Analysis: GV Lanthorn and Valley Vanguard get you ready for the game

GVL / Eric Coulter
In a clash between the Lakers and the Cardinals, SVSU came away with a 55-52 victory over GVSU

Eric Coulter

GVL / Eric Coulter In a clash between the Lakers and the Cardinals, SVSU came away with a 55-52 victory over GVSU

Bryce Derouin

It’s been 16 years since the Grand Valley State University football program went three straight seasons without making the playoffs. That streak is in jeopardy, as a loss this Saturday against Saginaw Valley State University would end the 2013 Lakers’ campaign.

Grand Valley Lanthorn’s Sports Editor Bryce Derouin and Saginaw Valley Vanguard football beat reporter Joseph Oliver broke down the matchup between the two rivals.

SVSU’s offense vs. GVSU’s defense

Bryce Derouin: When you think of Saginaw Valley State, the first thing that comes to mind is quarterback Jonathon Jennings. He leads the GLIAC in touchdown passes and is second in yards passing per game. Just how good has he been this year, and what makes him and the offense successful?

Joseph Oliver: I think when anybody thinks of SVSU, at least from an offensive standpoint, they think of Jennings because of how successful he has been.

Having been able to watch this offense over the course of the season, I’ve come to realize, however, that there is much more than just Jennings leading the charge. Obviously, he gets most of the hype—and rightfully so because he’s the quarterback—but you have to also look at what he has to work with.

We’ve got Jeff Janis who, in my honest opinion, is going to be playing on Sundays next year. He’s a little undersized, which is why he’s probably playing in DII, but regardless of that, he’s managed to dominate every secondary he’s played throughout his career.

This year he’s dominating the GLIAC statistically. He has the league lead in receptions (68), yards (1419) and in receiving touchdowns (14). None of these stats are even close.

Setting up the passing game, we have a pair of talented seniors in the backfield alongside Jennings. Norman Shuford actually transferred to SVSU from GVSU and in his chance on the field with the Cardinals, he’s almost at 1,000 yards rushing.

Mark Mays is another guy who sees time in the backfield. He doesn’t have the yards that Shuford has, but he has scored six times.

Looking over GVSU’s schedule from this year, I notice that they’ve surrendered 50-plus points twice but aside from that have seemed to be somewhat stingy. How do you think they will fair against Jennings and this offense? Will it be the unit that surrendered 50-plus points to Ohio Dominican and Ferris State or the unit that didn’t allow more than 21 in any other contest?

BD: I would attribute the debacle against Ohio Dominican to a team simply not being mentally ready to play. The game was one of the worst losses in school history, and GVSU was never a threat to win.

With Ferris State, the Lakers had no answer for Jason Vander Laan and the quarterback power running game for the second consecutive year, and the Bulldogs blew the game open by scoring 37 points in the second half.

The thing both of those games have in common is that they happened away from Lubbers Stadium. At home, GVSU is surrendering only 17.8 points per game compared to 39.5 points per game on the road, but they did manage to get their woes solved these past two weeks.

To say this defense is better than last year’s would be a gross understatement. Yes, they’ve had two poor showings this season, but they’re first in the GLIAC North in points allowed per game (23.4) and third overall in the entire conference. Head coach Matt Mitchell and his staff spent a lot of time trying to get this defense fixed, and for the most part, they’ve been able to do so.

The most consistent area of this defense has been the secondary this year. GVSU leads the GLIAC in pass defense, giving up 176.3 yards passing a game.

Considering the injuries the secondary has suffered this year, it’s quite an accomplishment. Safeties Brad Horling and Erik Thompson have missed time this year, and safety Bobby Wunderlich was lost for the season in the Michigan Tech game. Cornerback Michael Hatcher also missed time with an ankle injury.

Do I expect GVSU to hold SVSU to 17 points and 176 yards passing? No. But I do think something has to give, and it will be the biggest challenge this defense has faced all season.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see GVSU’s Reggie Williams spend a decent amount of time on Janis. He’s tied for 33rd in the country with 1.3 passes deflected a game and is one of the faster guys on the team.

One player who has really come on as of late is defensive lineman De’Ondre Hogan. Besides a quiet game last week against Wayne State University, Hogan recorded 4.5 sacks and 15 tackles in the two games before the matchup against Wayne State, where he was named GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week both times.

If Hogan, Mosley, and the rest of the GVSU defensive line can get pressure on Jennings, it can go a long way in limiting the Cardinal passing attack.

As much attention as the SVSU offense gets, it would be easy for the defense to be overlooked. How have they performed this year?

GVSU’s offense vs. SVSU’s defense

JO: As good as the Cardinals’ offense has been so far this year, the defense has been quite the opposite. On average, this unit has surrendered over 400 yards per game to opposing offenses. That’s good for seventh in the GLIAC.

They have really been inconsistent at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They have 18 sacks, but nobody on the defensive line has really had a standout year.

When you look at this side of the ball, you see how young they are. The team lost two defensive captains in Grant Caserta and Jeff Heath from a year ago. Obviously, the team has had an entire year to fill those holes, but much of the statistical woes can be credited to the defense’s early season struggles.

It will certainly be interesting to see how SVSU tries to stop Grand Valley’s “Legion of Doom” of a backfield. Michael Ratay and Chris Robinson pair up as a real one-two punch for the Lakers, and SVSU has not shown the ability to consistently stop strong offenses, which GVSU certainly possesses.

On the other hand, the defense has shown the ability to make plays. The unit has 12 interceptions on the year and eight fumble recoveries. DeAngelo Parris has a league-leading five interceptions on the season. In the middle, Brian Johnson has over 100 tackles to his name and is really the force of the defense.

I think that if the front seven does its job and the down lineman can get some pressure on Heath Parling, then Parris and the rest of the secondary will be in good position to make some plays. Whether they do or not could be the story of the game. I briefly mentioned the Lakers’ backfield, but what can you say about the GVSU offense coming into Saturday’s contest?

BD: Ratay tore his ACL and meniscus in the game against Hillsdale College and will miss the remainder of the season. Just another injury GVSU has had to deal with this year.

Running back may be one of the deepest positions on the depth chart for the Lakers, but they’re also nursing injuries. Kirk Spencer broke his hand against Ferris State and hasn’t returned since, so his status for Saturday is up in the air. Robinson was injured in the game against Wayne State, but I would expect him to play Saturday. Terell Dorsey and Ben Hutchins have proved to be dependable in the running game.

It’s no secret that Charles Johnson was a big part of the success GVSU had on offense last season, but the Lakers have had guys step up in his absence this year. Wide receiver Brandan Green is third in the GLIAC in yards receiving (93.3 per game) and is especially dangerous in the screen game and as a deep threat down the field. Tight end Jamie Potts and Parling have also developed a little bit of a connection as of late. Potts has 11 catches for 234 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the last two games, and is tied for third in the GLIAC in touchdown catches (six).

Parling has had numerous injuries this season, which has put him in and out of the lineup. In five games as a starter, he’s passed for 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 160.5 quarterback efficiency rating would be 13th best in the country, if he played enough games to qualify amongst the national leaders in that category.

One of the most impressive things Parling does doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. Whether it be checking into a run or reading a blitz and audibling to a screen pass, he’s shown the ability to read defenses and exploit their weaknesses. This has resulted in some big plays and touchdowns during the season.

It’s no secret that this game has major implications for GVSU. A win, and the Lakers are in the playoffs and may be able to host a playoff game. A loss, and GVSU misses the postseason for the third straight year.

What kind of mentality and approach is SVSU taking into Saturday’s contest?

JO: As with every year this game has huge implications for both teams. I think that even without playoff implications or whether a team is trying to maintain an undefeated record in the conference, both teams will come in ready to play.

Grand Valley has dominated the overall series with a 30-11 record against SVSU. With that being said, the Cardinals won in dramatic fashion a year ago and I’m sure that the Lakers haven’t forgotten about that.

Likewise, coach Jim Collins knows what is at stake for his team. Losing to Grand Valley means an undefeated GLIAC record would be gone, and a playoff berth could be questionable.

I expect both teams to come in ready to play. On Saturday, for at least 60 minutes, you can throw all of the records and stats out the window because it’s going to come down to beating the guy in front of you and so I think both teams will be focused on their goal.


JO: I think that both offenses will come out fired up. I expect both teams to be able to move the ball and it’s really going to come down to whichever team can make adjustments on the fly. In the end, I think Jennings to Janis will just be too much for the Lakers. SVSU 34, GVSU 31.

BD: Jennings and the Cardinal offense are going to put up points, and I predict Parling and the rest of the Lakers to keep up. Expect numerous big plays on offense in what should be an exciting game. If these two teams played 10 times, each would probably win five times a piece. Home-field advantage will be the difference and GVSU will make just enough plays down the stretch to finish the year 7-0 at Lubbers. GVSU 42 SVSU 38.