If we’re perfectly frank in our assessment of the 2021 BGSU Falcons, I could probably copy and paste much of my article about the Bowling Green State offensive line into this one.
“A young unit loses several players due to graduation and transfer while entering 2021 even younger than the year before. Both of their depths are expected to be mostly true freshmen or redshirt (COVID).
Sounds familiar, right? Well, there is a good reason for this.
As said before, the Falcons struggled a year ago on offense, never having passed the 30-point mark and having three games of ten points or less. After the season, the transfer portal and graduation ceremonies weren’t kind to the Falcon stable of offensive skill players. This was a classic case of a team in transition, as the roster is still in the depths of the damage control of the Mike Jinks era, and trying to infuse as many new energies and bodies as possible into the mix for trying to change the culture and expectations surrounding the boys at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Let’s start with the quarterback where the Falcons have a returner with the return of Matt McDonald. McDonald, now a junior, followed Boston College head coach Scot Loeffler and after being out for a year he returned to offense a season ago with mixed results.
He has started five games, playing despite injuries the entire way. McDonald was so stoned that some weeks he couldn’t train before games. It showed he finished last in the FBS in passing efficiency in 2020, completing just 44% of his passes and throwing one touchdown and six interceptions. McDonald’s missed spring camps after surgery, but is expected to be ready for this fall to compete for the starting position.
The image behind McDonald’s is also proving cloudy, with Tucker Melton and Syracuse second-year transfer Drew Gunther also missing the spring with an injury. Local product Riley Keller, a Whitmer [OH] HS product, could be the future of the position and is joined by LaBronz Davis and Kody Sparks on the depth board.
After McDonald’s, Davis was the only other Falcon to attempt an assist, ending 0-2 with a pick.
As the running back, BGSU must find replacements for former all-MAC selection Andrew Clair, who left for Northwestern in the offseason, and Bryson Denley, who graduated from the program.
Clair never reached his full potential on the Bowling Green Plains, through coaching changes, injuries, inexperienced support casts and personal tragedy. Clair ran 725 yards in 2017, 702 in 2018, just 244 in an injury-cropped 2019 season, and totaled 266 in 52 carries during the 2020 six-game campaign. Although that may not seem like much , that’s good for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Clair was twice selected for the MAC’s third team, even despite his limited appearances, showing that connoisseurs appreciated his talent.
Bryson Denley may have been eclipsed by Clair during his time at Orange and Brown, but his departure still leaves a big hole. He was an all-MAC third-team punt returner in 2020 and led the Falcons in the mixed yards and was their main rusher in 2019.
At the time of going to press, Trevon Raymore is set to miss the season with an injury, leaving the Falcons lacking in the running back department (as with most positions.)
One bright spot is Terion Stewart, the five-foot-eight fullback who became a key contributor as a freshman in 2020. The Sandusky product led the Falcons with 295 yards and four touchdowns on an 8 average, 0 yards per carry last year. He broke in the fourth quarter against Kent State with 14 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
Early enlisted Jaison Patterson will look to build on a solid springtime while Taron Keith, another second freshman, had four carries for 17 yards at Ohio. Pasean Wimberly has speed but was previously on the defensive end of the ball.
Nick Mosley and Jamal Johnson are other real freshmen entering the program at this position.
At the receiver, the Falcons must replace Julian Ortega-Jones, who took his 14 catches for 160 yards at Texas State, and Noah Massey, who is now at Angelo State after six catches for 121 yards last season. They were the Falcons’ second and third main receivers, respectively, in the 2020 campaign.
Redshirt rookie Tyrone Broden is a returning starter after starting all five games a year ago with six catches for 97 yards. Austin Osborne is transferred from Washington to add experience. He landed a three-season reception for the Huskies, but has playing experience with Matt McDonald at Mission Viejo [CA] HS.
Javonte Kinsley played in all five games as a true rookie and made two catches for 28 yards with one touchdown. Another sophomore, Jhaylin Embry, a 2020 running back, is listed as a catcher in the fall camps. He started off as a running back against Kent State last season and has gained 50 yards on six carries during the season.
Junior Redshirt Cavon Croom adds experience after competing in the last three games a year ago. Jake Rogers is the team’s main returning man, but could see an increased role in attack. Nic Kilbride also came into action a season ago.
At the tight end, BGSU must replace Quintin Morris, who was selected for the Senior Bowl and has since signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent. Morris, a hybrid tight end and receiver, was the first all-MAC team in 2020 and the second all-MAC team after 2019. He led the Falcons in receiving with 20 catches for 248 yards. He was also their main receiver in 2019.
Needless to say, it will be a tough time to replace him in 2021.
Six-foot-four, Georgia sophomore Christian Sims will likely be the next man, as he’s the current returnee with the most experience, starting in five games.
Defensive lineman Andrew Bench was moved to the tight end position in the spring after starting two games along the defensive line a year ago. From this spring, he was expected to push the boundaries of the position. Inbound Transfer Tommy Guarjado joins the room from the State of Michigan through the portal. He was once a three-star recruit for the Spartans.
Levi Gazarek, a true freshman a year ago, chose BGSU over the Big Ten Schools in Maryland and Michigan State to save time as a beginner. Griffin Little, a sophomore, has a solid height at six feet four inches and 236 pounds. Jaedyn McKinstry, Zach Russell and Bryce Boyer also appear on the list to add depth.
Coaches in the offensive position include Terry Malone as offensive coordinator and running backs coach, Erik Campbell as passing coordinator and receivers coach, Greg Nosal as tight ends coach and Max Warner as quarterback coach.
Most MAC teams would suffer after losing their top three receivers, let alone two of their top three rushers (three of their best four counting Raymore.) This makes coaching positions very important heading into this season as the staff at Loeffler will finally have a chance to build players to fit their systems.
The BGSU skill job pools are a year or two away, no doubt. Among current players, Terion Stewart has the best chance of being part of an all-MAC squad at the end of the season, while Matt McDonald will have the most to prove in a season where he should be in full health.
Perhaps no conference program has seen its reconstruction disrupted like that of BGSU. Coach Loeffler came up with the idea of building from scratch while eliminating those who didn’t want to call BGSU home. This resulted in a young team (the youngest in the FBS to be clear) and a group in serious need of all the play and uninterrupted training reps they could get. COVID and the 2020 season did not allow it, which carried over to the spring ball with contact tracing issues.
In 2021, growth and development will be key for the Falcons, and that will be vital for any of their position groups to successfully move forward.