2023 Northern Michigan vs Davenport

Davenport Football Proving 2022 Was No Fluke

Davenport Football Proving 2022 Was No Fluke

Davenport got an 8-0 start in 2022 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time. The question coming into 2023 was simply, can they do it again?

Oct 4, 2023 by Ron Balaskovitz

Coming into the 2022 season, it was easy to overlook the Davenport Panthers, a young program that hadn’t experienced a ton of success and had never been much of a threat in the GLIAC or for the postseason.

That got turned on its head last season when the Panthers ripped off an 8-0 start, eventually qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in school history. Some might argue there was an element of luck in last season’s 8-0 start, winning four of those games by a single score, but winning eight straight games at any level is not easy no matter how it happens. 

Despite dropping three straight games against national powers Ferris State (twice) and Grand Valley State to close out the season, 2022 could only be viewed as a huge success for the team.

The question coming into 2023 facing Davenport was simply, can they do it again? There would be no sneaking up on teams, especially after they were picked to finish third in the GLIAC, only behind Ferris State and GVSU. And after four weeks, it’s been an emphatic yes.

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Of their four wins so far, just one has been by a single score, while the other three games have been by 14 points or more, including back-to-back wins by 28 points.

Almost across the board in every statistical category, the Panthers are better than they were a season ago. Offensive points per game, which at times carried the team last year, up to 34.5 through four games after posting 30.5 last season. Total offense, over 382 yards per game, up from 365.7 last season. Yards per play is up half a yard, and perhaps most importantly: Turnovers are almost non-existent. The Panthers gave the ball up two times a game last season, with 22 total turnovers in 11 games. So far through four games: Just one turnover.

The key has been quarterback Jason Whittaker being efficient through the air for 200 yards per game, but adding Wayne State transfer running back Myren Harris, a bowling ball of a back who has averaged nearly 115 yards per game, and over 6.5 yards per carry, giving the Panthers both a workhorse and a guy who can make big plays. It’s a strong combination.

And while the offense has improved on an impressive unit from a season ago, it’s the defensive progress that will be most important if the Panthers are to continue their run and prove they belong among the GLIAC elite.

Points allowed have been nearly sawed in half, from 29.27 per game down to 15.75 so far after a 28-0 blanking of Michigan Tech last week. Yards per game have fallen from almost 330 per game, down to 255 a night.

The biggest reason has been a rushing defense that was at times a liability in 2022. In 11 games the Panthers gave up 1,923 yards, nearly 175 yards per game, while also giving up 25 scores on the ground, some of the worst marks of any team to reach the postseason a year ago. Fast forward to today, and the rushing defense through four games has yielded just 236 total yards, less than 60 per game, and one single rushing touchdown. It’s forced teams to throw the ball against a good secondary that makes tackles and breaks up passes. Despite big leads in most games and knowing the other team has to pass, the Panther secondary has allowed less than five yards per attempt and already snagged seven interceptions, more than halfway to last season’s total of 13.

With the bottom of the GLIAC coming up in the next two weeks against Northern Michigan and Wayne State, followed by a non-league game against winless University of Mary, the path to another 8-0 start is right there if the Panthers can beat Saginaw Valley State on October 28.

While another 8-0 start would be an incredible accomplishment and almost guarantee another playoff berth, the Panthers will find out just how far they’ve come during the final two games of the season when they host Ferris State, then travel to GVSU to close out the season, two teams who beat them by a combined score of 118-21 in the three games last season.

But for a Davenport team that had little to no success prior to last year, a hot start to 2023 has proven they aren’t going anywhere, and they are a team that commands attention when discussing the race for the GLIAC title.