HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech football coach Tom Kearly knows he was "very fortunate" to have a freshman quarterback lead the Huskies to a winning record last season, because, looking at Northern Michigan, it's pretty obvious how that gamble could have backfired.
Tech (3-1, 3-1 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference), led by sophomore QB Tyler Scarlett, travels to Marquette this Saturday to face the Wildcats (1-4, 0-4 GLIAC), who have struggled under freshman QB Ryan Morley.
"I think they're going through some growing pains with a freshman quarterback," Kearly said. "And against a freshman QB in this league you want to make him beat you."
To be fair to Morley, unlike Tech's situation with Scarlett, the entire NMU program is in a state of flux under first-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky, who doubles as offensive coordinator, and new defensive coordinator Brian Newberry.
The Wildcats have lost their four GLIAC games by an average of 35 points, surrendering at least 42 points in each of them. Findlay is the Huskies' and Wildcats' only common opponent, and Tech beat the Oilers 35-10, while NMU lost to UF 45-10.
But the Huskies certainly won't take Saturday's game at the Superior Dome lightly with a defense of the Miner's Cup on the line. Tech is also hungry to play a full 60 minutes after almost completing a miraculous comeback against Grand Valley State last week, when they were ultimately done in by a bad first half.
"We practiced well and the key has been you have a rivalry game so it's relatively easy to get their spirits up," Kearly said. "We didn't start very well last week and we know we have to come out of the blocks offensively."
Michigan Tech, which owns the third-best scoring offense in the GLIAC (39.8 points per game), knows it'll have some big play opportunities against the third-worst
scoring defense in the league (allows 36.8).
One area that will be challenging to Tech is its rushing game, with running backs Charlie Leffingwell and reigning GLIAC Special Teams Player of the Week Akeem Cason both "gimpy," according to Kearly.
"Our tailback situation will play out at game time, but even if it's just Cedrick Barber and Josh Hauswirth, we're fine," Kearly said.
That's still more depth than Northern in a sense. Barber leads the Huskies currently with just over 30 percent of the workload, while NMU goes about its running game very differently, with Prince Young lugging the ball 73 percent of the time.
Tech is currently ninth in the conference with 168.8 yards per game on the ground, with Northern being eighth in the conference in rush defense, surrendering 165.2. It's hard to get much closer than that, and Tech knows Northern's defensive strength is its stout, veteran defensive line.
The 11th annual battle for the Miner's Cup kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Superior Dome.
Tech has won seven of 10 Miner's Cup meetings, including a 21-18 win in last year's season finale, but the home team has also won seven of the 10 games.