Tech receivers catching up

HOUGHTON – In 2012, the Michigan Tech football team compiled 429 yards per game, leading to an outstanding 37.7 points per game en route to a share of the GLIAC title.

Last season, Tech matched the yardage output, racking up 430 yards per game.

But the scoring fell dramatically off, as the Huskies scored 27.5 points per game, leading to a 6-4 mark.

Why?

When posed the question, Michigan Tech coach Tom Kearly points to a host of factors. Tech’s turnovers went up, both interceptions and lost fumbles. The Huskies struggled some in short-yardage, converting on 29 percent of fourth-down attempts, after a 67 percent mark the year before. There is probably a smattering of bad luck and small sample size bias thrown in as well.

But perhaps the biggest reason comes down to an overhaul of the wide receivers. In 2012, Tech boasted four senior wide outs and a perennial all-GLIAC tight end.

Replaced with a freshman (Brandon Cowie), two sophomores (Andrew Clark and Anthony Root), and a transfer (now-departed Jordan McConnell), the sharpness of the 2012 team was found lacking.

“Last year if you said, where is your ‘crucial area’ it definitely would have been the wide receivers, because they were all gone,” Kearly said.

“Now we have an all-league player in Brandon Cowie back, Anthony Root played and did a nice job, Andrew Clark played – we lose McConnell but everybody else is back.

“Last year we were just finding out what we had. Now we can start refining things.”

Already an all-GLIAC pair, another spring together could transform the Tyler Scarlett-to-Cowie connection from explosive to game breaking.

A 6-foot-3, 200-pound former quarterback, Cowie (now a sophomore) hauled in 58 passes his freshman year for 933 yards and three touchdowns as the Huskies’ primary big play threat.

Kearly hopes the boundary receiver is just getting started as he begins to learn the nuances of the wide receiver position.

“He is a taller target with good smarts. He has good enough speed that he can beat man-to-man coverage and with the height he has got he has the ability on the boundary to go up and catch high-point balls that are up in the air, the jump-ball stuff,” Kearly said. “I think he will get better and better as he refines some of the skill stuff. It just comes with repetition. The ability to make tighter, firmer cuts. To understand where double-coverage is, to catch more of a percentage of balls, those type of things.”

Off Cowie, Anthony Root and sophomore Ian Fischer are competing for the primary reps in the slot role that helped McConnell to 62 catches and 851 yards last season.

Clark and David Walter are seeing the primary reps as the third wide receiver.

“It’s another 15 practices for the ‘Q’ and the receivers to get familiar,” Kearly said. “It’s a good group of young guys.”

At tight end, the Huskies fell off from the astronomic production of Bryan LaChapelle in 2012 (55 catches, 676 yards) to more modest gains from Ian Wienke (16 catches, 149 yards) last season.

Kearly believes that production will pick up again this coming fall with four tight ends vying for playing time. Wienke and senior blocker Bob Fraker both return, while senior Cal Riendl is also in the mix.

It is freshman Cayman Berg-Morales who has spent spring turning heads though, after hitting the gym hard in the winter and breaking a host of lifting records for Tech tight ends.

As with LaChapelle for four years, Kearly has shown a willingness to play a younger guy over the vets if the freshman proves he deserves it.

“We are excited about Cayman. He had a great, great winter with the strength and conditioning stuff. He broke a bunch of records in strength and conditioning, so we are excited to see what we can do,” Kearly said.

“The older kids know right now that it’s a battle. They know the young guy is very, very talented.”