HOUGHTON - While the details change week to week, one fundamental principle for Michigan Tech football coach Tom Kearly's defense remains constant no matter the opponent.
To be successful, you must make an offense one-dimensional.
Facing the No. 1 passing team in the conference with a top-flight wide receiver and senior quarterback, the Huskies needed to stop the run Friday first and foremost to have any chance of limiting Saginaw Valley's potent offense.
Michigan Tech defensive lineman Brandon Hutchison is engaged with Saginaw Valley offensive lineman Kaleb Forr during Saturday’s game at Sherman Field.?SVSU won the contest 55-35. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
Instead, the Cardinals powered behind an immense offensive line and gashed Tech for 316 yards on the ground, with tailback Norman Shuford one-cutting his way to 217 yards on 35 carries.
And when the Tech offense stumbled badly to start the third quarter - running just 15 total plays on four drives and never crossing into Cardinal territory - Saginaw (8-1 overall, 8-0 conference) blew a close game wide open, turning a 21-21 halftime score into a 55-35 victory.
"It was (surprising)," sophomore Brett Gervais said of Saginaw's ability to run the ball. "I think it was just fitting our gaps, we had trouble fitting our gaps. I'm not really sure how it happened. I don't really know where the problem was. The focus was (wide receiver Jeff) Janis and the pass, and we wanted to drop back and cover the pass, but our defense should be gap sound. I think that broke down."
SVSU14 7 17 17 - 55
Tech7 14 0 14 - 35
SVSU - Norman Shuford 3 pass from Jonathon Jennings (Scott Stanford kick), 11:13
SVSU - Jennings 7 run (Stanford kick), 8:15
Tech - Jordan McConnell 20 pass from Tyler Scarlett (Garrett Mead kick), 1:23
Tech - McConnell 5 pass from Scarlett (Mead kick), 6:22
Tech - Scarlett 5 run (Mead kick), 3:06
SVSU - Leonte Degraffenreid 25 pass from Jennings (Stanford kick), 1:14
SVSU - Jennings 1 run (Stanford kick), 9:17
SVSU - Stanford 25 FG, 6:16
SVSU - Michael Albrecht 13 pass from Jennings (Stanford kick), 2:44
SVSU - Stanford 22 FG, 11:51
SVSU - Jennings 1 run (Stanford kick), 8:31
Tech - Brandon Cowie 3 pass from Scarlett (Mead kick), 5:27
Tech - Cody Moederndorfer recovered blocked punt in end zone (Mead kick), 3:01
SVSU - Jennings 47 run (Stanford kick), 1:58
A - 1,492
Time of Possession31:3628:24
RUSHING - SVSU, Shuford 35-217, Jennings 9-69 4 TDs, Mark Mays 7-31; Tech, Charlie Leffingwell 8-50, Kevin Miller 9-25, Scarlett 8-21, McConnell 1-11, Cowie 1-7.
PASSING - SVSU, Jennings 19-29-238 3 TD 1 INT; Tech, Scarlett 27-43-326 3 TD 1 INT, Cowie 0-1-0 1 INT.
RECEIVING - SVSU, Degraffenreid 4-59 1 TD, Albrecht 5-57 1 TD, Shuford 5-46 1 TD, Jeff Janis 3-44, Partick O'Brien 1-26, Alfonso Vultaggio 1-6; Tech, McConnell 8-122 2 TD, Andrew Clark 6-62, Cowie 3-52 1 TD, Miller 3-36, Leffingwell 2-25, Anthony Root 2-19, Ian Wienke 3-10.
Missed field goals - Mead 33 (WL).
"You pick your poison," Tech coach Tom Kearly added. "And we took Janis away, but they have plenty of other weapons."
After falling behind 14-0 on the first two Saginaw drives of the game, the Huskies (4-4 overall, 4-4 conference) picked themselves up nicely and put together scoring drives of 67 and 94 yards to tie the contest, with quarterback Tyler Scarlett connecting multiple times with senior wide receiver Jordan McConnell (eight catches, 122 yards total) on key third downs and twice in the end zone.
But as has been the case for much of the season, whatever edge the offense found in the second quarter was quickly lost in the third, picking up just two total first downs and seeing drives end with a pair of sacks and a tipped-ball interception.
"When it counted, we didn't move the football in the second half at all," Kearly said. "The first series of the second half were critical and we went three and out, and threw a pick. Possessions have to be magnified and you can't give possessions away because you know (Saginaw) is not going to."
All the while, Shuford kept running through clean holes opened by an offensive line north of 300 pounds in average weight.
The senior tallied 137 yards in the second half, keeping third downs manageable (Saginaw finished 8 for 14 on conversions) and consistently took runs into the secondary.
Perhaps most condemning, Tech was led by safeties Gervais and Jeremy Mims in tackles for the game.
"That is a good, strong offensive line," Kearly said. "And we tried to play some coverage things, and they took advantage of some things. The interior of our defense, our linemen, our linebackers, I don't think we played very well there. I think they had an awful, awful amount of runs that were seven or more yards."
The Huskies kept the game relatively exciting in the fourth quarter with a long TD drive and a punt-block touchdown, but failed to recover an onside kick and then allowed Jennings to scramble for a 47-yard touchdown on third-and-six to break the backs of the Black and Gold supporters.
Saginaw finished with 554 yards of total offense, easily the most Tech has allowed this season.
"They are just a very good football team," Kearly said. "Our offense and defense didn't help each other out today and that was the result."