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UB must deal with Falcons’ up-tempo pace

Bowling Green football coach Dino Babers explains his offensive philosophy by talking about one of his other favorite sports: chess.

“Have you ever played tournament chess?” Babers asks. “When you play tournament chess, you play with a clock. Let’s say there’s 3 minutes between moves, or 1 minute, or 30 seconds for your next move. If you don’t make a move, you lose your move, and I get two moves without you making one.”

“A chess player is totally different playing with unlimited time and playing tournament chess,” Babers says. “There’s two types of chess players. I like to keep the pressure on defensive players and coaches all the time. So we play tournament chess on offense.”

Babers is the grand master of offense in the Mid-American Conference.

Bowling Green is running 89 plays a game this season – second most in the nation. It ranked third in the nation last year in pace of offense – running a play every 18.3 seconds.

Bowling Green senior quarterback Matt Johnson leads the nation in passing – averaging 440 yards a game.

The Falcons (2-2) bring the fastest offense in the Midwest to Buffalo on Saturday for a MAC season-opener against the University at Buffalo. Bowling Green’s entertaining attack already has roared to victories over two Big 10 Conference teams – Maryland and Purdue.

It’s a grudge match for UB, which lost agonizing games to the Falcons the last two seasons. Bowling Green knocked the Khalil Mack-led Bulls out of the MAC title game in 2013 with a win at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Falcons scored a come-from-behind, 36-35 victory over UB in Ohio last season.

The 53-year-old Babers learned the extreme-tempo offense while working for Baylor coach Art Briles from 2008 to 2011.

“It starts with Art Briles,” Babers said on a conference call for MAC media. “It’s an offshoot of the Baylor offense. Art Briles gets all the credit. He’s the guy who really changed my mind and thinking about tempo and what tempo does to teams.”

Babers took the Baylor scheme to Eastern Illinois, where he lit up scoreboards for two seasons with quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, now the backup to Tom Brady in New England. This is Babers’ second season at Bowling Green.

The Falcons actually produced fewer points (28.6) and yards per game (430) than UB last season. But they did it with a sophomore quarterback, James Knapke, because Johnson missed virtually the entire season to injury.

Now Johnson is back for his senior year, and he’s playing even better than he did in 2013, when he led Bowling Green to the MAC championship.

Johnson has thrown for more than 400 yards all four games this season, and that includes a 424-yard outing against then-No. 25 Tennessee in the season opener. He’s completing 64.7 percent of his passes and has 13 TDs with two interceptions.

“The unknown factor this year was how would Matt operate an offense that’s in its second year when he’s only in his first,” Babers said. “He was on the headsets all last year after his injury. But that’s not like driving the car. You’re just a passenger. … That was the big we-don’t-know-how-he’s-going-to-do thing. I’d say so far he’s doing OK.”

Babers inherited a load of skill-position talent from former coach Dave Clawson, the Lew-Port product now coaching Wake Forest.

Five of the top 10 players at receiver and running back are from Florida. A sixth (Robbie Rhodes) is a Texan who transferred from Baylor. A seventh (Gehrig Dieter) transferred from Southern Methodist.

Star receiver Roger Lewis is averaging 139 yards a game on 30 catches. No. 2 receiver Roger Moore, a speedster from Florida, burned UB for 178 receiving yards last season. Senior running back Travis Greene produced 1,749 yards from scrimmage as a sophomore and 1,124 as a junior.

The Falcons attack with speed all over the field.

Bowling Green is favored by nine points Saturday.

Babers says he’s wary going against the new UB coaching staff of Lance Leipold.

“I really wish we didn’t have them first coming out of the gate because I know he’s got big things planned for us,” Babers said. “We’re going to have to really concentrate on us. I know they’re going to try to do some different things I’m sure and we’re going to have to adjust to it.”