Cards open in unfamiliar territory at Ashland on Sept. 2
August 25, 2006 —
The last time SVSU began the season playing a team other than Northwood was the 2001 season. Not a single player on the Cardinals roster this season was on that 2001 squad, making playing a team other than Northwood something a bit out of the ordinary.
SVSU opens at Ashland University on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., a game that will give both teams an idea of their GLIAC championship hopes right away.
The Eagles finished 9-2 last season, 8-2 in conference, but did not play SVSU or Northwood, two teams that made the national playoffs last year. Ashland played eventual national champion Grand Valley State close, losing 14-10 after taking the lead in the fourth quarter.
Regardless of that game, many found the Eagles to be slightly overrated due to their weak schedule, a notion that SVSU coach Randy Awrey is not buying into.
"Ashland is one of the best teams in the conference, and they could be one of the best teams in the country," he says. "It's a heck of an opener."
The Eagles' defense ranked first in scoring a season ago, giving up just 9.7 points per game, and second overall, allowing an average of 266 yards of offense, one yard more than Grand Valley. Ashland loses just one starter from that defense.
Ashland's offense, which returns six starters, ranked eighth in the conference a year ago in total offense and seventh in scoring.
Awrey says there is quite a difference between starting the season against Northwood and starting at Ashland. Compounding the problem is the fact that SVSU has not played Ashland since 2003, the year before Eagles coach Lee Owens took over. The 2003 season was the Eagles' second consecutive 2-9 campaign. Owens led Ashland to a 5-6 record in 2004.
"I knew when they switched coaches that they wanted to put that program back on the map," Awrey says. Awrey also adds that the university has begun funding its football program extremely well. "That was their goal."
Awrey says SVSU has some film of Ashland but that the Eagles have all of the Cardinals' games from last season.
"So we are opening up against a team, we don't know what (formation) they are going to come out in (on offense), we don't know what kind of defense they are going to run."
As a result, he says, the entire playbook will be put to use against the Eagles. Years past against Northwood were different, Awrey says, since the coaching staff had an idea what would be successful against the Timberwolves.
Having the entire playbook to utilize will make the game even more of a chess match, Awrey says.
"We'll be able to piece it together (as the game goes on)," he explains. "If there are certain things that are working, we'll go to that."
Adding to the differences this season is where the game will be played. Even when SVSU opened at Northwood, the game still felt like a home game for Awrey and the players. A game at night on field turf will be much different, he says.
Awrey, however, looks on the bright side, pointing to the fact that the coaching staff is completely in tact from a year ago.
"Especially opening the season, if you have the same staff, they all know their roles, they all know what needs to be done," he explains. "It really helps with your continuity. Now we can just concentrate on the game."
For Ashland, hosting SVSU is just the start of a brutal four-week stretch. Unlike last year, Eagles fans will know very soon if their team will be a playoff contender. After the Cardinals, Ashland will travel to Grand Valley. Two weeks later, they play at Northwood.
SVSU, meanwhile, will host Gannon the following week before heading to Ferris State.
"We have to be able to beat (Ashland) on the road, and that will set us in the right direction," Awrey says. "They are going to be a great test for us, and we're up for the challenge."