HOUGHTON - The Michigan Tech football team has won each of its first two games by at least 23 points, but the 2-0 Findlay Oilers present a much greater, multidimensional offensive challenge to the host Huskies' league-leading defense.
"We were fortunate we were able to play two different style teams and we've done a good job both weeks of making them one-dimensional," Tech coach Tom Kearly said. "But this week is an entirely new challenge for us."
Findlay is second in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with 520 yards per game, while Tech leads the conference in surrendering just 210 yards and 11 points per contest.
Oilers quarterback Clay Belton - a 6-foot-6, 230-pound senior who transferred from Division I Maryland - garnered GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors by completing a school record 32-of-42 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns last week at Saginaw Valley.
Unlike Tiffin, Tech's week one foe, which was almost entirely focused on the pass through its spread offense; and Walsh in week two, which was a run-heavy offense, UF can do plenty of both. The Oilers have averaged 198 yards rushing per game, led by Monterae Williams (109 yard average, 3 rushing touchdowns), who Kearly said was one of, if not the best running backs in the conference.
"The first thing you have to do is stop the run, and the second thing we have to do is stop the quarterback," Kearly said. " If we can take away the run, which includes (Belton), and we can take away the big plays, that's the goal right now."
Also in Findlay's 29-27 win at then-No. 10 Saginaw Valley State, UF junior Seth White garnered GLIAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He kicked the game-winning field goal with 10 seconds left, and for good measure, caught seven passes on offense for 103 yards and a touchdown.
"It seems like the offenses are going to get tougher and tougher, so we're going to have to keep improving," said Tech safety Emmett Bjorn, whose interception sparked the Huskies' 20-0 second half last week and who co-led the team with six tackles. "We're going to have to be sound in our deep coverages for sure."
Tech's inexperienced secondary will continue to play conservative zone defensive pressures, while relying on the defensive line to generate pressure and contain Belton, whose profile brings to mind another quarterback from Findlay, Ohio: Ben Roethlisberger.
With Findlay's firepower, Tech will almost certainly have to score plenty of points on offense, and the Huskies insist on establishing the run first to work into a play-action passing attack interspersed with shots down the field.
"Everybody knows this is a big game for us, Findlay is a good team and we're going to have to execute to beat them," said tight end Bryan LaChapelle, who leads Tech with 10 receptions and two touchdown receptions this year. "The plan is the same as every week. We're going to run the ball."
Charlie Leffingwell has led the team with a 73-yard average through two games, but Akeem Cason and Cedrick Barber have each also averaged 40-plus yards per game, with Josh Hauswirth adding another 27.
"Competition is the greatest leverage a position coach can have," Kearly said.
The four-pronged rushing attack will look to take advantage of a slightly undersized but athletic UF defensive front, particularly if the weather takes a turn for the worse Saturday afternoon at Sherman Field.
It wouldn't be the first time the teams met under nasty conditions, as the Oilers got the best of Tech 14-5 in a heavy snow game Oct. 10, 2009 in Houghton. Tech is 5-3 all-time against Findlay, including a 2-2 record at home.
"We know it's going to be a great challenge, and it should be a heckuva football game," Kearly said.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at Sherman Field for the first of back-to-back home games. Next week Tech welcomes Grand Valley State for the second night game in Sherman Field history - a game Kearly is hoping to push for an attendance record with.