BOWLING GREEN — Middletown, Ohio, is just 20 miles away from Miami University. So the Bowling Green State University football team’s contest against the RedHawks on Saturday is big for a Middletown native such as Jerry “BooBoo” Gates.
“It’s a big game, but every week is a big game,” the Falcons’ junior safety said. “Miami is close [to home], so I know a lot of family is coming to see the game.”
Gates, who received his nickname from an aunt who disliked calling him Jerry, should play a key role in the 3:30 p.m. contest at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Gates moved from “rover” to “stud” safety in the spring, and this season he ranks among BG’s top tacklers with 22 stops.
“I feel comfortable back there,” he said. “With the defensive coordinator [Mike Elko] as my coach, I know what everyone else on the defense is doing.
“I think I’m playing all right, but I can play better. … [I can get better with] my eye discipline, my backpedal, getting my hips looser and breaking back on balls better.”
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson feels Gates has improved his play in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“He’s really matured as a football player,” Clawson said. “Like a lot of freshmen and second-year sophomores, there are times when his eyes weren’t in the right place and his feet weren’t in the right position, and that was a little high-risk, high-reward.
“He’s at a position where he may not have as many tackles, but that’s also because we’re better up front. It certainly is a security blanket to have him back there.”
Gates also impacts the game returning kickoffs and punts. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound Gates — who last season was named All-Mid-American Conference second team as a kickoff returner — returned a punt 80 yards for a score against Rhode Island.
“Punt returning is kind of scary, but you have to be relaxed,” he said. “You have to catch the ball first, and you have to trust your front 10 that they will do their job and block to free you up.
“I love kickoff returns, because it’s either the opening play of a half or after the other team has scored. And it’s about field position: I want to give my team good field position to give them a good chance to score.”
INJURY UPDATE: Junior WR Heath Jackson will not play Saturday at Miami, and Clawson said the knee problems that have limited Jackson to just one game this season may force him to miss the rest of the year.
Senior LB Dwayne Woods has been limited in practice this week, but Clawson expects the two-time All-MAC performer to play against the RedHawks.
The news is good at running back, where senior Jordan Hopgood and sophomore Anthon Samuel should be available for the Miami contest.
BAYER HONORED: Junior TE Alex Bayer was named John Mackey tight end of the week by the Nassau County Sports Commission, which organizes the annual Mackey Award given to the best tight end in college football. Bayer caught five passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns — all single-game career highs — in the 24-10 win against Akron.