Huskies defensively dominating
HOUGHTON – For those statistically inclined, the relentless dominance of Michigan Tech’s defense Saturday against Walsh shines through in a wealth of numbers not quite obvious in the 29-7 final score.
Huskies defensive coordinator Tim Driscoll emphasized the importance of getting off the field on third down against a team employing an up-tempo, Chip Kelly offense en vogue these days – Tech held Walsh to a merciless 1-for-7 mark in the first half and 5-for-16 overall. The Cavaliers’ sprint attack had seen the field for an average of 105 plays per game in the two games prior to their visit to Sherman Field – Walsh managed just 63 plays Saturday despite routinely snapping the ball with 25 seconds remaining on the play clock.
Then there are the yards.
The Huskies methodically smashed their way through the Cavaliers’ defense to the tune of 485 yards with an even balance between air (287) and ground (207). Only some consistent misfiring in the red zone held Tech to 29 points.
Walsh on the other side, managed just 154 yards total, including a paltry 42 in the first half when the game was still in question. Quarterback Paul Kempe couldn’t find a seam to run through and was unable to fit a ball into the small windows Tech left open. When he did find an open receiver, it was seldom downfield and there was always a Husky defender waiting to lay the wood on him.
It was a vindictive performance for a unit that had to work twice as hard in practice this week to prepare for the up-tempo concepts Walsh employs.
“We played very, very well defensively,” Tech head coach Tom Kearly said. “We held them to (42) yards in the first half. Give me that every game and I will be very, very happy.
“We tackled really well today. I can’t remember one time where someone got a couple of yards after a catch.”
For those who like their football to be about attitude and aggression, Tech brought plenty to the table in that sense too.
Kearly and Driscoll fired up a variety of pressure packages, sending different rushers from different angles all game.
Although the Huskies finished with just two sacks (Taylor Ziolkowski and Nelson Wienke) the pressure achieved is most evident in Kempe’s completion numbers. The junior finished 20-for-44 (with an interception) and looked hurried and uncomfortable on a plethora of throws off the mark.
“We practiced 10 times faster this week so we were ready to make the checks,” Ziolkowski said. “The defense had a heck of a day. The guys up front got pressure and the quarterback was throwing all over the place. He was seeing the hits we were putting on guys and he was getting frustrated. It throws him off course.”
Only some failure to execute in the red zone for Tech’s offense prevented the game from reaching blowout territory.
In fact, Husky kicker Garrett Mead set a Tech record on the day with five made field goals in one game, two more than a host of previous record holders.
While a nice mark for Mead, that type of record defines faint praise.
“That is five times four, that is 20 points we left out there,” Kearly said. “Our mindset is when we get in that red zone we want seven, not three.”
The struggles in the red zone went across the whole offense, with a dropped pass from Ian Wienke, failure to convert on third-and-one and fourth-and-one and a blown pass protection the most grating of the mistakes.
“It is just execution,” Tech center Aaron Brandt said. “It was little stuff, maybe situations that we have to adjust to better. But it was only the second game, so we have eight more to improve upon.”
“When it is third-and-one and fourth-and-one and we run a belly (fullback run) and quarterback sneak and we don’t get a yard, that is going to tick coaches off, let’s put it that way,” Kearly added.
Stall-outs aside, the Tech offense still gave the occasional firework show for the 3,324 in attendance who braved the sub-50 temperatures.
Junior wide receiver Brandon Cowie put the first TD on the board midway through the first quarter with a textbook 7-yard fade and tap dance routine along the endzone boundary. Cowie, a former quarterback, then drew a round of cheers with a wide-receiver reverse pass play that resulted in a 40-yard Andrew Clark completion.
Finally, senior transfer Jordan McConnell (six receptions, 118 yards) put the game out of reach for good in the fourth quarter with a 50-yard TD?pass from Tyler Scarlett on a double-move the Huskies had been setting up all day.
Faced with single coverage on the boundary, McConnell ran a stop-and-go to spring wide open and allow Scarlett (15-for-25, 238 yards) an easy throw downfield. This play was made possible by Tech hitting on four comeback routes earlier in the game.
“It is good to capitalize on that because those need to be touchdowns,” McConnell said. “We were setting that up from the beginning. You don’t want to waste those with an incompletion.”