The Michigan Tech football team moved up to No. 22 in the D2football.com national poll after Saturday's 23-6 non-conference win over Winona State. The Huskies dominated time of possession (40:08-19:52) and total offensive yards (328-162), thanks to a strong defensive performance.
"I thought we played very well defensively all game," coach Tom Kearly said. "Defensively we gave our offense a lot of opportunities."
With 10 returning starters from last year's defensive unit, Michigan Tech knew defense would be a strength. The Huskies flexed their muscles Saturday, forcing three fumbles, tallying five sacks (Todd Storm 2.5, Jacob Clark 2 and Drew Vanderlin 0.5) and only allowing Winona State to convert two of nine third-down attempts.
The big question heading into 2011, however, was whether the Huskies could find the right young players to effectively fill several key offensive and special teams positions. While it's only one game, any initial worries about inexperience were whisked away as redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Scarlett and true freshman kicker Garrett Mead had strong showings.
Scarlett completed 21 of 28 passes for 199 yards, throwing one touchdown and one interception. Mead was perfect on three field goal attempts (24, 21 and 42 yards) and two extra points.
"Our freshman quarterback played well for his first game," said Kearly, noting that Scarlett manned the full offense with all its packages and formations, often picking up the slack for an underachieving running game.
While the Huskies backfield outdueled the Warriors' potent rushing attack 129 to 48 yards, Tech averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. The Huskies averaged 5.3 yards per carry over the course of the entire 2010 season.
"We didn't run the ball as well as we need to do, but a lot of credit goes to Winona's defensive front," Kearly said. "No doubt it was their attempt to take away our running game and make our freshman quarterback beat them."
And Scarlett did. Kearly noted, however, the Huskies need to do a better job capitalizing on offensive opportunities, specifically in the red zone. It gave Mead the opportunity to make three field goals, but prevented the Huskies from building a more comfortable lead.
"Garrett had a good game and we're very pleased with what he did," Kearly said, but he added, "that (kicking position) battle is not done yet by any means. Other young people were neck and neck in practice and we'll give them opportunities."
Kearly isn't sure how playing time will be divided, but has emphasized for weeks the kicking job would not be won or lost in just one game.
And the season is not a success based on one week either, even with a national ranking so early in the season. The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule kicks off this Saturday for the Huskies against Lake Erie, and the Huskies know 8-2 wasn't even good enough to make the playoffs last year.
"I'm relatively pleased with how well we played for our first ballgame, but they say you improve the most from first to second game," Kearly said. As for the ranking, Kearly added, "I just hope we're ranked at the end of the season."