Column: Battle of the Valleys football preview
GVSU, SVSU sports editors take a look at the annual rivalry tilts
GVL / Kevin Sielaff The Grand Valley State University football squad gathers for its annual media day Wednesday, August 19th, 2015. The afternoon aimed to promote the highly anticipated 2015 football season, while also making predictions for what the year ahead might hold. The senior class take their group photo as running back Kirk Spencer (27) flies backward.
In anticipation of the Battle of the Valleys game on Friday, the sports editors of the Lanthorn and the Valley Vanguard went back-and-forth with their prodigious GLIAC football knowledge to prepare a game preview for our lovely readers.
JO: As usual, Grand Valley State seems to be putting together another playoff season. It's not the top-ranked offense or defense, but the team finds ways to win week in and week out. Exactly how good is the team this year, and what can those unfamiliar with the team expect to see?
AK: Offensively, GVSU has put together one of the best passing attacks in the GLIAC, or in recent GVSU memory. Sophomore quarterback Bart Williams is in his first year at the helm, but his supporting cast has made the long-haired signal-caller look like a seasoned veteran.
The Laker receiving corps, made up of Matt Williams, Jamie Potts, Brandon Bean and a number of other role players, is the best unit I've seen on a football field all season. Potts missed the first two games of the season while playing professional baseball in the Texas Rangers' organization, but the Laker legend has come back with a vengeance in his final season of football eligibility.
It could be the last name connection, but it's probably just talent for Matt Williams. The junior, who also plays baseball, has emerged as a primary touchdown option for Bart Williams, as the former Williams has hauled in a team-leading 12 touchdowns this season. Bean, the final member of the trio, has been sidelined with an ankle injury against Michigan Tech, and his return date is still up in the air. Regardless, any team looking to stop the Laker offense is going to either get pressure on Bart Williams or scrounge up elite coverage packages to hamper the GVSU receivers.
Tailbacks Kirk Spencer and Martayveous Carter lead GVSU's rushing attack. Spencer, a senior, has been the bell cow for GVSU this season, and will also contribute as a pass-catcher. Spencer has 150 carries and 30 catches for 1,038 offensive yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Carter, a true freshman, is one of the fastest backs I've ever seen. He has just 58 carries this season, but is averaging over seven yards per carry. If he gets into the second level of a defense, he's as good as gone.
GVSU's defense is as enigmatic as it gets. The Lakers have allowed 414 yards per game this season, but a knack for forcing turnovers has given the GVSU offense extra opportunities, which, more than anything, can crush a GVSU opponent. GVSU will surrender its fair share of yards, and, if the Lakers don't force a turnover or three, opposing offenses will have little issue putting points on the board. To date, GVSU has only gone one game without forcing a turnover -- a 45-31 loss against Ashland on Oct. 31.
GVSU's defensive leader is unmatched in Division II football. Senior defensive end Matt Judon has racked up a nation-best 18 sacks this season, and, according to GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell, has garnered more NFL attention than any of Mitchell's players in his five-year career as head coach. Judon hits like a freight train but moves like a bullet. Stopping Judon isn't an option. The best option might truly be to hold his jersey and hope the referees are watching the ball.
From an outsider's perspective, Saginaw Valley State is having a down year. Will the offense be able to put up enough points to keep up with the Lakers? Will rivalry inspiration be enough to keep this one close, or maybe grant the Cardinals an upset victory?
JO: You hit the nail on the head with that one. As a team, SVSU has struggled. The Cardinals have not been able to move the ball offensively with much consistency, and on the defense the team seems to struggle to make that “big” play.
Despite its offensive woes, SVSU does have a couple playmakers.
Senior Bryan Fobbs is banged up right now, but when healthy, he is a legitimate deep threat. He averages 16 yards per catch and has grabbed three scoring tosses.
If he’s out for the game, there’s always Max Corcoran and Marq Johnson. Corcoran is a transfer from Ohio University. He’s the team’s leading receiver but has been a possession guy. Of his 27 grabs, three have gone for scores.
Johnson has really impressed me. Just a freshman, he has still managed to be the team’s second-leading receiver and with an imposing figure (6-foot-3, 203 pounds), he has shown the ability to overpower defenders near the end zone.
The Cardinals have found another option in the passing game in tight end Will Farr. Despite being a tight end, he averages nearly 18 yards a grab.
Brad Odeman transferred to SVSU after a stop at San Diego State, and at times he has shown Division I skills. He’s thrown 13 scores, but has a bad habit of throwing into coverage a little too often.
The running game has been atrocious. Malik Washington has shown signs of being a future starter, but for now he’ll be sharing the carries with a group of other backs. Each offers something a little different; Washington speed, Jermaih Johnson hands, Drew Herrell power and David Nay elusiveness. The team hasn’t seemed to find any rhythm with this group, and it shows with their lack of success on offense.
Defensively, the team is led by Bryan Jones and Dwight Trammer at the linebacker position. Jones is third in the GLIAC in tackles, averaging nearly 10 a game. Trammer has a knack for being in good position and seems to be in on a lot of stops as well.
Up front, Michigan State transfer Jordan Sanders leads the team with five sacks, but this has been an otherwise quiet group.
Matt McKoy is the leader of the defensive secondary. He isn’t afraid to come up and make stops around the LOS or stay deep and cover a receiver.
AK: I can't see GVSU dropping this game. If the Lakers win, they'll make the playoffs. Lose, and they're out.
Laker fans will show out, as they always do in the Battle of the Valleys game, and the support and home field advantage will give GVSU the edge in intangibles to add to the gaping gap in pedigree between the two teams. I'm going to go with a Laker win in a blowout -- 63-17.
JO: This game has always been tough. SVSU is 11-33 all-time against the Lakers, and they've managed just one win in the rivalry since Jim Collins took over in 2008.
I expect them to come out prepared, fired up and ready to play. With that being said, I still don't think they have an upset in them this year. The team is far too young and GVSU always finds a way to win this game. I'll go GVSU - 35, SVSU - 21.