG loses by 17. Does 34-17 sound like a reasonable score? That's under 60.