Tall task: Tech football hosts No. 1 Ferris State
HOUGHTON — Fresh off a big rivalry win, the Michigan Tech football team faces its biggest challenge to date this weekend.
The Huskies (4-2) host No. 1 Ferris State in a pivotal GLIAC battle. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday at Kearly Stadium.
It’s as good a time as any for Michigan Tech to host a regular season game. The Huskies rallied late in last week’s 21-14 win against rival Northern Michigan, claiming the Miner’s Cup for the 11th straight year and 16th time in 19 games.
Last week’s win was also Michigan Tech’s third straight victory. The Huskies have come a long way in the past month, finding its identity and overcoming disruptions caused by injury.
The Huskies’ momentum coming into the weekend factors as a wild card for a possible upset. Another factor coming into Saturday is whether Tech can maintain high energy and avoid a letdown after coming off an emotional Miner’s Cup win.
So what would be the biggest reason the Huskies could celebrate an upset Saturday?
“We stayed together as a team, we played as a team for 60 minutes,” Michigan Tech head coach Steve Olson said.
The Bulldogs (6-0) were ranked No. 3 last week and took over as the No. 1 team in the country after No. 6 West Florida, last week’s top team, lost to No. 4 West Georgia 30-26.
Ferris State edged No. 8 Grand Valley State 35-28 last week.
“Obviously we have a great opportunity,” Olson said. “If you could say at the beginning of the season that you have a chance to be 3-0 (conference) right now with Ferris State coming in here, you certainly would take it and you’d be ready to go. They’re a good football team, we know that and we knew that before the season started, but we’ll be ready to go.”
Ferris State has a diverse offense that will present a dynamic challenge for the Michigan Tech defense, the Huskies’ strong suit this season.
Here are some keys to Saturday’s game:
Ferris State has proven to possess one of the top offenses in Division II football. The Bulldogs are tied for 24th in the country with 153 first downs (26 per game).
The Bulldogs have gained most yards through the air, averaging 304.8 passing yards per game and 10.76 yards per pass.
Yet no Bulldogs rank in the top 50 in receiving yards in the country because they spread the ball. Junior receiver Marcus Taylor is 65th in the country with 491 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Ferris State is second in the country averaging 517.7 yards of offense per game and 3,106 total.
Michigan Tech is tied for 132nd with 104 first downs (17 per game). The Huskies’ offense ranks 139th, averaging 278.8 offensive yards per game and 1,673 total.
Ferris State is lethal in the red zone, scoring on 88% of red zone trips (28 of 32) including 16 rushing TDs, 10 passing TDs and two field goals. The Bulldogs’ red zone scoring percentage is 31st in the country.
Michigan Tech has a comparatively high percentage (87%) of red zone scoring, but the Huskies have significantly fewer red zone trips. The Huskies are 13 of 15 on red zone trips, including five rushing TDs, three passing TDs and five field goals.
The Bulldogs are second in the country in third-down conversions, going 40 of 75 (53%) so far. Tech’s defense has held opponents to 35% on third downs (15 of 43).
The Huskies offense, meanwhile, has slogged on third downs this season, converting 26 of 82 (32%) opportunities. It’s the biggest reason Tech has the third-fewest red zone trips in the country.
Taking care of the football
The Huskies are fifth in the country averaging a 1.67 turnover margin. Tech has 17 takeaways and seven turnovers. It’s been an area of emphasis for Olson.
“No.1 is for us to take care of the football,” he said. “You got to play smart, you can’t beat yourself and you got to just give great effort on every play. So that’s going to be a real key for us, is that we give great effort.”
Ferris State is tied for 71st in the country, averaging a 0.17 turnover margin. The Bulldogs have 12 takeaways and 11 turnovers.
The Huskies gained massive momentum shifts in a dominant 31-7 win against Davenport on Oct. 2. The penalties extended Huskies offensive drives and helped their defense.
Tech has the fewest penalties called (19), and second-fewest penalty yards (166) of any Division II school besides Saint Augustine’s (146 yards on 21 penalties).
Ferris State, by contrast, is tied for 149th with 599 yards on 70 penalties.