After a humiliating 70-16 home loss to Bowling Green last October, coach Bobby Wallace and the Owls continually promised to move on and play hard. That promise almost materialized the very next week, as the Owls came within six points of beating bowl-bound Pittsburgh.
A year later, Wallace’s tone has changed somewhat. In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Wallace said he wants the memory of that game to motivate the players.
“Bowling Green beat us last year, a very long, humiliating day,” Wallace said. “I hope our players and coaches have a lot of pride, remembering what it felt like, and come back to battle this year.”
As was the case last Saturday in a 19-16 loss to Western Michigan, though, whether the players will battle is not in doubt. Throughout Wallace’s tenure, the coach said, his players always come to play.
The issue, he said, is execution.
With six turnovers in the last two games, it’s become evident the epidemic mistakes that have accompanied that effort need to be corrected.
“I told our players Sunday that I was proud of how hard they played, but that should be taken for granted,” Wallace said. “If you’re in Division I football, you should play hard.
“Under the circumstances they’ve been through, I’m proud of them for playing hard,” he continued. “The problem is, they don’t play smart. That’s a nice way of saying we play dumb. I don’t think we have dumb people, but we made mental mistakes on the field.”
If possible, Wallace’s desire is to control the running game and keep dangerous quarterback Omar Jacobs on the sideline. Wisconsin, whose rushing attack bowled the Owls for 263 rushing yards Sept. 10, held Jacobs in check Week 1 by leading the Falcons in time of possession, 33:19-26:41.
Defensively, the Owls need to cut down on the Falcons’ big plays, Wallace said. Boise State was most successful in doing that last week, when the Broncos forced Jacobs’ first five throws to fall incomplete.
Inability to stop the big play was the most glaring problem for the Owls last year. Three of the Falcons’ nine scoring plays came on plays of 28 yards or more.
“You know, that score was 14-9 with about 12 minutes to go in the second quarter,” Wallace said. “It wasn’t just an automatic blowout. … Then all the sudden in the second quarter, it was just one big play after another. They scored 28 points in that quarter.”
Some scouts have warned Wallace that Jacobs is the No. 1 rated quarterback in college football, and the coach called him a bona fide professional prospect. Jacobs has three seniors to use as weapons, too – wide receivers Steve Sanders and Charles Sharon, and running back P.J. Pope. All three reached the endzone against Temple in last season’s meeting.
“When they can keep you off balance throwing and running, then you’ve got problems,” Wallace said. “Last year was just a very poor performance defensively. I don’t remember exactly why we played that way, but I know we came back the next week and played well.” #