Evaluating the first half of the football season

GVL / Robert Mathews
Senior Reggie Williams returning a kick.

GVL / Robert Mathews Senior Reggie Williams returning a kick.

Bryce Derouin

For the Grand Valley State University football team, it’s been a tale of two teams.

There’s the team that plays at home in Lubbers Stadium and at times, has looked like the squad the GLIAC coaches picked to win the GLIAC North Division.

Then there are the Lakers that show up on the road, and have given up 50-plus points in each of the team’s two road games, which have both resulted in losses.

To this point, it’s been a disappointing season for GVSU (4-2, 2-2 GLIAC), as they currently sit sixth in the GLIAC North Division. What makes it even more disheartening, is that on occasion, this team has showed its potential, including the dominating 49-3 win over Michigan Tech University.

As the halfway mark of the football season coincides with the students’ midterm exams, let’s handout some grades evaluating the first half of the GVSU football season.

Offense – B-plus

Not many programs could undergo the changes the Lakers went through and seemingly not miss a beat, which speaks to the system that’s been implemented at GVSU.

The Lakers have had to deal with a new offensive coordinator, injuries to quarterback Heath Parling, and replacing one of the top wide receivers in the history of GVSU.

Tim Morrison has done an admirable job in his first year as offensive coordinator, making sure the transition between Isiah Grimes or Heath Parling at quarterback has gone smoothly. Few other schools have the luxury of one quarterback that is the caliber of Parling or Grimes, let alone two.

Parling hasn’t shown any lingering signs from his injuries—reconstructive surgery on his ACL, muscle tear behind his throwing shoulder—this year. He’s completed 47 of 76 passes for 650 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions for a 160.5 efficiency rating.

Senior wide receiver Brandan Green has shown himself to be a reliable deep threat with the departure of Charles Johnson. Green has hauled in 17 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Jamie Potts leads the Lakers with four touchdown catches this year.

On the ground, it’s been junior running back Michael Ratay leading the way. If Ratay’s second half of the season goes like his first, he could be on pace to near a 1,000 yard 20 touchdown season. After six games, he has 576 yards on 81 carries and 10 scores.

The offensive line has been impressive at times in the run game, but also in the screen game. GVSU has broken off big plays utilizing wide receiver screens, and that’s a credit to the athleticism of the offensive line and the unselfish downfield blocking of the wide receivers.

The one black mark on the season for the offense was the game against Ohio Dominican University. GVSU only managed 14 points, and could never really get anything going to mount a comeback. It was the most out of synch the offense looked all year.

While GVSU may not be sporting its most explosive offense in the program’s history, they’ve still managed to average an impressive 36.3 points per game—fifth best in the GLIAC.

Defense – C-plus

There is no greater indication of how much GVSU struggles on the road, compared to home, than when you compare the defenses numbers.

In four home games, the Laker defense has allowed just 52 points on the season, an average of 13 per contest. No team has even managed to score more than 17 points against GVSU in Lubbers.

In GVSU’s two road games, the Lakers are giving up an average of 55.5 points a game. Including 57 against Ohio Dominican University and 54 to Ferris State University.

I’m not ready to put the blame on the defense for the 57 points against Ohio Dominican because of poor special teams play that had a hand in a lot of those points, but the writing is on the wall. This defense has struggled on the road.

A struggling Northern Michigan University offense with a quarterback situation in limbo, may be just what GVSU needs to get the defense back on track.

Special Teams – B-plus

Special teams would probably get an A if it weren’t for the debacle against Ohio Dominican.

In that game, GVSU gave up touchdown on a kickoff and a punt. Also, the Lakers failed to recover a pooch kick, resulting in a turnover. On the special teams side, the game was a mess.

Besides that, special teams has been solid this year.

True freshman kicker Joel Schipper has yet to miss this year, making 29 of 29 extra point attempts, and converting all three of his field goal tries.

GVSU has also managed to be decent in the return game. Senior Reggie Williams has made a couple of impressive punt returns, and just last week, sophomore Kirk Spencer outran Ferris State for a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown.

Coaching – C-plus

Anytime a team doesn’t perform to its expectations, blame immediately falls on the coach. It’s just how it is. That’s why we see blame falling on Mitchell and his staff for not getting the team to perform on the road.

At home, coaching would get an A, but for whatever reason, this team just doesn’t play up to its potential away from Lubbers. Granted, Ohio Dominican and Ferris State are no slouches, but that doesn’t excuse GVSU’s poor play.

After the Ferris State game, Mitchell even brought it up himself, saying they need to get better on the road. In his four years, Mitchell is an impressive 20-2 at home, but just 11-8 on road games.

To his credit, he’s done a sound job of managing the injury situation that’s plagued GVSU this year, and especially last year. Most places may have seen the wheels come off of on the season, but Mitchell and his staff held it together. However, just like how GVSU isn’t “most places,” the expectations are a lot higher here than anywhere else and Mitchell knows missing the playoffs with an 8-3 record isn’t good enough.

Even though GVSU no longer control its own destiny, I’m not ready to write off the season. They still have their chances to impress the selection committee with matchups against Saginaw Valley State University, Wayne State University, and Hillsdale College looming on the schedule.

This team already has a few strong wins under its belt. Including wins over Azusa Pacific University (4-2) Truman State University (4-2) and Michigan Tech (3-2), but all of those are at home.

Mitchell and his staff will need to figure out how to have success on the road, otherwise it could be another Division II postseason without GVSU.