How GVSU went from hype to heartache

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
#3 Chris Robinson

GVL/Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff #3 Chris Robinson

Jay Bushen

Facial expressions in the visiting team’s stands summed it up: disappointment, disbelief and shock. The few faithful that remained couldn’t seem to grasp what was happening in front of them.

No one saw this coming.

Nine months ago, the Grand Valley State University football team closed out the 2013 season as the NCAA’s all-time winningest football program. The Division II juggernaut was one victory away from a national championship appearance, and appeared to be primed for another successful run this fall.

Success is expected at GVSU, and the expectations coming in this season were almost unfair. Fans clamored for a championship and media personnel tried to predict how it would happen based on the team’s depth chart, which did not change all that much.

From the get-go – and really since the end of the 2013 season – the Lakers were destined to win.

But they haven’t.

The 0-3 start has many wondering exactly what happened. Were they too confident? Not coached well enough? How does a team with so much experience and talent fail to win three straight games? I certainly don’t have the answers, but I think it’s a combination of three main factors.

The most significant of which is the schedule.

GVSU did not have the luxury of easing into its season with cupcakes. Instead, it had to play three ranked teams: No. 22 Azusa Pacific on the West Coast, No. 10 Ohio Dominican in Allendale and No. 17 Ferris State in Big Rapids for the second year in a row.

It’s not like the Lakers are losing to bad teams.

The next biggest reason is a major surprise in my mind: the inability to run the ball. GVSU lost standout center Matt Armstrong to graduation and starting guard Connor Gould to injury, but the rest of the offensive line is back. So are the running backs and tight ends. Yet somehow, the Lakers rank dead last in the GLIAC with just 78.0 rushing yards per game.

The execution has simply not been there, which honestly flabbergasts me more each week.

The third factor is a broad category: poorly-timed mistakes. Blown assignments, missed tackles, turnovers and penalties have plagued GVSU. These may have a deleterious effect on every team, but they’ve seemingly happened to the Lakers at the worst possible times this season.

Some of the miscues haven’t even been their fault – like penalties in the ODU game which the GLIAC has since apologized for – but they’re mistakes nonetheless, and they’ve burned GVSU badly.

The Lakers still have eight games to play, and could technically qualify for a postseason berth with a lot of luck and eight straight wins. It will take some serious leadership and resiliency to make that happen, but for the sake of their seniors – and their fans – they’ll have to rediscover their winning formula in a hurry.