Huskies football sees running game taking big strides

Michigan Tech tight end Drew Collins (12) runs through a hole created by running back William Marano (4) and offensive lineman Brandon DeVries during a game against Ferris State Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, at Kearly Stadium in Houghton. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Coming into last spring, the Michigan Tech Huskies football team saw a lot of change coming. The two most obvious spaces where that change was at head coach, where Dan Mettlach, former Huskies quarterback, was taking over as the lead voice in the room, and at starting quarterback, where then-junior Alex Fries was working on winning the role.

By the time the spring ended, the Huskies had their quarterback in Fries, and they had a direction they were heading as they moved into the fall season.

The Huskies had gone 4-7 in 2022-23, averaged 22.0 points per game, 290.1 yards per game, 220.1 of which were through the air with senior quarterback Will Ark leading the way.

Rushing was a different story. They averaged 70 yards per game, at 2.5 yards per rush.

This past fall, the Huskies scored one more touchdown per game, averaging 27.8 points per game. That translated to 326 yards per game of offense, including 118.0 per game on the ground.

Mettlach admits it might not be fair to compare the two seasons when it comes to rushing, however, what the Huskies were able to accomplish last season was a significant improvement.

“(It is) maybe a little bit unfair compared to two years ago,” he said. “What we did last year, compared to the year before, was a significant jump in production in the run game. I feel like what Coach (Jack) Rustman has done, and the work that the O (offensive) line has done to make that so that wasn’t a weak spot, we’re going in the right direction.”

At the same time, Mettlach is willing to admit that despite the improvement, there is still a ways to go, even after a strong set of spring practices this year.

“We’re not satisfied with where we’re at,” he said. “It was better than it was two years ago, but two years ago, it was abysmal. So, we are still not happy with where we’re at. Our guys up front aren’t happy with where we’re at.”

Mettlach said that even though things in the spring continued in the right direction, there is still plenty for his players to work on throughout the offseason before August.

“So as a whole, that’s going to be a focal point going into the summer, and throughout fall camp,” he said. “What can we do scheme-wise to be able to execute it on Saturdays with the guys that we have (will be our focus). So, we’ll continue to hammer that stuff out.”

While they improved the statistics by 40 yards a game, Mettlach wants to see that number continue to grow this season.

“I’d like the trajectory continue to climb to where we got out of the hole we were in two years ago to a little bit more productive last year,” he said. “This year, it’s got to take that next step. What I mean by that is it can’t be just the five games we’re winning where we run the football. We have to be able to run the football against the top teams, so that we aren’t so predictable when we’re playing the Ferris States and Grand Valley States of the world.”

Part of the reason for the improvement last year was the play of a relatively, yet very athletic, offensive line, which learned quickly how to protect Fries as the season progressed. They will miss Preston Graff, who is no longer with the team, but the Huskies did get some great efforts out of players like Brandon DeVries, who stepped in as a redshirt freshman in the fall, and will be counted on this season as a leader.

“Brandon DeVries had an incredible fall,” Mettlach said. “He is now going from a redshirt freshman to a redshirt sophomore. That’s the leader in that room. So, not an easy thing to do when you’re a redshirt sophomore, and you have seniors standing next to you.

“He’s got the voice in that room, and has done an incredible job with the leadership part of that. The other thing I think that helps is some of the other guys that we’re counting on are in his grade that maybe haven’t played yet that see (and say), ‘If he’s doing it, why can’t I?'”

Mettlach feels that DeVries plays with the kind of edge that will make him an effective lineman.

“I think he holds them all to a standard of he’s got that toughness, that nastiness to him that he, for sure, is sick of hearing, ‘We don’t run the ball enough, or we don’t do this from an offensive line standpoint,’ which I appreciate,” said Mettlach. “I love that it’s getting to somebody, and he’s going to be the guy that ultimately, when we do get over the edge of being able to run the football against the best teams, he will be very much responsible for that.”

Two other players that the Huskies will be counting on include senior Alex Cannoot, a converted defensive lineman, and senior Hunter Chambers.

“I’m confident going into the fall that we will be better than we were a year ago,” Mettlach said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s that cohesiveness, how those front five get together. We’ll see how fast that comes in camp.”

At the same time, a more solidified group at tight end will help the running game as well.

“The other part of it is, in the run game, I think it gets forgotten about, is the tight end position,” said Mettlach. “We will be significantly better at tight end this year with Drew Collins and Jordan Dent, and then the freshman from Marquette, Peter Closner, is coming too. So, we’re going to be as deep in that room as we’ve been in a long time. So (I’m) looking forward to that as well.”


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