BGSU head coach Mike Jinks says 'I just think I understand my football team better' after last year's 4-8 mark. BLADE PHOTO
BOWLING GREEN — When Mike Jinks was hired as head coach for the Bowling Green State University football team in 2016, the idea was that things would stay the same — and the winning would continue.
After all, the previous season featured the Falcons winning their second Mid-American Conference championship in three seasons, not to mention playing in their fourth straight bowl game.
But things changed in 2016 as BG could not overcome a 1-8 start and finished 4-8 overall, including a 3-5 mark in MAC play.
So Jinks has made a few changes for 2017 as he enters his second season as head coach.
“I don’t know if I’d say I’m a different football coach,” he said. “I just think I understand my football team better.
“Football is a simple game, and sometimes you make it harder than it has to be. And you can fall into the trap of doing more, or being some ‘mad scientist’ and create something new and unique.
“But football is a physical game. And once you focus on those things, you will have success.”
To that end, it seems the Falcons will morph from a pass-first offense to one more reliant on the run. That was a shift BG employed late last season, and the team closed with three victories.
The switch energized the offense, which averaged 470.7 yards of total offense in those wins thanks to 218 rushing yards against Akron, 420 yards on the ground versus the Golden Flashes and 346 rushing yards against Buffalo — not to mention 11 rushing TDs in those contests.
“We did a lot of good things last year,” Jinks said. “But schematically, it didn’t fit who we were, the talent we had.
“And that was a mistake.”
To that end, second year defensive coordinator Perry Eliano has simplified a defense that was torched for 77 points twice in September alone. The results have been clear this fall as the defense had held its own when scrimmaging against the offense.
“Last year was our first year in the system, and I feel we’re faster this year because we’re running the same stuff,” senior linebacker Brandon Harris said. “There were tweaks, but we can process it faster — and that’s why we can play faster.”
And those scrimmages: They have become a constant. The reason, Jinks said, is that having players scrimmage more allows the coaching staff to see players in game-action settings, which improves their evaluation of the team’s talent as well as showing what skills need to be improved in individual practice drills.
“The biggest mistake I made last year was doing a poor job of evaluating the talent we had,” Jinks admitted. “We put guys in positions where we had no chance to be successful, and I will never make that mistake again.
“With our young kids, we’ll know what that can and cannot do before we put them on the football field.”
Speaking of putting them on the field, Jinks also has made a change in practices, starting with a spring ball that was full of hitting. As the Falcons get closer to the start of the new season, the hitting has lessened.
“Spring ball was way tougher than last year, but coach Jinks said he would make us be physical in the spring, then take care of us in the fall — and he has,” senior wide receiver Teo Redding said. “I think the coaches are taking care of our bodies, giving us time to recover and making sure we get treatment when we need it.
“We haven’t banged in this camp nearly as much as we did in the spring.”
Senior punter Joseph Davidson said the result of these “changes” is a renewed spirit surrounding the program.
“You can tell, by the attitude of the team, they have a lot more confidence in play-calling and the scheme,” he said. “And during practice there seems to be a lot more energy.”
As a result, the offense appears to be a group ready to run the ball with authority while waiting for opportunities to throw the ball when they are presented.
“I think there are a lot of guys on offense who are hungry,” Redding said. “There are a lot of guys who are trying to make a name for themselves, so they want to go out there and make plays.”
As for the defense, the focus is on bending but not breaking while improving on the 17 turnovers caused last season.
“I have confidence this season is going to be different — and better,” Harris said. “Towards the end of last season was just a glimpse of what we’re going to bring this season.”
Joseph Davidson has seen the video of Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber that recently has gone viral.
The video shows a Washington Redskins player sailing towards Huber as he steps forward to punt the ball. But instead of kicking the ball, Huber flipped the ball behind his back, sidestepped the rusher, then looked for an opening to punt.
“It’s an awesome play — it’s good to see that specialists can make that type of play at the next level,” Davidson said. “It’s about thinking on your feet … and it shows how athletic they are.
“They’re not punters. They are athletes who punt.”
The same can be said for the senior from Findlay who handles the punting chores for the Bowling Green State University football team. Last season Davidson averaged 45.8 yards per punt, including an 82-yard punt against Toledo and nine punts of at least 60 yards.
Davidson received All-Mid-American Conference first team honors as a punter last season and was a fourth team All-American as chosen by Phil Steele.
The 6-7 Davidson also qualifies as an athlete, having played basketball and run track at Findlay High School. And he was not just a punter for the Trojans: he caught passes as a wide receiver and played defensive back.
While Davidson said he is not looking for trouble when he is called on to punt, he would not argue with spicing up his role.
“I just do what I’m told,” he said. “But if we could run [a gadget play] every single time I run out there, I would.
“Doing the same thing over and over can be boring. So when we talk about ‘fakes’ in our meetings, I get excited.”
WELCOME BACK: This marks the first time since the 2013 season that BG will have the same offensive and defensive coordinators as it did the previous season.
Perry Eliano returns as the Falcons defensive coordinator, while Andy Padron and Kevin Kilmer share the offensive coordinator duties in the same roles as in 2016.
Bowling Green’s offensive and defensive coordinators changed in each of Dino Babers’ two seasons as head coach (2014-15).
So the last time the Falcons had the same coordinators as the previous year was in 2013, when defensive coordinator Mike Elko and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggerio spent their fifth and final season in those roles under then-coach Dave Clawson.
Ruggerio is the offensive coordinator under Clawson at Wake Forest, while Elko is in his first season as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
GO FOR IT: Fourth down was not an automatic punting down for the Falcons last season.
BG “went for it” on fourth down 44 times in 12 games last season. Only Baylor, which tried to convert on fourth down 46 times in 13 games, had more attempts; the Falcons average of 3.7 attempts per game was tops among FBS schools.
Bowling Green converted on 26 of its attempts, tying Baylor for most in the country. The Falcons 59.1 percent conversion rate ranked 29th nationally.
GOOD WORK: Senior linebacker Nate Locke is a nominee for the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Locke participates in Bowling Green community service opportunities such as Feed My Starving Children and Rally Cap Sports, and also has taken part in several mission trips.
Locke carries a 4.0 grade-point average and also is a nominee for the 2017 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete award.
What they’re saying about BG
“Mike Jinks enters his second year with some good vibes after his team won three straight games to wrap up the 2016 season following a 1-8 start. This year, he’s got a returning QB and some good returning talent on both sides of the ball. This year could be another step in the right direction building off the end of last year.” — CBS Sports
“This year BG is my No. 4 most experienced team in the MAC, losing just 15 letterman, and Mike Jinks is now in his second season. BG has numerous factors pointing upward and just missed my most improved list.” — Phil Steele
“This will be a somewhat more experienced outfit, particularly at quarterback and wideout. Bowling Green got worse on defense, but it utterly collapsed on offense. If there’s a turnaround (and a bowl bid) waiting this fall, it’s going to come as a byproduct of a revived passing game.” — Washington Post
Bowling Green schedule
Saturday — at Michigan State, noon
Sept. 9 — South Dakota, 6
Sept. 16 — at Northwestern, 7:30
Sept. 23 — at Middle Tennessee, 7
Sept. 30 — Akron
Oct. 7 — at Miami
Oct. 14 — Ohio, 3:30
Oct. 21 — Northern Illinois
Oct. 31 — at Kent State
Nov. 7 — at Buffalo, 7:30
Nov. 15 — Toledo
Nov. 21 — at Eastern Michigan, 7