2023 GLIAC Football

GLIAC Division II Playoff Preview: Grand Valley State Hosts Pittsburg State

GLIAC Division II Playoff Preview: Grand Valley State Hosts Pittsburg State

Grand Valley State Football is set to host Pittsburg State (10-1) in the second round of the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs.

Nov 23, 2023 by Ron Balaskovitz

If Grand Valley State is going to exercise its demons and find its way back to the top of the mountain in Division II football, it took a big first step last week but now gears up for another massive test from a team in yellow and red.

One year after beating Ferris State in the regular season but falling in the postseason, GVSU exercised a number of demons with a 21-14 win over the Bulldogs, forcing a pair of turnovers, and limiting one of the top offenses in the nation to just 271 yards.

That defensive masterpiece has set up a showdown with 10-1 Pittsburg State who comes in off a 35-14 romp over Indianapolis in the opening round. In that win, the Gorillas dominated the second half, scoring 20 straight points after the break to blow open what had been a 15-7 game at the half. The key for PSU was an optimistic defense that forced three turnovers, and posting four sacks in the win. Those big plays helped make up for a UIndy offense rushing for nearly five yards per carry in the win.

The Gorillas come in at 11-1 on the year, playing out of the MIAA, where they were 9-1 in the league, with the lone loss coming to Top-25 ranked Missouri Western.

While the Gorillas boast a solid offense that averaged just under 35 points per game, it’s been the defense that led them to this point. I’m the high-scoring MIAA, PSU held opponents to just 16 points per game, one of the top marks in the nation, allowing more than 25 points in a game just twice, while holding eight opponents to 14 or less. 

What’s made that possible is what is perhaps the most dangerous secondary in Division II football. The Gorillas allowed just 17 passing scores this year while opposing passers hit under 60 percent of their throws. But the big number that jumps out is 21 interceptions by the Gorillas. 

Jordan Rogers paced the defense with six interceptions, while Rico Payton nabbed four.

Those 21 interceptions combined with eight fumble recoveries, give the Gorillas a plus-18 turnover margin to this point in the year, one of the best marks in the country. Needless to say, a combination of forcing turnovers, limited yards, and not turning the ball over yourself is a good recipe for winning a lot of games.

If there is a weak point in the defense, at times it can be the rushing game. They gave up nearly five yards per carry last week in the win, and not counting sacks were over four yards allowed per carry. Despite those struggles at times, the Gorillas did yield just seven scores on the ground.

Offensively, PSU is more of a grind-it-out type of team than a big-play passing squad, this despite 299 yards through the air last week. On the season the Gorillas rushed for over 2,000 yards and found paydirt 26 times on the ground. What makes their ground game so difficult to stop, is it’s not just one guy that GVSU could key on. Antwan Squire led the team with just 649 yards this season, but seven scores, while three others each rushed for over 300 yards and combined for 16 touchdowns.

Despite all the threats, the Gorillas posted just 4.2 yards per carry, meaning they are out to grind and wear teams out rather than hit them with a ton of explosive plays. 

Chad Dodson Jr. has been one of the most efficient players in the country this year, hitting nearly 70 percent of his throws and boasting an 18-5 TD-interception ratio. 

It all sets up for a matchup between two similar style teams, who rely on depth rather than one or two stars, but a matchup that sees GVSU with the much more explosive offense.

Despite all the success both programs have had over the years, both in the playoff and regular season, this marks the first-ever meeting between the programs, despite six Division II national championships between them.