GV looks to sharpen game against Hillsdale

GVL / Nathan Mehmed
Sophomore Quarterback Heath Parling searches for a target during the Thursday home game

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GVL / Nathan Mehmed Sophomore Quarterback Heath Parling searches for a target during the Thursday home game

Brady Fredericksen

The Grand Valley State University football team is preparing to take it’s Hillsdale College rivals back to the gridiron this weekend, but both the team and the fans can expect a very different match-up from last year.

In GVSU’s 44-41 win over Hillsdale last year, offensive fireworks was the name of the game. The teams combined for 85 points and 926 yards in the matchup of top-15 teams.

This year, the offenses will be dramatically different as both are led by new first-time starters.

Sophomore quarterback Heath Parling put together a solid debut Thursday, throwing for 207 yards and three touchdowns against Western Oregon University. Despite a bit of tunnel vision, Parling looked comfortable with the offense and appears to have built a repertoire with receivers Charles Johnson and Jovonne Augustus.

“I think we need to emphasize more on our red zone scoring,” said junior receiver Isreal Woolfork. “We got to the red zone a lot last week, and we didn’t finish as well as we wanted to. We had a couple dropped passes and some missed blocking assignments – if we just clean up on those things, I think the offense will start rolling.”

That offense will be helped by the return of senior receiver Greg Gay. An All-GLIAC performer last season, Gay was out last week with a hamstring injury and will be a welcome addition to the offense.

Expect to see a healthy dose of rushing against Hillsdale as well – the Lakers ran for 235 yards in last year’s game and are looking to replicate that this weekend. Another dual-effort from juniors Norman Shuford and Hersey Jackson will be vital to the success Lakers’ passing offense.

Special teams will also be a key. The Lakers used excellent punt coverage and an impressive return game – led by sophomore Michael Ratay – to put themselves in good position on both sides of the ball against Western Oregon.

“I think it’s not just that it’s Hillsdale [this week], but special teams have to be important every game,” said Woolfork, who recovered a blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown against Western Oregon. “Coach Mitch always talks about how special teams can win or lose a game, and as you saw [Thursday] the game would have been a lot closer if we didn’t execute on special teams.”

While the special teams proved to be the key to GVSU’s season-opening win, its defense will need to continue to progress against Hillsdale.

The Chargers are replacing 2010 GLIAC Player of the Year and starting quarterback Troy Weatherhead, and also lost their top three receivers, including All-GLIAC performer Andre Holmes.

The strong senior class’ departure will place an even larger responsibility on Hillsdale star running back Joe Glendening.

After struggling against the run in 2010, the Lakers improved against Western Oregon and will look to continue that progression against Glendening. Last season, the senior ran wild on the GVSU defense, rushing for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell’s defense had some bright spots against Western Oregon last week, holding them to 82 yards on the ground to go with five sacks. Despite a few big plays on the ground, they hope to bring that improved effort to Hillsdale.

“A couple times [against Western Oregon] I was making some calls that were more geared for the pass,” Mitchell said. “Probably got a little less aggressive with the calls because I didn’t want to give up a big touchdown, and I’m sure there’s part of it where we had some guys out of position here and there in the second half.”

Another aspect of the defense to watch Saturday will be the play of defensive tackle Danny Richard. The senior missed all of last season after tearing his ACL and looked strong in his return last week, accounting for three tackles in the first half.

His health isn’t a question, but as he works toward being his old self, Richard himself says that his conditioning will need to improve for him to be his best.

“I feel really good getting that first game under my belt. I got put in some awkward situations, but I came out of it alright,” said Richard. “I’m out of shape – I’ve got to work on that – and I’m going to spend the next nine days working on that so it isn’t as bad for Hillsdale, but it’s a process,”

The Lakers kick off at 7 p.m. at Frank “Muddy Waters” Field in Hillsdale, Mich., Saturday.

Follow the action on Twitter at @LanthornSports.

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