Commentary: With season over, GVSU must rally in offseason
And so it ends.
It was a roller coaster season in every sense for the Grand Valley State University football team, and following Saturday’s 55-52 season-ending loss at Saginaw Valley State University — it’s all over.
And before you ask, no, you’re not about to read a “Fire Matt Mitchell” column.
Maybe the way things ended on Saturday — on a quick-strike, gut-wrenching final scoring drive by Saginaw Valley State — was the way they were supposed to end for this team and its much-maligned defense.
Whether it was safety Erik Thompson missing the final two games of the season or defensive end Matt Judon missing games early in the season, this defense was never really together as one unit.
So, as much of a copout as it may seem, injuries are a legitimate reason for the ugly effort this season. When you don’t have the bodies to contribute and execute, you get out-played — plain and simple.
That’s how football works. You just have to hope you’re the one who stays healthiest the longest because the injury bug is going to catch up sooner or later.
For all of the good things they did in stretches this season, the injury bug just stung the Lakers too many times. That’s why you have good depth, of course, but there are only so many times you can lose a front-line guy and be fine.
Junior cornerback Reggie Williams was arguably the defense’s top player before he got injured against Northwood. His replacement, basically out of necessity, was receiver Keontre Miskel — a guy with no collegiate snaps at the position.
We could go on and on with this injury talk. There’s still the case of arguably the GLIAC’s best quarterback, Heath Parling, going down three weeks into the year and the subsequent losses of tailbacks Chris Robinson and Hersey Jackson.
You get where this is going.
We’ve seen it time and time again — offense is fun, but defense wins championships — and this team only had the former. Luckily for them, they found a way to keep the opponents defenseless at times this season, too.
When you lose a starting quarterback in game three and your top two tailbacks by midseason, your offense should stall. GVSU didn’t; in fact, they continued to move the ball up-and-down the field.
As head coach Matt Mitchell described it earlier this year, the offense was fairly prolific. Credit guard Tim Lelito and the offensive line receiver Charles Johnson, and the skilled players and quarterback Isiah Grimes for that kind of resilience.
But that’s only half the deal: there was still the whole defense being fairly bad thing. Saturday’s game was the defense’s entire season in a nutshell — big plays killing any momentum the unit seemed to finally have built up.
The unit allowed 55 points, the highest total since 1988.
The last time a GVSU defense allowed multiple opponents to score 40-plus points during a season was 1999. That was Brian Kelly’s worst season at GVSU, one in which the Lakers allowed 40-plus three times in a .500 season.
This season’s team allowed 40-plus points in five games. To put that into perspective, GVSU defenses had been that porous just three times since 1999.
Mitchell said it himself with a deep sigh on Saturday, “This defense is not good.”
To compare this season’s GVSU defense to Swiss cheese — a common Twitter joke by fans — would be a disservice to Swiss cheese; obviously, because Swiss is the best kind of cheese.
Mitchell has a proven track record of being able to put together a defense. From 2008 to 2009, his two years as defensive coordinator, he yielded the GLIAC’s top defenses. Of course, that success hasn’t carried over in his years as head coach.
Should Mitchell be fired? No, but his seat should be warm.
The circumstances are simple — GVSU is Division II football’s royalty. If you’re the face of a program with that kind of name value and prestige, you’ve got to make a postseason impact each and every year. You just can’t miss the postseason like GVSU has, especially not for a third-straight time again next season.
When you’re following in the footsteps of coaches such as Kelly and Chuck Martin, the stakes are just higher. Next season, the Lakers will return contributors on both sides of the ball, including Parling at quarterback.
The stage is set to right the ship, now it’s a matter of Mitchell and the Lakers figuring that out between now and this time next season.