Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Friday, November 13, 2009's Tony Nicolette: Weekly Gliac Column Columnists Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

November 10th, 2009

#6 Hillsdale (9-2) at #3 Minnesota State (10-1)
The Mavericks are making their second consecutive appearance in the playoffs, and are looking for their first ever post-season victory at home. Conversely, Hillsdale was a regular in the NAIA post-season fields of the 1980's but is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance. MSU will have the edge of being at home and having played in the playoffs last year, but the Chargers will hit the road this weekend as one of the hottest teams in the country having won five straight. That streak started with a Homecoming victory over then top-ranked Grand Valley, and Hillsdale has been nearly flawless since.

Hillsdale Keys:
- Massive Pressure - The Mavericks were near the bottom of the NSIC in throwing the ball. Certainly, they were ahead a lot and didn't always need to, but I'm not confident in the notion that they'll be able to run all over Hillsdale and never need to throw. If Hillsdale can create passing situations, they'll be getting after third string QB Cody Rose. The freshman is being asked to step in due to injury and make his first collegiate start. QB pressure carries its own merit, but when it can be applied to a young player that lacks experience it can bear an even greater impact. I'll be interested to see if the Chargers cook up some unique blitz packages for this one and try to bring pressure from different places to confuse and test Rose.
- Holmes on the Range - The MSU defense has allowed more than 200 yards per game in the air, and likely hasn't seen an offense with this much overall explosiveness this season. HC's receiving corps is extremely fast, but its true weapon in this one could be Andre Holmes. The junior wideout stands 6-5 and has an easy size advantage over anyone in the Mav secondary. Holmes will cause match-up issues all day, and over the Chargers' five-game winning streak he has consistently proven VERY difficult to contain. He can beat people both as a possession guy and as a deep threat and I'll be watching to see if Coaches Otterbein and Fagan find some creative ways to get him the ball.

Minnesota State Keys:
- Control the Pace - A great way to keep pressure off your QB is to run the ball effectively and avoid putting him in difficult situations. RB Jake Aberg and his mates need to get consistent chunks of yardage and keep the chains moving. In addition to the rhythm and safety it can provide the offense, it will also benefit the Maverick defense by keeping HC QB Troy Weatherhead and Company on the sidelines. The MSU offensive line is massive and blocks out the sun, so they should be able to establish some control up front. The Mavs need to use this to their advantage.
- Defense must stay Fresh - While HC is certainly capable of racing up and down the field, they also aren't afraid to pound folks behind 1,300-yard rusher Vinnie Panizzi and their (also rather sizeable) offensive line. The Chargers have made getting off the field tough for opposing defenses by converting on third down nearly 57% of the time, which ranks second nationally. If the Chargers get a lead and can put together a few long drives it could be trouble and the Mavericks need to avoid this.

MSU returns a good number of folks from last year's playoff club that lost to Ashland, which (while perhaps a stretch) is my only real basis of comparison. In my opinion, this Hillsdale team is superior to the Eagle outfit of last year. While they may be a touch less athletic, they are decidedly more physical up front on both sides of the ball. While MSU will certainly have a physical advantage overall, I would be rather surprised if they saw anyone this year that can match the combination of speed AND physicality that the Chargers will bring into this one - this is not a Hillsdale bunch that gets pushed around. Add to that the uncertainty of a QB making his first start and I really like the chances for Hillsdale to claim their first ever NCAA Playoff win and head back to Allendale for a rematch with the Lakers. Hillsdale 31, MSU 20.

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