Okay, so Urban Meyer isn't dead. He's alive and well and coaching the Florida Gators. If he were dead, though--or if he just bothered to check the score from this weekend--I have to think he'd be upset (or possibly amused) by what has happened to the Bowling Green football program since he vacated the head coaching position following the 2002 season.
This Saturday, the BGSU Falcons lost to the Kent State Golden Flashes by a final score of 38-3. Sadly, that's not a typo: the Falcons only managed to score three points. Against Kent State. At home. Kent State hadn't won in Doyt Perry Stadium in 34 years, but on this day they managed not only to win, but to hand the Falcons their worst home loss ever.
Kent State is a perennially bad MAC football team. This year they've improved to the point where they're...well, mediocre, at best. I saw nothing from them on Saturday that led me to believe they would have been a threat to any BGSU team of the past four years. This year, though, they were able to exert their will on the Falcons in every phase of the game.
Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon, who took over the program when Meyer left for Utah, attributes this loss and the Falcons' season-long struggles to the youth of the team. I'm willing to grant that youthful inexperience does indeed play a part, as quite a few freshmen and sophomores are in starting or primary backup roles this year. However, it's only a part, and I believe the problems the Falcons have go much deeper than that and won't be solved simply by the players growing and gaining experience.
The first problem that comes to mind is the mind-numbingly predictable offense the Falcons have displayed so far. Consider the 3-overtime win over Buffalo (another bad MAC program, one that probably isn't even mediocre this year) in which the quarterback tandem of Anthony Turner and Freddie Barnes had a combined total of 43 rushes, compared to just 15 rushes for other positions (12 by halfback, 2 by fullback, 1 by receiver) and 26 passes. And it's not just that the quarterback is running the ball so many times (although that's bad enough); it's that fans in the stands are able to look at the formations and know what play is coming--and you can be assured, if fans in the stands are able to do it, opposing defensive coaches are even better at it.
The players are not calling the plays, so that can't possibly be blamed on how young the players are. That's on the coaches. Even if you argue that the players' youth is the reason the plays are called that way, it still comes back to coaching. You have to wonder, for instance, how the players are ever going to get better at throwing and catching passes if they aren't throwing and catching passes. And if the players aren't capable of doing such things, then the coaches are to blame for bringing in said players and putting them in positions where they can't succeed.
Beyond that, the Falcons just aren't very good fundamentally. Special teams especially is a wreck. Punts, field goals, and extra points are routinely blocked, to the point where the fans cheer facetiously when they're done successfully, and they've also given up entirely too many punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns. All those problems actually could be attributed to the team's youth...if it wasn't a trend that started last year, with a team laden with seniors. The same can be said of the defense, which has been consistent in its inability to wrap up and tackle opposing ballcarriers. The defense also isn't helped by the practice of always playing the corners seven to ten yards off the receivers, allowing offenses to move down the field easily with a combination of hook and stop routes--another coaching issue.
Under Coach Meyer, the Falcons were solid on defense and absolutely dynamic on offense and special teams. They were the aggressors in those areas, and opponents never knew what was coming from where. There was reason to believe that would continue, at least on offense, after he left, as Coach Brandon was his offensive coordinator. Instead, the offense has become vanilla, boring, and (worst of all) ineffective. The Falcons haven't sustained momentum from the "Urban Renewal" (as his regime was called then, following the debacle of the last few years of Gary Blackney's coaching tenure) in any phase of the game. That, along with Coach Brandon trying to pin these problems on "youth," tells me that the Falcon program has started going backwards. There is little to no improvement from week to week or year to year, and I have no reason to believe that Gregg Brandon has any answers or ideas on how to turn it around.
Urban Meyer is an incredible football coach, and having him at the helm of the BGSU program for two years was the equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle. It was his first head coaching job, and there was no way of knowing how much he would improve the program before moving on. Unfortunately for the current coaching staff, he also raised expectations quite a bit. All Falcon fans knew this year's team would be young and that there would be growing pains. No one expected the absolutely ugly brand of football we've been presented so far this year, either. The players are young, yes, but they're also talented. I'm therefore forced to give a vote of "no confidence" to Coach Brandon, and I believe, from those I've heard from, that many Falcon fans feel the same way. I don't think anyone expects an electric coach like Urban Meyer to come our way again for a long time, but it would be nice to have a coach that prepared our team to play competent football and not get embarrassed even in games we win.
All that said, I hope Coach Brandon can prove me wrong. I hope things turn around for the football team, and I hope they do so quickly. I don't expect it, though. This is his fourth year running the program, and it seems like each year they get a little worse fundamentally. I don't expect much for the rest of this year, to be honest, and that saddens me. I was excited to see the Falcons contending for MAC championships and playing in bowl games. The year is young, and with the MAC in general looking fairly weak this year, that isn't out of the question yet...and yet, somehow, it feels like it is. While I'll be at the remaining home games, my biggest hope now for the Falcons is that new athletic director Greg Christopher is evaluating the program and won't hesitate to take whatever steps he deems necessary for the good of the program. To do otherwise would be to risk wasting the strides the program has made since Meyer took over, as well as whatever momentum is left (and there is some, off the field if not on) from its recent success.