Five things to watch for in the Battle of the Valleys Part 2

GVL / Hannah Mico. Senior Charles Hill leads the team in the Grand Valley fight song after the Lakers win on Saturday afternoon.

GVL / Hannah Mico. Senior Charles Hill leads the team in the Grand Valley fight song after the Lakers’ win on Saturday afternoon.

Bryce Derouin

Saturday will mark the first official playoff game for the Grand Valley State University football team, but in reality, the last five weeks have been must-wins in order for GVSU (9-2,7-2 GLIAC) to get to this point.

For the fourth time, GVSU will face off against its rival Saginaw Valley State University in the playoffs The Lakers won the last three meetings, 33-30 in 2001, 10-3 in 2003, and 24-17 in 2005.

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday as GVSU will look to make it 4-0 against the Cardinals in the playoffs.

1. Containing SVSU QB Jonathon Jennings

Jonathon Jennings finished the regular season leading the GLIAC in yards passing (3,284 yards) and passing touchdowns (30), and last week, he looked like the playmaking quarterback he was hyped to be.

However, as impressive as Jennings’ stat line was in last week’s game, (306 yards passing, 124 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns) he still had room to be even better.

On multiple occasions, Jennings missed some relatively easy throws. Including the first drive of the game, where he underthrew receiver Michael Albrecht on third down. If Jennings leads Albrecht instead of underthrowing him, Albrecht picks up the first down and probably scores a touchdown.

Other times, Jennings simply overthrew his receivers or didn’t give them a chance to make a play on the ball. Some of the credit for that goes to GVSU, but some of it was also Jennings simply making bad passes.

Where Jennings was most effective against last week was with his legs. He took advantage of some missed assignments by GVSU on the read option and was also deadly when the play broke down and he had to improvise, which often resulted in big chunks of yardage after he abandoned the pass and took off and ran.

The Lakers were only able to record one sack last week and GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell noted that they needed to address finishing plays and bringing Jennings down when they had the chance.

2. SVSU’s Jeff Janis vs. GVSU’s Reggie Williams

Similar to how SVSU boasts the top quarterback in the GLIAC statistically, they also have one of the best wide receivers.

SVSU’s Jeff Janis finished the year with 1,541 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns on 78 catches, all GLIAC highs.

Janis was a big reason why NFL scouts came out to Lubbers Stadium last week, and the senior wide receiver had a solid game, hauling in 10 catches for 122 yards.

To GVSU’s credit, Janis never got in the end zone, and didn’t make any big plays in the game. Most of Janis’ yards came off of quick slants, or other short to intermediate routes.

GVSU’s senior cornerback Reggie Williams had a hand in limiting Janis.

Williams’ speed is one of his best attributes and it was on display last week. Early in the game, Janis got a step on Williams and Jennings lofted a pass, which looked like it could result in a touchdown, but Williams—who is one of the fastest guys on the team—ran it down and nearly picked it off.

This matchup on the outside should be fun to watch, and if Williams can keep Janis out of the end zone again, it could go a long way in GVSU securing another win.

3. Kirk Spencer

GVSU’s Kirk Spencer made the most of his opportunities in his return last week.

The sophomore was only used in one play, but it resulted in a GVSU touchdown. Parling pitched the ball out to Spencer, who then outran the SVSU defense on his way to the 27-yard score. It was his first game action since Oct. 12.

Spencer has been dealing with a broken hand, and last week, his cast only allowed him to go a certain way with the ball, which is why he only was used in that one play. This week, he has a new cast on and was seen taking more reps with the offense in Tuesday’s practice. Barring any setbacks, Mitchell expects to feature him more in the offense.

SVSU managed to hold GVSU to its season low-in rushing yards (111 yards) last week, and Mitchell expects to make running the ball a top priority on Saturday. While senior running back Chris Robinson is a stronger runner between the tackles, Spencer is the guy who has the potential to hit a homerun every time he touches the ball.

4. Heath Parling

While Jennings is deservingly praised and lauded as one of the best quarterbacks in the GLIAC, GVSU’s junior quarterback Heath Parling played just as well, if not better than Jennings last week when he threw for 274 yards passing, four touchdowns, and the one interception.

Parling isn’t as much of a threat with his legs, but while he may not be as athletic, he makes up for it with his poise and smarts at the line of scrimmage.

His ability to read defenses before the snap and switch to a different play is one of the strongest elements of GVSU’s offense.

For Parling, it’s the first playoff game of his career—high school or college—and if GVSU is to advance, they’ll need another impressive game from its quarterback.

5. What teams make adjustments?

Pressure is always on the head coaches, but for this week, it is even bigger. After just facing off against each other, it will be vital for Mitchell and SVSU head coach Jim Collins to make the proper adjustments and set their players up in the best position to succeed.

The game will be decided on the field, but the chess match between the two coaches could decide the outcome.

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