GVSU football gets ready to do it again

GVL / Hannah Mico. Senior Erik Thompson drives past Saginaw runningback Rahman Hardin in an attempt to make the Lakers third thouch down of the game.

GVL / Hannah Mico. Senior Erik Thompson drives past Saginaw runningback Rahman Hardin in an attempt to make the Lakers’ third thouch down of the game.

Bryce Derouin

Head coach Matt Mitchell and his No. 22 ranked Grand Valley State University football team have found themselves in a unique situation.

They just defeated No. 21 Saginaw Valley State University (9-2, 9-1 GLIAC) last week, but they have to play their rivals again Saturday in the first round of the Division II playoffs. So how does GVSU (9-2, 7-2 GLIAC) prepare for a team it beat just a week ago?

“We’ve had to kind of approach it, that in a manner, obviously we won, and there’s some things we did good and you don’t want to completely abandon those, but at the same time, you have to believe the other staff is making adjustments to that,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think you can roll out the same game plan on both sides of the ball. They’re too good.

“We’ve got to manage how to not completely do everything new, but we’ve got to add some new wrinkles and do a few things. It’s unique in that situation that we don’t want to overdo it, but we don’t want to underdo either. There’s kind of a fine balance between the two.”

Mitchell knows his defense contained SVSU’s quarterback Jonathon Jennings just enough to win last week, but he realizes the squad will have to be better on Saturday if his team wants to advance in the playoffs to face Colorado State University-Pueblo (11-0).

“(Jennings is) a really good football player,” Mitchell said. “He didn’t disappoint regarding his ability to throw the ball. I think what our guys found out in the field and our coaching staff is that he’s a good athlete and can make us miss. He hurt us more with his feet than maybe we anticipated. That has to be a point of emphasis.”

For as much admiration and praise as Jennings received from the GVSU staff before last week’s game, he delivered on the stat sheet. Jennings completed 26 of 46 passes for 306 yards through the air and ran for 124 yards and three touchdowns rushing on 17 carries.

“Our defensive line when we got back there only had one sack,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t make a lot of plays on him when we got back there. We got to get, whether it’s defensive line, linebackers, or whoever, we got to make some plays on him… We didn’t finish very well in a lot of opportunities, especially down in the red zone, and that’s why he had the rushing touchdowns he did.”

Last week, GVSU used its time to watch film to prepare for Jennings and the GLIAC’s leading scoring offense (40.5 points per game), but for this week’s matchup, the Lakers can lean on their own experience in preparing for Jennings a second time.

“We need to break down on him a little bit more and we can see some tendencies that maybe give us a little bit of an alert to some different things that are going on,” said senior linebacker Jordan Kaufman, who led GVSU with 16 tackles last game. “He’s a great athlete and he’s going to be hard to defend, but now that we’ve seen him, we know what we need to do to slow that a little bit.”

While GVSU enjoyed success through the air in last week’s matchup, establishing the run will be a priority on Saturday. SVSU managed to limit the Lakers to only 111 yards rushing—its lowest total on the ground this year.

“I know offensively we’re a little disappointed in the way that we ran the ball, so we got to put an emphasis on being able to run the ball,” Mitchell said. “If we’re fortunate enough to have the lead in the third and fourth quarter, we got to be able to grind out a win and get the job done.”

The Lakers could receive a boost to its running game with the return of a healthier Kirk Spencer, who had one touch last week for a a 24-yard touchdown.

The sophomore running back is still dealing with a cast on his broken hand but is experimenting with a new cast this week that is giving him a better feel for the ball. On Tuesday, he was taking reps with the offense at practice—something he didn’t do much of last week.

Sans the one interception, quarterback Heath Parling had one of his best games of the season. The junior completed 14 of 26 passes of 274 yards passing and four touchdowns. His ability to replicate the same success he had last week could be a major factor in the outcome.

“I think they’re a good defense, and they’re going to present another challenge to us because I’m sure they’re going to switch some things up in the coverage, probably to limit throws deep down field,” Parling said. “I think we’re going to do some stuff they haven’t seen before either. Obviously they know that, and it just is going to come down to which team makes the better quicker adjustments like it always is.”

The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Lubbers Stadium, where the Lakers are 7-0 this season. Tickets are $3 for students and can be purchased in the University Bookstore in the Kirkhof Center or at the GVSU ticket office in the Fieldhouse.