Football shows flashes of potential in season opener
GVL / Robert Mathews
True Freshman Joe Robbins celebrating after a GVSU touchdown.
For the Grand Valley State University football team, it was a tale of two teams in their season opening win.
No, not GVSU and Azusa Pacific University, but instead, GVSU and well, GVSU.
The first half showed us the “good” version of the Lakers. GVSU was looking like the team that was chosen by the coaches to win the GLIAC North and look worthy of the No. 14 ranking in the country. After the Lakers opened up a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter, it finally looked like the Lakers were ready to put their problems of 2012 in the past.
Then the third quarter came along, and we saw some of the same problems that plagued GVSU last season.
Last year, the GVSU defense had trouble stopping the run and gave up an average of 226.5 rushing yards per game.
In this year’s season opener, Azusa Pacific used the spread read option to get back in the game, gaining 196 rushing yards on the ground, including Terrell Watson—Azusa Pacific’s lead back—to run for 182 yards himself.
Granted it didn’t help that one of GVSU’s best players—junior defensive end Matt Judon—missed the rest of the game after only playing two defensive possessions after he suffered a leg injury on the first punt of the game for Azusa Pacific.
Senior linebacker Charles Hill also missed significant time in the second half with an injury, but Mitchell didn’t think it was too serious. Add to the fact that junior defensive tackle Isiah Dunning was already missing from the game due to getting run over by one of his teammates on campus, and injuries are quickly becoming a theme here in 2013, just as it was in 2012.
When I asked Mitchell in the preseason about the defense at media day, he let out a deep sigh before explaining to me all the work they did into making sure they don’t have a repeat of 2012. It was noticeable that last year wore on him; he was probably tired of answering the same questions about the defense and after last year, was probably ready to put it behind him. Still, there was an optimism and confidence when he talked about this year’s defense, and for the first half; it looked like the changes paid off.
Did GVSU struggle stopping the run at times in the second half? Yes. However, I don’t think that last night was a problem of scheme, or not having the right players. Instead, it was simply a story about a team that had a 31-0 lead and started to lose some of its edge.
Mitchell noticed it on the sidelines, and to everyone else watching the game, probably saw that GVSU wasn’t playing with the same fire as when they opened the game. When you’re leading by 31 points, that can sometimes just be a natural reaction.
The goal line stand late in the game was an example that this defense can step up when it needs to. Those four plays inside the Laker four, were reminiscent of the GVSU team that opened the game and played with a chip on their shoulder. Does last years team make that same goal line stand in that situation? In my opinion, they don’t.
If the defense can consistently play like how they opened the game, by controlling the line of scrimmage, putting pressure on the quarterback, and maintaining discipline in coverage, GVSU should be fine, especially with the playmakers they have on offense.
Is Azusa Pacific the best team GVSU will face this year? Probably not, but this game showed us the potential this team could go.
Whether that is the potential to be really good, or the potential to relapse into last year’s errors, remains to be seen.