GVSU prepares for an aerial assault
GVL / Robert Mathews
Runningback Chris Robinson
Jonathon Jennings (Saginaw Valley State University), Tyler Scarlett (Michigan Tech University), Sam Landry (Hillsdale College) and Chris Bonner (Colorado State University-Pueblo) are all veteran, highly-touted quarterbacks who put up impressive stat lines this year. Together, their talent is indisputable.
Besides talent and impressive resumes, though, they all have something else in common.
They all lost to Grand Valley State University (11-2).
But on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs, the GVSU defense will face its most prolific aerial attack of the season.
Enter West Texas A&M University (11-2) quarterback Dustin Vaughan.
Vaughan was named as a preseason All-American, and he has not disappointed this year. The senior has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 5,004 yards (384.9 yards passing per game) and 49 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
“I think probably, at least statistically, the best quarterback in Division II,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said about Vaughan. “He’s got a lot of attributes like some of the other quarterbacks. He has a strong arm, a live arm. He can really throw the ball and do a lot of things. I think the difference with him is that he doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t throw picks; he doesn’t throw it to the other team.”
With just seven interceptions on 619 pass attempts for Vaughan, Mitchell does not expect his defense to be the recipient of an errant pass from the veteran quarterback.
“He’s an Academic All-American,” Mitchell said. “He’s very intelligent. He knows that system and that scheme, and so he will not throw the ball to us on Saturday. The only way we’ll probably have a chance to get a pick is off a batted ball or a tipped ball.”
For as impressive as Vaughan has been this year, his receiving corps has put up gaudy numbers of their own. The top four wide receivers for West Texas A&M have more receptions than GVSU’s top receiver, senior Brandan Green, who has caught 45 passes.
Senior Torrence Allen leads the Buffaloes with 112 catches for 1,527 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns; junior Anthony Jackson caught 76 balls for 1,129 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns; senior Jace Jackson chipped in with 59 catches for 569 yards receiving and seven touchdowns; and senior Nathan Slaughter has caught 46 passes for 488 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
In total, West Texas A&M has 10 guys who have caught at least 10 passes this year.
Mitchell described this receiving corps with one word.
“Fast,” he said. “Extremely fast. I would say this is the best group of receivers we’ve seen all season. Obviously Saginaw had the one, Jeff Janis, but in terms of just depth, they’ve got guys everywhere.”
For the Laker defense, it welcomes the challenge of going up against one of the top passing attacks in the country. On the season, GVSU has surrendered an average of only 193.7 yards passing per game and just 14 touchdown passes on the year.
“I think we should be able to stop their passing game as long as we don’t let any big plays get over our head,” senior linebacker Charles Hill said. “We gotta run to the ball and strike them. It’s just another variable. We just have to envision, break on the ball, and hit them.”
The play of the secondary will obviously be an integral part of containing the West Texas A&M passing game, but a strong game from the GVSU front seven could go a long way in making it easier for the guys on the back end of the defense.
“I think we have to get some help up front,” Mitchell said. “We have to get some guys up front, whether it’s linebackers, or d-line creating a little pressure. If he’s got all day and we’re playing zone or man, they’re good enough at receiver and good enough there to pick us apart.”
The Lakers hope that the experience of playing in the GLIAC quarterback-driven league has prepared them for Saturday’s challenge.
“When you face a guy like Jonathon Jennings for two weeks that can throw the ball to a lot of areas of the field, just like Dustin Vaughan, I think it gives you a little bit more confidence with your DB’s,” Mitchell said. “Especially how some of our upperclassmen have seen some balls in the air and seen the ball attack them. I think the strength of our league in quarterback puts us in a position to be more able to defend him than maybe some other teams.”