The Michigan Tech football team didn't know exactly what to expect going into Saturday's game against Ohio Dominican - in a new environment against a Panther defense that changed formations the week before - but they're starting to know what to expect from themselves: a well-rounded performance.
Michigan Tech (4-1, 3-1 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) rolled to a 35-13 victory, possessing the ball for 36 minutes - as it has averaged this year - outgaining ODU 443-276 and forcing the Panthers into two turnovers, one an interception returned for a touchdown.
"We came ready to play. ... When you're up 28-nothing at the half, you're doing something right," head coach Tom Kearly said. "We've played well all year defensively, and done some good things offensively. We haven't been prolific by any means, but we've done a real good job of staying on the field, maximizing points and possessing the ball."
While Kearly noted that time of possession is not the most important statistic, it's indicative of success in other facets of the game. The Huskies were able to sustain drives through a successful rushing attack after building a big lead.
Akeem Cason had 116 yards on 19 carries to lead Tech's rushing game Saturday, which had six runs of more than 15 yards. The Huskies' ground attack was efficient against the weaker defensive fronts of ODU, Indianapolis and Lake Erie, while struggling against Wayne State and Winona State's stout fronts.
Cedrick Barber had 11 carries for 29 yards, and Charlie Leffingwell had eight carries for 24 yards to lead a ground attack that will likely feature all three backs the rest of the year, according to Kearly.
Quarterback Tyler Scarlett also had three carries for 11 yards, and wide receiver Ethan Shaver rushed four times for 43 yards and a touchdown.
"(Shaver) had two carries on reverses, and two out of the wildcat, and three kick returns," Kearly said. "He's always a kid that could make plays. We've used him before because he can throw the football."
The Huskies already have four players with double-digit receptions this year, as Scarlett has spread the ball around well. Tight end Bryan LaChapelle and wideout Pat Carroll each have 17 receptions, while Steve Worthy has nabbed 13 passes, with Matt Curtin adding 12.
With so many versatile weapons offensively who are establishing rapport with Scarlett, the Huskies have utilized a blend of passing, running and trick plays to keep defenses off-balance. Saturday, ODU loaded eight men in the box, allowing Scarlett to pick apart three-deep coverage, eventually creating space for the running game after the Panthers retreated into the secondary.
The Huskies defense, at its healthiest all season, dominated the game, tallying Tech's first defensive touchdown since 2008 when Jesse Vandenberg put Tech in the lead with a pick-six. He also led the team with 10 tackles.
"It set the tone for us. We got the ball the length of field and didn't score, then we held defensively and got that touchdown - from then on we scored the next three times we had the ball," Kearly said.
Defensive end Drew Vanderlin played strong in the first half after a week out with an injury, but he rested in the second half after Tech built a four-touchdown lead. The Huskies' only lingering injury to a regular starter is Alex Elsenheimer, who may be available this week.
Tech's defense, which entered the season with great expectations, is living up to its billing, leading the GLIAC in scoring defense (14.4 points per game) and total defense (259.2 yards per game), just ahead of Wayne State in both categories.
Michigan Tech continues to click as the year progresses, but two of the biggest tests are coming to town, with Saginaw Valley State (3-1, 3-1 GLIAC) and Hillsdale (4-1, 4-0 GLIAC) this and next Saturday, respectively. Tech's only two 2010 losses came to the Cardinals and Chargers last year in back-to-back weeks.
"Both teams beat us last year, so we know we have to play well to win. We're looking forward to the challenge," Kearly said.