Tony Nicolette

Week Four Previews

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
#15 Hillsdale (2-1) at Notre Dame (1-2)

For me, the primary story here is to see just what the heck Notre Dame will do on offense. After two weeks of moving the ball virtually at will, the Falcons didn't do squat in week three. While I absolutely give credit to Northwood's defense for their hand in that, I'm not entirely certain that it was solely the work of the Woodies that netted such a result. I mean, no offense to them but their rep over the last couple of years has not exactly been that of a team that will hold the nation's leading rusher to 64 yards and relegate a hard-running club to throwing the ball for half of the game or more. So, will the Falcons be able to move the ball on the ground against Hillsdale? With the youth of the Hillsdale front there should be some room for Pedro Powell, but given that Hillsdale as struggled more so this year in defending the pass, going to the air with Ray Russ might be what NDC chooses to do. Watch out for Powell to possibly have a low number game again, but for the Falcons to potentially have more success overall on offense.

While we sit and wonder whether or not the Notre Dame offense will be able to regain its effectiveness, one thing I'm about 99% sure of is that the Falcon defense isn't likely to lend much of a hand. To this point, they just have not shown the ability to consistently get stops. They have forced only five total punts in three games, and the eight turnovers they have generated thus far all came in the opener against Mercyhurst. The NDC defense is allowing 58 points per game, and really has not shown the ability to shut down anyone they have faced thus far.

While Hillsdale might not be able to shut down the Falcon offense completely, the Chargers should have no issues moving the ball at will. Any attempts by NDC to possibly try and "shorten" the game really won't work, as Hillsdale likes to be efficient and limit offensive possessions anyway. Unless Hillsdale commits an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers, I'm having a hard time seeing the Falcons being in this at crunch time. Hillsdale 50, Notre Dame 28.

Findlay (2-0) at Michigan Tech (2-0)

This gets my vote for this Saturday's "Game of the Week" in the league. Tech is an expected 2-0, but will now face their first real test. Findlay is coming off a last-second win at Saginaw in a game that they were not favored to win, but has likely opened the eyes of anyone who thought the Oilers were likely to be a middle-of-the-road outfit this year. While there are no guarantees they won't end up there, few should be questioning at this point that UF has the talent to play with anyone in the league.

While Tech hasn't played anyone tough to this point, there is little doubt they will be ready for this game. Coach Kearly is one of the league's masters in having his kids prepared, so I look for the Huskies to come out dialed-in. For Findlay to win this game, they are likely going to have to withstand an early blow from Tech. If they can do that, it's about execution from there. I think that execution likely favors Tech as well as it is one of their hallmarks. They'll also be at home (which always favors the U.P. teams), and crummy weather might be making an early appearance on the Keewenaw. Not expecting snow, but cold, breezy and maybe some drizzle. That kind of thing always plays into Tech's hands.

Where Findlay has the advantage is athletes. While Tyler Scarlett is one of the better QB's in the league, he doesn't have the physicality or the big play ability of his UF counterpart, Clay Belton. I also give the advantage (albeit slight) to Findlay at RB. Tech's committee of backs is plenty serviceable, but if I get to pick between that and Monterae Williams I'm taking Williams. Tech's receiving corps might actually be the most underrated in the league, led by TE Brian LaChappelle. But Seth White and company are proving to be explosive for the Oilers and capable of breaking one at any time.

In the end, I just have a nagging suspicion that Findlay isn't going to be able to avoid a Saginaw hangover in conjunction with the "UP Voodoo". When you look at it on paper, I actually think they may well be the better team from top-to-bottom. That said, I can't get out of my head that Tech is just a better match-up against them given the trip and both team's style of play. I'm rolling with Tech, but I really believe this game is as close to a coin-flip as we have this weekend. Tech 27, Findlay 26.

Northwood (3-0) at Tiffin (1-2)

Northwood was impressive at Notre Dame last week. I don't think that's underselling it. They return to Ohio to take on a Tiffin team that seems to be improving in a lot of areas, but is still, well, Tiffin.

Northwood QB Aaron Shavers has been very solid thus far, and he was probably closer to brilliant last week against NDC. I understood Clay Belton's selection as GLIAC Player of the Week, but I have to imagine that Shavers was at worst a close second. He lit up the Falcons for more than nine yards per carry on his way to 120 yards and two scores on the ground. Oh yeah...he threw a couple more TD's to go with it. While I don't know if he'll have the same stats in this one, I actually like the odds of the NU running game (Shavers, Jackson, and Jonker can all do damage) having another big day. I also think Northwood's defense (if it's as good as they showed last week) will make things tough on James Capello and company.

Northwood has been better thus far than I would have expected. Admittedly, they haven't beaten anyone top-end just yet, but they're holding serve when they should and sometimes that can catapult a team to achiever beyond what most expect of them. As long as they don't get caught looking ahead to Wayne next week, I like the Woodies to start divisional play at 4-0. Northwood 38, Tiffin 14.

#25 Ashland (3-0) at Northern Michigan (1-2)

After opening the season with three solid wins, the Eagles have cracked the Top 25. They will join rival Findlay in heading northward, but certainly have the easier of the draws as the trip to Marquette is a bit shorter...and well, it's hard to see their game as not being easier.

I'm not knocking Northern. They're a proud program that's going through a lot with a new coaching staff establishing itself, replacing a very good quarterback, and having to play quite a number of underclassmen. I think in the long term we should see some improvement, but this year may well be a struggle...and it may well be a struggle this week as well. Northern has struggled to put points on the board, and they'll get the league's #2 scoring defense. In addition, the Wildcat secondary has had a rough go allowing 264 yards per game. Ashland QB Taylor Housewright showed he can take advantage of a weak secondary when he torched Ferris for 400+ via the air a week ago.

Northern will play a spirited game because they can draw off the home/dome energy. In the end, it's just hard to see them hanging with Ashland for four quarters. Ashland 40, Northern 19.

Ohio Dominican (2-1) at #3 Grand Valley (3-0)

While the Findlay/Tech game might be the game of the week, this one might be the most intriguing. This is due in part to both teams might have some identity issues at the moment.

On the one hand, ODU has had two games (albeit against lesser opponents) where they have played well. In the one game they played against a solid club (Hillsdale), however, they were mistake-prone and got handled. The game should start slowing down soon for new QB Mark Miller, but the question is whether it's slow enough yet to avoid the mistakes against a GV defense that is fast and is second in the league in takeaways.

While the GV D has done a good job in forcing turnovers, they too have been a bit Jekyl & Hyde thus far. They had one good half and one bad one in Oregon, got smoked by NDC, and followed up with a shut out last week. They gave up more yardage in that shutout than they might like, but got stops and kept the Dragons off the board. Can they do that against ODU? I doubt for 60 minutes...the bigger question may be "will the development of this group continue"? If it does, it'll be without one of its best in safety Eric Thompson who is likely to miss his second straight game.

Speaking of missing games, I'm sure everyone knows by now that the Lakers are without the services of QB Heath Parling for the remainder of 2012. Enter sophomore Isaiah Grimes, who is a big body with a big arm, but is also a guy who has been in the offense the same amount of time as Parling has. He may be lacking reps to this point and his style of play might be different from Parling's, but his learning curve is probably not as long given that he's been in the program for several years. With that said, he's got to keep the mistakes minimized. Remember my mentioning that GV is #2 in the league in forcing turnovers? Guess who's #1...yep, ODU.

So, will the adversity help galvanize this Laker team? Perhaps, but when it comes down to it GV is the more talented of the two teams. While I think ODU can do a lot that will cause GV heartburn, I need to see more than the romps against iffy clubs to prove that this year's ODU is week-in, week-out competitive. At the same time, until Grand Valley's defense shows they are a group that is consistently "shut down", clubs like ODU with good lines and good schemes (regardless of inexperience at the skill position) will pose an issue. Look, all of this said, while GV maybe hasn't looked "right" to a lot of folks yet they are still a club that hasn't had anyone closer to them this year than four TD's. I like the Lakers to keep figuring things out. Grand Valley 34, Ohio Dominican 24.

#20 Saginaw Valley (2-1) at Lake Erie (0-3)

We'll get an early peek at what this year's Saginaw group is made of in this one. Last week's loss was tough, to be sure. That stuff's going to happen, so now the measuring is done based on how the Cardinals respond. As fate would have it, they'll get a club that has some recovery of its own in the works. Lake Erie blew an 18-point advantage over the last 13 minutes at Wayne a week ago. When you're 0-2 and win a game when you aren't favored it can start a turn around. However, when you're 0-2 and you lose in that fashion it's amazing how many teams never recover. Lake Erie might not just be playing Saginaw this weekend, they might be fighting for the path of their season.

And the fight won't be an easy one. The Storm are currently last in the GLIAC in total defense, and they'll get a Cardinal bunch that is loaded with playmakers and can really move the ball when they are rolling. Findlay may have identified a way to hamper SV, and that's slowing the game down. Unfortunately, that isn't an LEC strong suit as they tend to be relatively fast-paced on offense also. If The Storm can run the ball (a big "if") in this one and keep the Cardinal offense sidelined, then they may have a shot. I'm just not convinced they can do that.

Saginaw has better has more playmakers, better pass protection, and a bad taste in their mouth about falling out of the Top Ten. Those are enough to help them cruise here. Saginaw Valley 47, Lake Erie 24.

Walsh (1-2) at Ferris State (2-1)

After starting the season with two road trips, Ferris gets back-to-back home dates. Their first home game didn't go so well, as their secondary was exposed once again by Ashland's Taylor Housewright and his band of pass-catchers. I have a feeling things will be a bit smoother for the Bulldogs in this one, as they'll face a Walsh outfit that is next to last in the league in passing, and really hasn't run the ball all that great either thus far.

While the Cavalier offense hasn't been all that good, their defense has actually shown some signs of life. They didn't allow Northwood to run wild on them, and they actually held Tech somewhat in check last week, especially when you look at the fact that they really didn't give up any big plays. While I don't expect that they'll keep Ferris completely under wraps, this Cavalier defense has played some respectable ball thus far. They'll have to carry the mail against Ferris if they hope to win.

While the Walsh defense might be able to do some things, they won't keep the Bulldogs off the board for long. And, while the Cav's might find a way to awaken their passing game for a night I just don't see them being able to put up enough points to stay close past the break. I like the Dawgs and their two-headed QB to roll. Ferris 37, Walsh 16.

Wayne State (1-1) at Malone (0-2)

I talked a little bit ago about how Lake Erie's collapse/loss of a week ago might doom their season. On the other side of that result was Wayne, and because the Warriors pulled that one out, it may well save/sky-rocket their year. It would have been a tough climb for last year's National Runner-Up to start the season off 0-2, but they avoided that hole now have a chance to get the record on the winning side of things against Malone.

Let's face it, it's hard not to all but bank on a Wayne win here. The Pioneers are finding out how tough this league is, as they are last in the GLIAC in both total and scoring offense. Wayne's defense may not be quite (at least not yet) what it was in 2011, but that shouldn't matter here. Look, we just haven't seen any signs from Malone that they can make things happen. Now, in their defense, they probably got the toughest cross-over draw of any GLIAC team, facing teams that all went 7-3 or better a year ago. That said, if they didn't move the ball against Saginaw or Hillsdale, it's hard to see them doing markedly more in this one.

I'll play the hunch and say that Malone starts to look a bit better...just not enough to win here. Wayne State 36, Malone 13.

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Updated 09-22-2012 at 09:07 AM by Tony Nicolette

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