Wildcats D tries to cool down

After getting lit up by Ashland, NMU gridders now tangle with Tiffin

Michigan Tech’s Jacob Wenzlick, left, hauls in a catch for a 75-yard touchdown against Northern Michigan University defender Deante Young on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Sherman Field in Houghton. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

MARQUETTE — After falling just short of ending a long losing streak to Michigan Tech the week before, the Northern Michigan University football team faced an even larger obstacle last Saturday at the Superior Dome.

It didn’t end well for the Wildcats as they got rolled by nationally ranked Ashland 38-13, but at least they knew what they were getting into, according to NMU head coach Kyle Nystrom.

“After reviewing the game on film, it pretty much went like it would’ve gone if we didn’t play really well,” he said on Tuesday. “On defense, we had a pretty good effort and we got into some situations out there where we didn’t set the front right and didn’t do the coverages that we were supposed to be playing.

“That’s the part that’s hard to deal with. If we get out-athleted because of skill level and maturity of the game, I can live with that, but when we don’t line up right and make the right sets and right coverage calls, we can’t do that. I think we got shook up and the level of the game might’ve been too big for us at times because you can’t do that stuff.

“I thought the offense was playing against a really good box. Those dudes up in the box are rough. We played hard, but did we knock them out of the blocking schemes that we wanted? Probably not.”

One positive from the home game was that true freshman quarterback Ryan Johnson continues to make progress and has yet to turn the ball over his in first three games.

“You’ve got to like that (not turning the ball over),” NMU offensive coordinator Marty Higgins said. “He’s a true freshman and that’s a tough task with the schemes being different from high school and there’s a lot more on his plate.

“He hasn’t turned the ball over and we haven’t had an offensive turnover in three games. That’s commendable. He’s doing a good job, but as coordinator, I’ve got to keep his plate where I don’t overload him.

“We’re limited somewhat on what you really can do with a freshman just bringing him along. We want to put him in a situation where he’s going to succeed. He’s coming along, though.”

Johnson will have to continue to improve quickly with Tiffin up next. Dragons signal caller Nick Watson, who is third in the GLIAC in passing yards with 1,239 and yards per game at 206.5. Tiffin also has a talented running back in JaQuan Hardy (104.8 yards per game) to take the pressure off Watson, but Northern can counter with power runner Jake Mayon if he’s healthy.

As if trying to stay with Tiffin offensively wasn’t hard enough, the Wildcats offense will also have to deal with a Dragons defense that ranks third in the conference in total yards per game (285.5) and second in passing yards given up (138.2). Tiffin also held No. 9 Ferris State to only 13 points last week in a close loss.

“Their deal is that they’re a typical spread team and they use their personnel to look where you’re a hat short and they expose you with it,” Nystrom said. “So that’s what we’ll work with them this week. They played Ferris tough and went 13-3 with them. They were first-and-goal at the 1 and got a penalty and got knocked back. We’ve got to go down and prepare for what they do.

“We’ve also got to do better on defense. Third down-and-long for us is just atrocious. We’ve got to get off the field and it’s not just the easy fix to just blitz them. That’s not always working for us.

“We’ve got to improve in that area and it’s more of a mental thing in that area more than anything else. When you get the money down, you have to ratchet it up, get the fever and get off the field.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.