GVSU hosts Hillsdale in search of GLIAC win

GVL / Kevin Sielaff     Bart Williams (6) attempts to evade a sack. Grand Valley State University squares off against Ferris State University Sept. 19 at Lubbers Stadium in Allendale. The Lakers were defeated, with a final score of 61-24.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff Bart Williams (6) attempts to evade a sack. Grand Valley State University squares off against Ferris State University Sept. 19 at Lubbers Stadium in Allendale. The Lakers were defeated, with a final score of 61-24.

Adam Knorr

On paper, the 1-3 Hillsdale Chargers don’t seem to pose any sort of threat for the Grand Valley State football team.

The Chargers are scheduled to square off against GVSU Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Lubbers Stadium. Head coach Matt Mitchell and the rest of the Laker squad won’t be fooled by Hillsdale’s subpar record in 2015, however.”

“This has kind of been one of those schools we’ve had really good, healthy competition on the football side of things,” Mitchell said. “Since I’ve been head coach we’ve had a couple really good ballgames with them.

“(Hillsdale is) probably a few plays away from heading in here 3-1.”

The Chargers lost tight matchups to Findlay and Northern Michigan, but were shut down in a 38-7 loss against the University of Indianapolis last week. Hillsdale’s only win came via a 52-29 romp over Lake Erie, who GVSU beat 65-23 last weekend.

The turnover battle is going to be key come Saturday. Hillsdale is not a quick-strike, big play offense. The Chargers will be content to keep the ball on the ground and have quarterback C.J. Mifsud throw short, West-coast style passes.

Hillsdale’s rushing attack is led by running back Bennett Lewis, a former GVSU recruit who has showed efficiency in the run game this season. Lewis has compiled 399 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries this season – good for a 6.1 yards per carry average.

If the Lakers can avoid turning the ball over and force a couple turnovers of their own, they should be sitting pretty on Saturday.

Thankfully, they’re good at that second part.

GVSU is tied for second in the nation with 14 forced turnovers. The Lakers have split their takeaways evenly, recovering seven fumbles and snagging seven interceptions.

GVSU has committed seven turnovers of its own, five coming from the hand of quarterback Bart Williams on interceptions. Last week, Williams went a full game without giving up a turnover, partially thanks to a change in offensive game plan that Laker fans could see more of going forward.

GVSU employed more screen passes and quick throws, which allowed Williams to get the ball out of his hand before pressure got to him.

“Bart Williams is getting better every week,” Mitchell said. “I think the big stat for him is that he didn’t turn the ball over on Saturday. We didn’t turn the ball over on offense at all.

“We were plus three on turnovers with our defense getting three turnovers in the second half including a pick six so that was progress on that side.”

The Lakers were also able to run the ball effectively, which alleviated pressure on Williams. The Lake Erie defense, as Mitchell put it, “(is) not the ’85 Bears,” so GVSU may again go with a tweaked game plan to suit a marginally better Hillsdale defense.

The Lakers were without standout defensive end Matt Judon for much of the game against Lake Erie. Judon, a senior, has six sacks this season, but was held out of much of the Lake Erie game due to injury precautions. He should be back, although possibly with limited reps, on Saturday against Hillsdale.

GVSU’s receiving core continues to improve, and by season’s end could be one of the top units in Division II. Brandon Bean is continuing his breakout campaign, and caught a 72-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring against the Storm.

Matt Williams has continued to be a consistent option for Bart Williams, and has hauled in four touchdowns through four games this season. Jamie Potts had his first game with significant contribution against Lake Erie, pulling in four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Potts has started to develop a better relationship with Bart Williams on the field, and has gotten closer to being in football shape since his arrival three weeks ago.

“Obviously Bart is a really talented quarterback,” Potts said. “He’s a guy that can make any throw you want. Just being out there in practice every day with him catching balls has helped me get better and helped our connection. The more time we spend together, the better we’ll be.”

Running back Kirk Spencer will look to build on last week’s offensive performance that earned him GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Spencer rushed for 164 yards and four touchdowns, and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Potts on a trick play.

Spencer has switched between slot receiver and tailback this season. Last week, freshman Martayveous Carter returned after missing time due to injury and rushed for 93 yards. If Carter is fully healthy, Spencer could see more time as a pass-catcher, although he has been effective (5.3 yards per carry) in his rushing attempts this season.

Mitchell wants the GVSU defense to focus on giving up fewer “explosive plays.” The Lakers were burned for big chunks of yardage often in the first half against Lake Erie, which led to few opportunities for red zone stops. If the GVSU defense can limit the big play and force turnovers against Hillsdale, the Lakers should be in for a nice win in front of a home crowd on Saturday.