Saginaw Valley State and Hillsdale evoke some bad memories for the Michigan Tech football team, but a 24-10 win over Northwood Saturday finally adds a little ointment to the Huskies' (5-3, 4-3 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) wounds.
"It was a game we needed to win after two weeks losing real close games," Tech coach Tom Kearly said. "I thought our practice was good all week. We came out and played well the whole game - sustained drives, scored points, defensively played well."
"Well" is an understatement for the Huskies' defense in the second half.
Tech held Northwood to just 25 yards of offense during the final 30 minutes, and not a single passing yard all game.
"That was huge when you only have to stop the run. We kept waiting for them to take shots downfield and it didn't happen," Kearly said.
The Timberwolves only attempted six passes all game with their third-string redshirt freshman quarterback, who was in because of injury. NU running back Cameron Jackson bit Tech for 133 rushing yards and a touchdown to keep the game competitive, but the Huskies shut him down in the second half as well.
"They did get some things, especially in the first half ... but we made some adjustments at halftime," Kearly said.
Teams always make adjustments at halftime, but perhaps more than in any of the seven previous games, Tech made perfect tweaks to the gameplan.
The Huskies widened their defensive ends on off-tackle schemes, preventing Jackson from getting to the edge. Linebackers got over the top of down blocks. The entire defensive unit adapted to NU's surprising first-half speed.
Maybe the only thing better than Tech's adjustments in the second half against Northwood is Grand Valley State's adjustments in the second half of the season.
The Huskies have the unenviable task this week of prepping for a Lakers team coming off four straight wins in which they've averaged a 58-14 margin of victory after starting GLIAC play with three straight losses.
"We know they may not be leading the league, but ... they have great talent, and right now they're playing well," Kearly said. "They've gotten over early-season issues ... and the biggest thing for them is offensively - they've been scoring points by the millions."
Maybe not quite millions, but the Huskies will be hard pressed to keep its GLIAC lead in scoring defense (17.4 points per game allowed) this Saturday.
If the Huskies can pull out a win over GVSU, it will of course be the second in a row this season, but also the second in a row over the Lakers. The last time GVSU lost twice in a row to the same GLIAC opponent was to both Northwood and Northern Michigan in 1999-00, when current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was leading the Lakers.
Hockey: Can't win in the sin bin
After streaking to a 4-0 record, Michigan Tech hockey got a reality check last weekend when a veteran Bemidji State team swept the Huskies.
"I'm disappointed we didn't win, but encouraged by a lot of what I saw from our team," Huskies' head coach Mel Pearson said. "I thought we were a little loose all last week in practice. As much as you try to warn them and convince them that the game is going to be hard and that Bemidji is probably a better team than Wisconsin, until you get into that, you don't understand that."
Coming off two losses, that message should be a little easier to get across this week. And oh yeah, No. 2 Denver is coming to town.
"It's a great opportunity for us. ... They're rolling. It'll be another challenge, a good benchmark for us," Pearson said.
The Huskies know all too well what they primarily have to work on: staying out of the penalty box. Tech has committed 23 penalties for 68 minutes through four conference games this year. Against BSU, Tech allowed one power play goal Friday in a one-goal loss, and two power play goals Saturday in a two-goal loss.
"We just have to understand what we can do and can't do, and be very disciplined, and I thought a couple calls were ..." Pearson said, cutting himself off. He added that refereeing cannot be an excuse, even though Jimmy Davis's game misconduct was a clean hit in his opinion. "... But you're going to have that. (The players) have to learn, and if they don't learn, we'll have to do something more drastic about it," Pearson said.
Even though Tech lost last Saturday, Pearson thought it was the Huskies' best game of the year, outshooting the Beavers 32-16. Even with those shot totals, the coaching staff wants the forwards to be "more hungry around thet net," shooting to bury the puck instead of casually firing on net. Getting last year's leading scorer Milos Gordic back, which will likely happen this weekend, should help.
Defense continues to be the focus of practice improvements, which ultimately boils down to "commitment, will to do it, defensive smarts and some intensity," according to Pearson.
He was pleased with both goaltenders, even Josh Robinson, who allowed six goals Friday: "I can't fault him on any of the goals, and he made some great stops on other chances. I'm not a quick hook guy, I like to let guys battle through some things, and I thought he did. We just did not do a good job in front of him," Pearson said. The battle for playing time in net this weekend is "wide open."
Expectations are now tempered slightly for the Huskies, but, after opening some eyes in a sweep over Wisconsin, Tech has a golden chance to really show itself as the real deal this weekend ... if it can stay out of the penalty box.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @steander.