Next man up for GVSU

Bryce Derouin

If the Grand Valley State University football team is going to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to do it without its most productive offensive player.

Junior running back Michael Ratay leads the team with 1,012 yards rushing (7.3 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns, but he will miss the remainder of the season after he suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in last week’s win over Hillsdale College.

“I think we have guys on our offense and on our entire team that kind of the last couple of years, have approached the ‘next-man-in, next-man-up’ mentality and that’s no different this year,” junior quarterback Heath Parling said. “It’s a big loss, as it should be. He’s a great player, but we’re going to have to move on and move forward and try our best to beat Wayne on Saturday.”

GVSU (7-2, 5-2 GLIAC) will aim to record its second road win of the year when they travel to face Wayne State University (3-6, 3-5 GLIAC) at noon on Saturday.

Wayne State’s overall record may not be impressive, but their performance at home is what has GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell worried.

“I think the biggest factor in this game is where it’s being played,” he said. “Wayne is 3-1 (at home) and probably should be 4-0. They outplayed Saginaw Valley at home. There’s going to be a lot of seniors playing in their last home game that are going to be emotionally and mentally prepared to play us.”

For GVSU, stopping the opponents run game is always a top priority, but this week’s matchup forces an even greater emphasis on limiting the ground attack.

Wayne State enters this weekend with the second-most rush attempts in the GLIAC North, trailing only Ferris State University. The Warriors have run the ball 407 times this year; an average of 45 attempts a game.

Wayne State utilizies its quarterback in the running game similar to how Ferris State University uses Jason Vander Laan, who managed to run for 210 yards rushing against GVSU.

“They really make a big push to try to run the ball,” Mitchell said. “They do similar schemes. He’s not as big as Jason Vander Laan, but when you see 11 in the backfield at the quarterback position. It’s definitely a higher percentage of runs and quarterback runs.”

GVSU will have also have to prepare for multiple looks at the quarterback position. The Warriors have used three different signal callers this year, including using all three in six games this year: junior Doug Griffin (nine games), sophomore Carl Roscoe (seven games), and junior Sean Guinane (six games).

“They rotate a lot of quarterbacks, so we get some different things,” sophomore defensive lineman De’Ondre Hogan said. “They have a running quarterback and a throwing quarterback and they have a couple good running backs that they rotate throughout the game.”

Hogan has been named the GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week the last two weeks, where he has recorded 15 tackles and 4.5 sacks over that span.

Despite the bad news about Ratay, GVSU received good news about senior center Matt Armstrong.

Armstrong underwent x-rays on his ankle and the results showed that he has bone spurs in his ankle which are floating around. It’s giving him some problems, but Mitchell fully expects him to play.

Most of the load will fall to senior running back Chris Robinson in the wake of Ratay’s absence. But Mitchell expects junior back Ben Hutchins to receive his share of carries, along with the other GVSU backs.

“We have to give Ben Hutchins more carries,” Mitchell said. “We can’t sit there and have a game where we give Chris 30 carries. We have some stuff where Hersey Jackson’s in the backfield. We gotta maybe use Terrell Dorsey a little bit too in the run game.

With only two weeks left, the Division II playoff picture is beginning to take shape. Mitchell has his eye on the playoff situation, and compared to last year, likes his team’s chances if GVSU is able to care of business these next two weeks.

“Again from a big picture perspective, I think this year is a little bit different than last year. In our region, there are a few more two-loss teams than there were last year,” he said. “As we sit here as a two-loss team, it probably gives us a little bit more optimistic approach to things in the end of the season than maybe in the position we were in last year. We had a bunch of one-loss teams and it didn’t look as favorable.”

24 teams are chosen by a committee to make up the NCAA Division II Football Tournament. There are four major regions, and GVSU currently sits at No. 6 in Region Four.

If the Lakers are able to take care of business this week, next week’s matchup with Saginaw Valley State University (8-1, 8-0 GLIAC) looms large with a potential playoff bid on the line. The Cardinals are currently the No. 3 team in Region Four.

“Our focus is on this team and this week and how things play out,” Mitchell said. “I’m cognizant of what’s going on, but at the same time, I’ve not talked about that with our team or not mentioned that to our staff because we need to be focused on Wayne State.”
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