Preview: Lakers face tough road test at Michigan Tech

By Brady McAtamney | 9/13/17 10:26pm

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GVL / Spencer Scarber Marty Carter deflects the tackle during the game against Davenport on Saturday September 9, 2017.

The 2017 football season started off on a low note for the Grand Valley State Lakers when they hit the road and lost to the University of Indianapolis.

Luckily, the rough waters settled for the Lakers, and their faithful fans anchored up at Lubbers Stadium for a decisive victory in the team’s home opener, defeating Davenport University 48-0.

Now, No.12 ranked GVSU hits the road again, but this time the Lakers head up north to take on Michigan Technological University (1-1) in Houghton, Michigan. It is the first time the two teams will have played in the Upper Peninsula since 2014, when the Huskies beat the Lakers 35-14.

It will be the second home game for MTU, as they defeated Truman State 38-14 in week one before dropping a game to former GLIAC foe Hillsdale on the road the following week by a score of 31-27, despite leading 27-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

“I’m sure Michigan Tech is very upset with what happened on Saturday because it's very un-Tech-like having a lead in the fourth quarter and surrendering 21 straight to lose,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “That’s not Michigan Tech football. You have to imagine they’re going to be upset about that result and be very motivated.”

Mitchell emphasized MTU’s ability to play solid defense, citing their lack of penalties and consistent fundamentals as an obstacle the Lakers will have to overcome. Additionally, the Huskies have been known to play a physical brand of football, especially in the secondary, to try to assert their dominance over the opposition’s receiving corps. 

However, Laker wide receiver Brandon Bean is not worried about the physicality getting into the heads of his teammates.

“We have some really big receivers who aren’t afraid to get physical," Bean said. "Even guys like Jon-Marc (Anderson) and Jalen Bryant, they’re gritty; they’ll get in there and get the job done. Also Urston Smith, Austin Paritee. They're really talented guys who don’t mind getting bumped around because they’ll push back. It’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to. 

We’ll show up, and we’ll set the tempo.”

The grind-it-out style of defense is not the only challenge the Lakers will face from the Huskies. One issue GVSU has been faced with early this season is stopping the opponent’s run game, most notably when Indianapolis ran for 326 yards on the Lakers in week one.

Michigan Tech running back John Williams currently sits 10th in Division II with 265 yards through the first two games. For the Lakers to head home with a victory, stopping the rushing attack must be a priority.

“We knew after the UIndy game that that wasn’t Grand Valley defense; it wasn’t up to championship-level football," said GVSU linebacker Garret Pougnet. "We responded well to that as a defense, and it took everyone (against Davenport) to get better and work on their craft individually. On Saturday, we had to put that all together, and I think we did a lot better as a complete defense, but I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement to be more physical overall in our run defense. 

You’ve got to continuously work on that each week.”

The nearly nine-hour drive to a football environment that Mitchell described as “unique” does not make the trip any easier. Despite having an attendance of only 2,920 against Truman State (compared to GVSU’s second-highest football attendance in school history of 16,734 against Davenport), Tech holds a distinct home-field advantage, from its animated band to cannon blasts to lengthy walks from the locker room to the field.  

Another major key to victory for the Lakers will be their kicking game. Between their first two games, GVSU kickers left eight points on the board (two missed field goals and two missed extra points). Both kickers—redshirt sophomore Bryce Lovelace and junior JJ McGrath—are zero-for-one on field goal attempts. Lovelace is three-for-five on extra points, and McGrath has made all five of his point-after-touchdown attempts.

Fellow redshirt sophomore kicker Avery Echols, who has been sidelined with an injury, has returned to practice and will be given the opportunity to earn the currently vacant starting kicker job.

“It’s not at a championship level," Mitchell said. "We’ll see how this week moves forward. ... Somebody’s going to have to earn the right to go out there and kick. It’s starting to limit the options of this football team. It’s a concern that we’re going to have to continue to work on and address moving forward.”

Kickoff in Houghton is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16. The game will be available for streaming on ESPN3 or can be heard on ESPN radio 96.1.

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