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Bowling Green bets big on defensive changes

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    Bowling Green's defense ranked near the bottom of the country the last two seasons, which included allowing 66 points in a loss to rival Toledo last year.

    THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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    Bowling Green State University head coach Mike Jinks made sweeping changes to the Falcons' defensive coaching staff after last season.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

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BOWLING GREEN — In year No. 3 for Mike Jinks, Bowling Green is playing the long game.

The Bowling Green coach’s inauspicious start — six wins in two years — led to sweeping changes on the defensive side of the football this off-season. Jinks fired former defensive coordinator Perry Eliano, turned over the entire defensive coaching staff, and hired former Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini to be the new coordinator.

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Bowling Green State University head coach Mike Jinks made sweeping changes to the Falcons' defensive coaching staff after last season.

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The overhaul, Jinks revealed at the end of training camp, is ongoing — Bowling Green will travel to No. 24 Oregon on Saturday with a slimmed-down version of the playbook because the full installation of the defense is not yet complete. 

For Jinks, there is no panic. BGSU made the changes with a marathon in mind.

“The reason [Pelini] is here is because of his scheme and his system, and it takes time because it’s very detailed,” Jinks said. “We ask a lot of our student-athletes. We ask them to learn the defense from a holistic standpoint.”

Whether the BG defense comes through in time will define the 2018 season for the Falcons, and perhaps for Jinks.

Jinks entrusted the defense to Pelini, who undertook similar tear-downs in his three previous stops, at FAU and as the defensive coordinator for his brother, Bo, at both Nebraska and Youngstown State. 

The Falcons will be thrown into the deep end with back-to-back games against Power Five schools Oregon and Maryland to begin the season, which Pelini admitted will make for a trying start — but one he believes will make the Falcons better in the long run.

In Pelini’s defense, he said communication “is non-negotiable” between players, whom he wants to play fast and decisively regardless of where they stand in their installation.

“I hope — I hope — by the end of the year that we’re running the whole playbook, but it doesn’t matter if we are or we’re not,” Pelini said. “We’re going to be very good at what we do, very detailed at what we do, and I’m going to keep pushing the install as we go through the season.”

By any measure, the past two seasons made clear that Bowling Green’s defense sorely needed a renovation.

The Falcons lost eight games during the past two years in which they scored 24 or more points. During a three-game losing streak to end last season, the Falcons averaged 32 points per game and still finished those three games with a point differential of negative-42.

BG allowed an average of 38.0 points per game in 2017, which ranked 122nd out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision and 11th out of 12 teams in the Mid-American Conference.

Though the Falcons will travel to Oregon as a work-in-progress this season, they’re betting their defense will stand up in the heart of the MAC schedule.

“By the time we get to week six or seven,” Jinks said, “it’s probably going to be completely different.”

Pelini’s defense places special emphasis on complete understanding of the scheme. The Falcons expect each player to know not only their role, but those of their teammates as well.

“I would have to say the biggest adjustment would be understanding what everybody is doing rather than just knowing your position,” cornerback Marcus Milton said. “This year it’s more about knowing what everybody is doing — we know where we’re going to end up.”

On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have reason to be excited. Jarret Doege came into the picture as a true freshman last season and appears to be the Falcons’ long-term answer at quarterback. In seven games last year, Doege was encouragingly efficient for BG, completing just fewer than 64 percent of his passes with a 12-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Doege will have plenty of help. The Falcons’ offensive line returns five players with starting experience and figures to be in the top half of the MAC, and led by sophomore running back Andrew Clair, the Falcons are deep at the skill positions.

As BG goes into the season, it looks to have a capable offense.

The Falcons are banking that their defense will have taken great leaps by the end of the season — but they’re preaching patience first.

“Every time, it’s been a season-long process,” Pelini said. “Some teams responded more quickly than others, but in all four instances, it’s been a season-long process.

“I think our improvement from week one to week 12 is going to be vast. We’re going to show vast improvement.” 

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 419-724-6110 or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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