Michigan Tech faces uphill battle vs. No. 11 Ferris State
Ferris State (8-1, 7-1 GLIAC) at Michigan Tech (4-6, 3-5 GLIAC)
When: Today, noon.
Where: Sherman Field.
Radio: 93.5 FM
Online stream: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/mtu/
Weather: 32 degrees.
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HOUGHTON — Offensively and defensively, the Michigan Tech Huskies face their biggest test of the season when they host the No. 11 Ferris State Bulldogs today at noon.
Ferris State averages the most yards per game (443.2) in the GLIAC while scoring 32 points per contest. Defensively, they surrender just 15 points per game, third-best in the GLIAC. Add in that a Ferris State win means a postseason berth, and you have one of the top-ranked teams in the country that’s focused on every bit of motivation.
Tech will be massive underdogs, but that’s fine with them.
“You play football to have a chance to play against good football teams,” Tech head coach Steve Olson said. “You don’t play football to play against teams that are easy. You work your tail off so you get a chance to beat good football teams.”
Tech’s defense has played well as of late, giving up just 14.6 points per game over the last three contests. But with all due respect to Wayne State, Davenport and Tiffin, none of those teams feature the dynamic ability of Ferris State’s attack. The Bulldogs average a league-best 224 yards on the ground while Tech has the third-worst run defense in the GLIAC (185.1).
“They got a lot of team speed with speed at every position,” Olson said. “Whether it’s quarterback, running back or wide receiver, it’s their team speed that causes a lot of problems. Then mixing and matching with what they do in the run game with a well-choreographed play-action pass game where they look to strike deep.”
After leading the nation in QB rushing yards (1,081) in 2016, Ferris State senior Reggie Bell has been in and out of the lineup due to his health. The Grand Valley State game properly summed up his season. After going in and out of the game while injuries determined his status, Bell returned and scored the game-winning TD with 15 seconds left that put Ferris State ahead 28-27 and secured the Bulldogs’ biggest victory of the season.
Sophomore Travis Russell has spelled Bell when he’s been unable to go. Russell started in Ferris State’s 26-0 win over Davenport on Nov. 4. and completed 7 of 26 passes for 103 yards, one TD and one INT while finishing as the team’s top rusher with 121 yards and one TD on 21 carries.
“I don’t know what we’re going to see of (Bell),” Olson said. “We’re going to prepare. Fortunately, their offense doesn’t change a lot with whatever QB they use, so we’ll prepare as if he’s ready to play and we’ll be ready for whatever happens.”
Tech knows who its QB will be, with freshman Garrett Young making his third start of the season. Young completed 14 of 32 passes for 226 yards and a TD in the 14-7 loss to Tiffin last week.
But in addition to trying to get accustomed to the pace of the game, the Florida native has had a hard time adjusting to throwing a football in the cold conditions.
“It’s definitely a change because I never played in a game under 70 degrees,” Young said. “Just waking up in the morning and throwing a cold ball in the snow is the biggest change. The ball is harder, don’t get the feel as well as if it was humid when you can get all the grip.”
Ferris State’s defense is led by junior defensive end Zach Sieler and senior cornerback Tavierre Thomas, who each earned All-American honors last season. The type of athletes Ferris State features on the defensive side are some of the best that Tech offensive coordinator Dan Mettlach has seen at the Division II level.
“Their front is as good as I can remember, even back when I was playing and GV had those teams winning national championships,” Mettlach said. “They’re very athletic on the back end, have linebackers who cover the whole field.
“We’re going to have our hands full, but we’re not going to back down to anyone, either. The key will be extending drives and maximizing drives by getting points out of it.”