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Falcons looking for improved QB play

September 14, 2016 GMT

Mike Jinks caused a bit of a stir last Saturday when he pulled fifth-year senior quarterback James Knapke late in the first half in favor of redshirt freshman James Morgan.

The move lasted just one series after Morgan’s second pass from scrimmage was tipped and intercepted, yet it raised questions as the whether or not Morgan might be inching closer to taking the starting job.

After the game, which wound up a 27-26 win over FCS North Dakota, Jinks said he was looking for a spark in the offense. Knapke delivered when he reentered the game after Morgan’s interception, connecting with Scott Miller on a 51-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons ahead 21-10 just before halftime.

“He’s a competitor, and he didn’t like it,” Jinks said of Knapke being pulled. “But I didn’t like the mistakes he was making either.”

Knapke’s mistakes have largely carried over — at least to the untrained eye — from the second half of the 2014 season when he started the final 13 games after Matt Johnson was lost for the season due to an injury.

Knapke’s efforts in 2014 were admirable. He went 8-5 as the starter that season, helping Bowling Green to a second straight Mid-American Conference East championship. He also delivered a dramatic bowl win over South Alabama.

The 6-foot-2 signal caller threw for 3,173 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2014, completing 58 percent of his passes. He was also intercepted 12 times.

But the bulk of those stats came early in the season.

Over his first five games as a starter in 2014, Knapke was 139-of-230 passing (60.4 percent) for 1,559 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That included a last-minute home win over Indiana where he threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns, and a road win at Massachusetts where he threw for 443 yards and three scores.

The last seven games of the season, prior to the Camellia Bowl, there was a drop off. Knapke threw for 1,246 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. He threw for less than 200 yards in five of those seven games, and didn’t have a touchdown pass in three of them. Knapke had just three touchdown passes in his final six games prior to the bowl game.

He rebounded in the bowl with 368 yards passing and a pair of touchdown passes.

Knapke, who was pulled for backup Cody Callaway twice in the second half of that season, went on to be beat out for the starting spot by Johnson heading into the 2015 season.

Either way, the Falcons had a seasoned backup with game experience. Such was the thought coming into the 2016 campaign, only he was tabbed as a starter with significant game experience.

Yet, the timing between Knapke and his receivers is still off, and his decision making has been questionable at times.

He is 9-6 as a starter at Bowling Green, and off to a 1-1 start this season — right where most thought he and the Falcons would be.

Knapke has completed just 48 percent of his passes over the first two games for 425 yards and three touchdowns. But his four interceptions are the concern.

Jinks has stated numerous times since Saturday that Knapke is the starting quarterback, but there is a caveat.

“This is James’ show. This is his football team,” Jinks said. “But at the same time, we run as he runs. There’s a lot of things that go into that. There’s run checks, not putting the guys in motion, messing up calls on the option routes. If it’s those kind of mental mistakes then we may set him down. ... As far as James Morgan goes, I told him, ‘You’ve got a shot. And what you need to do is continue to prepare, and if you ever do get back in there, make me not take you out.’ That’s kind of the approach.”

After both games this season Jinks and Knapke have agreed that there have been plays left on the field, and it’s not just by the quarterback.

Bowling Green’s receivers have dropped passes and run the wrong routes, and the running backs have missed holes. There are mistakes all around, but it is most glaring when it comes from the quarterback.

The Falcons attempted just 11 passes in the second half against North Dakota when clinging to an 11-point halftime lead, and it took a tipped ball on a two-point conversion try to preserve the win with 13 seconds left.

Jinks said that the play calling probably should have stayed more aggressive, but there was worry about Knapke’s confidence.

“If we’re going to run this system and be married to it, we can’t do that,” Jinks said of straying away from the pass. “We have to go out and let him throw five picks. It is what it is.”