Strength vs. strength in MAC title game

Published: Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 11:13 p.m.CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 12:03 a.m.CDT
Caption
(Kerry Smith)
Bowling Green defensive back Jude Adjei-Barimah (14) and linebacker Gabe Martin (11) walk off the field after a close loss in an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. Mississippi State won 21-20. (AP Photo/Kerry Smith)

Bowling Green football coach Dave Clawson has had the service of both his coordinators since he took the job after the 2008 season.

He’s the only coach in the Mid-American Conference who can say that.

Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero and defensive coordinator Mike Elko have been with Clawson from the time he arrived in northwest Ohio.

And lately, Elko’s defenses have been very, very good. This season, the Falcons are giving up only 13.8 points a game, fifth in the nation. Florida State is giving up a nation-low 11 points a contest, and is followed by Alabama, Louisville and Michigan State.

Last season, Bowling Green gave up 16.8 points a game.

That defense will be put to the test Friday when the Falcons take on Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game at Ford Field in Detroit. NIU averages 42.8 points a game, ninth in the nation.

For the most part, Elko has been with Clawson since 2002, when Clawson – then the head coach at Fordham, hired Elko to become Fordham’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator.

“Mike has been with me more years probably than he wishes he was, over the past decade here,” Clawson joked during Monday’s MAC Championship teleconference.

“... We have a long history together. I hired him when he was, I think, 23 or 24 years old.”

It’s gotten to the point where BCS schools with coordinator openings might come calling for Elko. Clawson said there was interest after last season.

“Mike certainly had the opportunity to leave last year. He had a couple different opportunities. Fortunately, Bowling Green’s a great place to work, and we get good support here,” Clawson said. “It’s a great place and a great community to live in. Mike made the decision for his career and for his family that he wanted to stay. We’ll keep fighting that fight, and try to keep him here, and we’ll see what happens.”

The Falcons’ defense also has plenty of experience itself, as it is littered with seniors such as defensive backs BooBoo Gates, Ryland Ward and Cameron Truss, as well as linebacker Paul Swan and defensive tackle Ted Ouellet.

Statistically, this is the best defense the Huskies have faced this season. Iowa, NIU’s Week 1 opponent, is 11th in the nation, giving up 18.8 points a game. Over the past four games combined, the Falcons have given up only 17 points.

“I think [the system] holds everyone accountable. It gives everyone a job to do, and it’s not just focusing on one player to make all the plays,” Swan said. “Every guy at every level is making plays at any given point of the game and it’s really a collective effort from our defense.”

Carey making players off-limits: NIU players will not be allowed to talk to the media this week until Thursday’s MAC Championship news conference in Detroit. Coach Rod Carey said he wants them to focus on Bowling Green. He said he did not take the decision lightly.

Bowl reps on hand at Ford Field: Among the bowl representatives on hand Friday will be people from the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls. Should NIU get a BCS bid, it’s likely the Huskies will head to the Fiesta. The Sugar and Orange Bowls likely would be a long shot for the Huskies.

Lewis expected back: Carey said he expects receiver Tommylee Lewis, who has missed the past two games with a toe injury, back for Friday’s game.

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