The Bowling Green State University Falcons — defending Mid-American Conference champions — will visit Ohio Stadium on Saturday for the first time since 2006, when the Ohio State Buckeyes topped the team from northwest Ohio 35-7.
OSU is 4-0 all-time versus Bowling Green with its first match taking place in 1992. In 2016, Buckeye coach Urban Meyer will face, for the first time, the team that sparked his decorated coaching career.
Meyer coached at Bowling Green from 2001-2002, turning a program that was 24-42 its previous six years into a team that went 17-6 in his two seasons, with one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses behind quarterback Josh Harris.
“I still remember that to this day, when I think about Bowling Green, it’s one of the most tradition-rich programs in the MAC. A lot of great respect for them,” Meyer said. “I loved my time there, and a lot of great people there.”
First-year coach Mike Jinks took over the Falcons program this year.
Jinks has only been coaching Division-I football for the past three years as Texas Tech’s running back coach and was also appointed associate head coach in 2015.
Under Jinks’ tutelage in Lubbock, Texas, the 2015 team scored 34 rushing touchdowns, which was 26 more than the 2014 squad scored on the ground.
He coached former Red Raider running back Deandre Washington to first-team all-Big 12 honors in 2015. Washington rushed for 1492 yards at 6.4 yards per carry, and 14 touchdowns.
Bowling Green has won two MAC titles and 26 games in the past three seasons, marking one of the most successful stretches in program history.
Jinks — taking over for Dino Babers who took the head job at Syracuse — has a tough first test as a coach greeting meeting Meyer and the sixth-ranked Buckeyes in front of 100,000-plus on Saturday.
However, summer workouts and fall camp were just as difficult for Jinks and his staff, who have to replace 12 starters in 2016.
Jinks takes over an offense that ranked fourth in the country last season, but returns only its offensive line. The Falcon offensive line is the most experienced unit in the country with 144 total starts. However, the issue lies at the skill positions.
Starting at quarterback is redshirt senior James Knapke. He is replacing Matt Johnson, who threw for 4,946 and 46 touchdowns — ranking second in the country in 2015. Knapke’s task of replacing Johnson is daunting, but it’s one he has done before.
When Johnson went down with a season-ending injury in 2014, Knapke led Bowling Green to a 7-1 record, an appearance in the MAC championship game and a bowl victory. However, Knapke will attempt to replicate Johnson’s monstrous passing numbers with a new group of receivers.
BGSU’s top receivers last season, Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter, accounted for 179 receptions, 2,577 yards and 26 touchdowns. They’re both gone. Lewis is auditioning for a spot with the New York Giants and Dieter is a graduate transfer catching passes for Nick Saban at Alabama.
Four of the Falcons’ five top receivers are gone from 2015. However, returning is senior Ronnie Moore, who totaled 72 receptions, 951 yards and six touchdowns last year.
Starting running back Travis Greene is being replaced by Fred Coppet, who played significantly last year, totaling close to 900 yards with five scores.
BGSU returns six starters on a pedestrian defense, which ranked 84th in the NCAA last year. The Falcons have its entire linebacking core back from a season ago with first-team all-MAC redshirt junior linebacker Austin Valdez and second-team all-MAC redshirt senior Trenton Green leading the way. Redshirt senior James Sanford had 127 tackles in 2015.
As a secondary that ranked 79th in passing defense last year, redshirt junior Alfonso Mack anchors the last line of defense looking to improve a team-leading six interceptions last year.
Senior defensive end Terrance Bush is the only returning starter up front, making defensive coordinator Perry Eliano’s first year with the Falcons an arduous one.
Jinks comes from a Texas Tech program out of the Big 12 that terrorized teams on offense but struggled on defense. Under former coach Dino Babers, BGSU ran the prototypical pass-first offense.
Look for Jinks and Knapke to rely on the passing game, testing the young OSU secondary. Meyer said that he’s most worried about the quick screens from the Falcon offense.
“It’s going to be a real quick, fast-paced game and our job is to win that first game, so that’s kind of our focus this week,” Meyer said. “I just want to make sure we tackle those guys and get them on the ground.”
Despite replacing nine starters, the OSU defense remains one of the quickest in the country, which should allow the linebackers and secondary to attack downhill on screen plays, limiting damage.
OSU’s offense will face a defense that ranked eighth in the nation in interceptions in 2015, but it should operate efficiently early and often against the slower BGSU defense behind redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. The quickness of an Urban Meyer offense should put Jinks’ Falcons on its heels, leaving its only hope to outscore the Buckeyes.
OSU’s defense will be counted on to make stops, but the Buckeyes should roll over the Falcons.