The last time Oregon lost its home opener the Indiana Hoosiers came into Autzen Stadium and knocked off the Ducks 30-24 on September 11, 2004 in what ended up becoming a 5-6 season capped with a 50-21 loss at Oregon State.
No one expects the Ducks’ 2018 campaign to track anything along the lines of that woebegotten year and by definition that implies an opening victory over the Bowling Green Falcons Saturday.
With a point spread to the north of 30 few are expecting the matter to be in doubt for long which should give first year head coach Mario Cristobal – and the fans – a golden opportunity to explore his depth chart making full use of the new redshirt rule that allows a player to participate in as many as four games and retain a year of eligibility.
So if you are Bowling Green head coach Mike Jinks you wouldn’t be faulted to think his team is possibly leaning into a 1-2 punch when they head out of the visitors tunnel. Oregon’s first unit gets first crack and after pounding the visitors into submission, the Falcons will find one of the most talented group of underclassmen in program history taking the field to deliver a hay maker.
Bowling Green finished the 2017 season with a 2-10 record and gave up points by the bucket load, ranking 114th in pass defense and dead last (130th) in rushing defense.
Jinks brought in a new defensive coordinator (Carl Pelini) and is counting on a team that has taken its lumps to be ready to mature into a cohesive unit.
The defensive line is the most experienced group with all four starters from 2017 returning. At linebacker things are more unsettled with several JUCO transfers and true freshman still in the mix. The defensive backfield will be much improved with the return of Jamari Bozeman after the junior safety missed 2017 with an injury.
As a true freshman quarterback Jarret Doege displaced a veteran starter and was impressive; completing 64% of his pass attempts (120 of 188), good for 1381 yards, a dozen touchdowns with only three interceptions.
At receiver, Doege has a reliable target in senior wide receiver Scott Miller (63 catches, 722 yards, 4 TD) but little else in proven talent.
Freshman running back Andrew Clair led the Falcons in yards per carry with an average of 6.8 yards per touch. Josh Cleveland led the team in rushing last season with 793 to Clair’s 725, but Cleveland is gone leaving Clair as the featured back and a committee of candidates as his back-up.
Kicker Jake Suder was 32 of 33 on extra points and connected on 18 of his 22 field goal attempts with 42-yards as his longest.
A five win season would be noteworthy progress for the Falcons in 2018 and in the Mid-America Conference a rise from the bottom of the standings to respectability isn’t an unfamiliar story plot line. While a challenging non-conference schedule – the Falcons will also play Maryland and at Georgia Tech – may well pay immediate dividends down the road, for Jinks a repeat of Indiana’s opening day upset against the Ducks seems remote.
~ Rick Morgan