Tony Nicolette

Week Three Previews

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Now that the entire league has at least one game under its belt, we should start to see some trends and personalities for each club develop. It's still pretty early, but over this week and next everyone will be three or four games in and the crossover play will be completed. I'm anxious to see how things progress toward that point and beyond. I game at a time, right? Let's look ahead to Saturday:

Michigan Tech (1-0) at Walsh (1-1)

Tech will embark on its first, and longest roadie of the year. The Huskies are coming off a solid trouncing of Tiffin which saw the offense perform solidly, even though they threw a bit more than we might normally expect from them. As for Walsh, despite out-gaining Northwood last week the Cavaliers simply couldn't find the scoreboard and suffered a setback in their first ever GLIAC game. They'll likely need a similar defensive effort on Saturday to knock of a solid Tech outfit.

I don't say that because Tech is a juggernaut, but rather because the Huskies are simply a consistent, smart, competitive outfit that never seems to beat themselves and almost always wins the games they should. QB Tyler Scarlett had a terrific opening to his sophomore campaign...not because he needed to (Tech rushed for 218 yards), but because he can. The Tech offense has Brian LaChappelle and Matt Curtin back from last year's squad, and may have found a couple more solid pass-catchers in Ethan Shaver and Alex Elsenheimer. The ground game appears to be a bit by committee of yet, but as long as it's effective I don't think Coach Kearly much cares how they get it done.

This could be a problem for Walsh. While they defended Northwood decently, it's hard for me to honestly believe Northwood's offense is of a similar caliber to Tech's. The Huskies are more balanced, and may be much more explosive this year. Plus, the Tech defense is a decided upgrade (despite having to replace most of their starters) over Northwood's, so Walsh is definitely going to get a tougher opponent this weekend than they did last. If Jack Dawson turns in another 10 of 24 type performance this weekend, this one will be over early.

While I'm still unsure of Tech's ability to challenge for a league title (it is not an unreasonable notion to watch), I think they are a decided leap above the level where Walsh is presently. Tech is sometimes a little off when traveling, but not enough for me to think they don't have the Cavaliers handled. Tech 41, Walsh 14.

Lake Erie (0-2) at Wayne State (0-1)

After last year's playoff run, Wayne entered 2012 with plenty of expectations. Teams with expectations, however are typically ones that also have something else: a target. Being the hunted is a characteristic that the Wayne program simply doesn't have much experience with, so watching how they will handle that this year has been of great interest to most GLIAC fans. Their first test last week didn't net a good result, as their outstanding defensive play was overshadowed by an offense that just couldn't score in a tough road loss at Ashland. They return to Motown Saturday to face a Lake Erie club that is reeling after two straight losses to open the year.

What has been the tough spot for Lake Erie thus far? Pass defense. They're giving up more than 360 yards per game so far via the air, and while that has to be pretty frightening for Coach McNellie and staff their solace entering this game has to be that the Warrior passing attack only mustered 86 yards a week ago. Don't get me wrong, it's not remotely fair to try and confuse Ashland's defense with LEC's. But with that said, I have commented for a couple of years now that while Mickey Mohner has done a solid job leading the Warrior offense has seldom shown that he has the ability to carry the team when it needs it. They needed it last week, and once again it didn't happen. While I think Wayne will be able to run the ball against The Storm, taking advantage of what might be one of the weaker secondaries in the league is a must.

In the end, I think Wayne may have also been caught in an unfortunate "vortex" last week. They hadn't played yet, while Ashland had. Ashland was also at home, giving the Eagles another advantage. We all know that WSU graduated a ton of key players, but there is plenty of talent coming back and I don't expect them to flounder two weeks in a row...especially if their defense plays as well as it did in Ashland last week. I like Wayne to bounce back this week, but don't expect Lake Erie to just lie down about it either. Wayne 33, Lake Erie 16.

Northern Michigan (1-1) at Ohio Dominican (1-1)

I'm actually pretty interested in this game, as I think it pits a couple of clubs that need to answer the question of: "Whatcha got?"

Northern got handled two weeks ago against Findlay, and while they rebounded at home last week it was against a D3 club. Albeit a good one, but still a D3 club. Freshman QB Ryan Morley hasn't played poorly (poetry class is during the Sunday Night Chat...ha!), and the 'Cat ground game got it going a bit more in Week 2. Northern's new head coach was their OC so one has to believe that their offense will start to settle in and come around eventually. This might be a good spot for them to do so as ODU's defense still has some work to do and might be a bit sore after getting run over by Joe the Show and company last week.

While ODU's defense took its lumps, what got exposed was their offense. I spoke heading into the season about how replacing Jeremy Fudge and Mike Noffsinger wasn't going to be something the Panthers could do at the drop of a hat. So far I've been right as they only mustered 244 yards last week against a Hillsdale defense that struggled against a good Cal team. I think ODU's offense will develop, but will it be fast enough to start snagging some victories before divisional play starts?

I'm going with yes...sort of. While I think both of these clubs have work to do I'm simply going to play the odds that I know, and that's that Northern is simply a different team away from home. Add in the fact that I think ODU will benefit far more from their loss this past week than their trouncing of a club team the week before and I like the Panthers. ODU 30, Northern 22.

#3 Grand Valley (2-0) at Tiffin (1-1)

While I almost feel bad saying it, it's pretty hard to argue that since joining the GLIAC Tiffin has pretty well played the part of the Pepper Lewis line in The Cowboy Way: "It'll cure what ails ya". Teams have gotten right, or simply gotten a rare W at the expense of the Dragons...and almost seemingly at will. Unfortunately for TU, they'll get a visit from Grand Valley on Saturday. Now, the Lakers aren't exactly in a position where they need to "get right" or anything. They are 2-0 and have posted a combined 131 total points in their first two outings. That said, the GV defense has been under some scrutiny after a performance last week that some might characterize as "not fitting their typical way of doing things". Tiffin started the GV turnaround after the Lakers' 1-3 start a year ago, so one has to wonder if it's bad news for the Dragons to see Grand Valley coming once again with a few things they might want to, er, "fix".

Stopping the ground game is something that GV struggled with against Notre Dame a week ago. Tiffin, on the other hand, struggled mightily with running the ball netting only seven yards on the ground against Tech. Sure, they were behind and had to throw a bunch but The Lakers should be able to get a few of the kinks worked out against TU's ground game, and will also be trying to get back to what they did in Oregon the week before which was generating QB pressure.

While GV's defense had its issues last weekend, some of them were self-inflicted (penalties that extended drives, missed assignments, missed tackles, etc.). A lot of that can be fixed. Another silver lining for the Lakers is that the defense already has seven takeaways in two games this took them six games in 2011 to get that many. I've heard a lot of "panic button" talk this week about GV, but I'm not sure if it's time for that just yet. Let's wait and see if the Lakers take advantage of Pepper Lewis and get things rolling before we throw the whole season away. Sorry, TU fans, but the next losing streak seems pretty likely to commence. Grand Valley 61, Tiffin 21.

Malone (0-1) at #17 Hillsdale (1-1)

Coach Otterbein and staff recovered quickly from their opening loss at Cal by trouncing last year's surprise GLIAC club, Ohio Dominican. The score looked somewhat close in the end, but belies the fact that the Chargers had built a 38-point advantage and had dominated the game pretty thoroughly to that point. Hillsdale looks to continue stepping in the right direction as they stay home for the second straight week.

The Chargers will get a visit from Malone, whose season and GLIAC opener last week against Saginaw Valley was a bit rough. The Pioneer offense had one decent drive in the 2nd quarter, and other than that struggled against the SV first unit. Malone signal-caller Will Szpor was sacked six times, and those losses contributed to MU's 2.7 yard per carry average on the day. Production like that is not going to get it done most weeks, and especially not against a second straight, top-end outfit like they'll face Saturday.

While the offense wasn't overwhelming for Malone, their greater concern has to be on defense. They yielded 231 yards rushing to Saginaw last week, and while the Hogue/Lark/Jennings mixture is talent-laden and should show some improvement for SV this year, the ground game has been a struggle for the Cards over the last couple of seasons. 231 yards is definitely one of their better performances in a while, and if Malone's defense is that susceptible to the run it could be over early if the Charger line establishes itself and Joe Glendening has his typical "day at the office".

The reality of this game is that it is an established GLIAC stalwart with a tough ground game and an efficient passing attack against a league newcomer with an iffy run defense and the need to figure out what it takes to be competitive on a weekly basis in D2. Fixing both issues may come over time for Malone, but I'm doubting either will be solved for them by this weekend. Hillsdale shouldn't have any problems here. Hillsdale 45, Malone 17.

Northwood (2-0) at Notre Dame (1-1)

After a pair of home wins to get things rolling, Northwood hits the road for the first time in 2012. They'll head to metro-Cleveland to take on Notre Dame. There was a bit of buzz surrounding the Falcons after their 59-point outburst that led to an opening win against Mercyhurst. Despite losing to Grand Valley in week two, the buzz on them is louder now after the way they pushed and shoved the GV defense for 46 points and 641 yards of offense.

Like everyone else after two weeks, both of these clubs have some questions surrounding them. Northwood has a couple of wins, but neither opponent has been confused with being a power outfit. How will they fair once they play a club that can do some things? Notre Dame, on the other hand, is showing they can, well, do some least on offense. Need proof? Well, again, it's only two games but Falcon RB Pedro Powell had 240 yards or more in both of NDC's first two games and currently leads the country in rushing. The passing game of Ray Russ has benefitted and has put up some numbers as well. Keeping that kind of production going will be challenging, but the early signs are that this an NDC offense that is VERY capable.

In simplest terms, we have a Northwood club whose defense wasn't terrible last year, but hasn't really been tested through two weeks. Offensively, NU QB Aaron Shavers makes a huge difference but so far the Woodies haven't shown they can move the ball at will. Conversely, Notre Dame has shown signs that they can run over just about anyone when they have the ball, but can't stop anyone when they don't. All of that said, I think NDC gets the win here. They are at home, and while they'll have some struggles with Northwood's O the T'Wolves don't have the same balance or athletes on offense to out-gun the Falcons...and until we see otherwise, outgunning might be the only way to defeat NDC. Notre Dame 49, Northwood 38.

Findlay (1-0) at #9 Saginaw Valley (2-0)

After easily dispatching of Northern Michigan back in August, Findlay will finally get back into action as they make the trip up I-75 to Saginaw. When they take the field Saturday, it will be the first game action the Oilers have seen in 16 days. It'll be interesting to see how the layoff impacts the team. Will they be sharp and rested, or come out a bit rusty and sluggish? Given that they have had as long as they have to prepare for the Cards, UF should at least have an air-tight game plan so even if they do have a bit rust to shake off it shouldn't take them long.

The Oilers will need to get Monterae Williams going as early as they can. It is true they didn't need big production from him against Northern and that's part of why his numbers certainly weren't overwhelming. However, while Clay Belton and the passing game ripped off big chunks of yardage against the 'Cats I think having a solid ground game going against SV is a must. Jon Jennings and his offense can be explosive, and I think a big-play bonanza on SV's home field favors the Cards. If Monterae had a solid game and the Oilers control the ball, I think that improves their chances dramatically.

While the UF offense needs to try and control things and keep the Cardinal offense off the field, the Oiler defense needs to make some things happen with the SV offense does make it out there. Look, the number of big-play weapons that the Cardinals have displayed thus far is eye-popping, and Jennings is proving that he knows how to find these guys and get them the ball. Where the Cards may have a weakness it is with ball security. Saginaw lost the turnover battle against Valdosta two weeks ago and had to come back to win late. They won the turnover battle last week against Malone and were never challenged. If Findlay can force at least three mistakes by the Cardinal offense, their odds of success increase dramatically. If Findlay keeps the Saginaw offense off the field, out of rhythm, and mistake-prone, the Oilers are in business.

Now, ultimately that's a pretty long list of "ifs" I just mentioned. At the end of the day, the Cardinal offense has shown that they can move the ball in chunks and potentially score from anywhere. Even if they turn it over and fall behind, I'm not sure if Findlay can keep them down for an entire game. I think this is a good game, but until I see otherwise I think Saginaw Valley is the stronger of these two clubs. I'll take the Cards at home and in rhythm, not having to overcome a long layoff. Saginaw Valley 27, Findlay 23.

Ashland (2-0) at Ferris State (2-0)

Our last stop this week is Big Rapids, where two clubs that have a lot to play for this early in the season will go at it. Ashland already has two solid wins under its belt, but will hit the road for the first time. It seems like almost every Ashland season (outside of their playoff years) contains a game or two that is, well, a "dud". The Eagles are showing a solid defense and a mistake-free offense thus far and those are things that can keep the "duds" away. Keeping their momentum rolling is the focus as they will provide the first true test for Ferris and their new coaching staff.

The Bulldogs also have a pair of solid efforts behind them, and while they didn't play clubs the caliber of what AU has thus far they have still handled their business accordingly. Ferris has done well in the early part of their slate the last couple of years, only to buckle a bit when the schedule has gotten tougher. Coach Tony Annese and his staff are certainly trying to keep the past where it is and establish a new level of weekly performance for FSU, and the Eagles will present a solid measuring stick for the Bulldogs progress in that area thus far.

I'll be interested to see how the Eagle defense does against the Ferris offense. There isn't much tape on the "new" Bulldogs yet, and while AU's defense has worked its way to the top end of the league over the last couple of seasons it's always tough to go on the road and have a limited amount of intelligence with which to prepare. The Eagle may get a bit of help as FSU QB Jason VanderLaan is likely a game-time decision after suffering an injury at Lake Erie, and while Taylor Masiewicz played great in relief, it's a bit different when "you're the guy". The dynamic of how AU's solid front handles the Skyler Stoker and the Bulldog offense is intriguing and we should know a great deal more about both after this one.

There is actually a similar battle going on when AU has the ball. The weakness thus far for the Bulldog defense has been against he pass. Lake Erie couldn't exploit that a week ago and they were handled pretty easily by the 'Dawgs. Ashland's strength lies in the combination of Anthony Taylor and Jordan McCune grinding things in the ground game, and while QB Taylor Housewright has had big games at times throwing the ball the Eagle passing game hasn't been a calling card like it was in previous years. Can the Ashland offense move the ball via the air? If not, can they run the ball well enough to score enough points to keep with with Ferris? Again, great questions that the rest of the league is anxiously awaiting answers.

Despite it being a road trip against a team that whose offense is going to get better in big leaps, I'll stick with Ashland here. I'm uneasy about the pick as I don't think it will be long before the league figures out that the Bulldog offense is going to be tough to handle. With that said, Ashland's D is strong up front and their offense has enough pop to keep things tight. I think this one will be close throughout, but Ashland's ability to stop the run and get pressure on QB's will be the difference. Ashland 20, Ferris 17.

I have to say, in looking at this weekend's schedule we have three night games that provide a great deal of interest. When looking at the NU @ NDC, UF @ SV, and AU @ FSU games we have six clubs who have combined for a single loss. All six teams have something to prove and some position they want to establish, so each of these games has a unique draw to them. Should be exciting! Enjoy, everyone.

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  1. gvnee89's Avatar
    If Tiffin gets 21 on GV, I'll be concerned. However, if it's against all backups it might be all right.
  2. allendale's Avatar
    Very enjoyable read, nice job Tony.
  3. Biggdawg's Avatar
    Hey Tony,
    good work.
    Best wishes