Football midseason review

Football midseason review

Football midseason review

Noah Cloonan

The Ashland University Eagles (6-1, 5-1 GLIAC) have been impressive on both sides of the ball this season. The team has only dropped one game to the Tiffin Dragons this season, and outside of that loss, have kept themselves right in the middle of the playoff picture. 

AU started the season by winning four straight including a thriller against Ferris State University. Although they lost the next weekend at Tiffin in a heartbreaking game, they responded in the next two weeks beating both Northwood and Lake Erie with little resistance. 

The first half of the season brought more positives than negatives for the Eagles, as they look to get into the playoffs once again. 

 Adam Shaheen’s NFL potential-leaving after this season?

Adam Shaheen has long been heralded as one of the best tight ends, not only the GLIAC, but in all of Division II, but it is time to start considering Shaheen as being one of the best tight ends in all of college football. NFL scouts have been in and out of AU’s football practices every day this season, and they all have their eyes set on the 6’6” 277 pound tight end. 

Shaheen’s size alone would attract some attention, but his style of play goes beyond what most other tight ends his size can do. He is essentially unguardable, he is faster than most linebackers and is able to outrun them and he is much taller and stronger than any cornerback in the league. 

This creates a nightmare matchup, especially when the Eagles split him out wide as a receiver, as they have done many times this season. Shaheen has dominated opponents this season as he has 44 receptions for 754 yards and has tied the school record with 12 receiving touchdowns through seven weeks. 

Adam Shaheen does it all for the Eagles and he will have a decision to make at the end of the season, will he stay for his senior campaign at AU or will he decide to come out early and declare for the NFL draft? 

Travis Tarnowski – best quarterback in the GLIAC? 

Travis Tarnowski has emerged over the past two seasons and established himself as the best quarterback in the GLIAC. Tarnowski leads the GLIAC in both yards and touchdowns, throwing for 2,182 yards and 22 touchdowns so far this season. 

He has moved into second place all time at AU with 7,470 yards passing, trailing only Billy Cundiff (9,143). (What year did Billy play) Tarnowski is well within reach of shattering many offensive records at AU and he is just a junior. 

He has shown great leadership and control of the offense for the past two seasons and as head coach Lee Owens has mentioned many times, the offense would be totally different without their captain. 

Rhys Gervais (Findlay) and Bart Williams (Grand Valley State) have challenged Tarnowski in terms of sheer production through the air, but neither have come close to matching his efficiency and ability to score touchdowns. Tarnowski has thrown just two interceptions all season, while Gervais has nine and Williams has five. 

Tarnowski’s  311.7 passing yards per game rank first in the GLIAC. 

His tangible numbers and statistics alone would give a good enough argument to rank Tarnowski among the best in the GLIAC, but it is his intangibles that set him truly apart from the competition. 

He knows when to throw the ball away and avoid taking a sack, he does a tremendous job of commanding the offense and knowing when to call an audible and switch the playcall. 

 The Ashland University offensive and running game

 The run game for the Eagles has always been a strength and this season is not any different. They have more depth than they have ever had before and it has shown. The first three weeks of the season, the run game could not be stopped, that was until the Eagles ran into Ferris State. 

Against the Bulldogs, the Eagles rushed for just 124 yards. This was due inpart to the fact that the Eagles trailed for the majority of the game, but also to the Bulldogs defensive scheme. 

Vance Settlemire, who was injured in week two and missed the game in week three, has not looked to be at a 100% as he rushed for 80 yards against Ferris State, 52 against Tiffin and just 38 yards against Northwood. He finally started to look better against Lake Erie when he ran for 122 yards and a touchdown. 

Settlemire is the key to success in the Eagles offense and their style of play is dependant on his production. When Settlemire is healthy and running the ball well, it sets up the rest of the offense including the passing game. 

With the amount of weapons the Eagles have, it is nearly impossible to stop them all, but when the run game does not get going, the Eagles have a tougher time getting their passing game involved. Settlemire is also a weapon in the passing game and the Eagles are beginning to split him out wide as a receiver so that they can get Sims and Vaughn more involved in the games as well. The sooner Settlemire is back to 100%, the more formidable the Eagles offense will be.

 The Ashland University defensive game and assets

The Eagles defense has been nothing short of spectacular this season. They are giving up just 15.3 points per game and 317.1 yards per game. These numbers will jump off the page at fans, but there are still some issues that the Eagles will need to clean up before the playoffs. 

The Eagles have a turnover margin of +2, and they have a defensive touchdown on the season. The places where the Eagles need to improve is the defensive line and the secondary. The defensive line features two new starters this season and they have played well so far. The defense is giving up 145 rushing yards per game so far this season. 

The line is not getting enough penetration and are allowing blockers to get into the second level and are causing the safeties to make more tackles than they should. 

The cornerbacks have been plagued by injury. Michael Griffin and Dale Irby have battled injuries this season and have been forced to miss some time. 

The biggest thing for the secondary is they must do a better job of playing the ball in the air. There are too many 50-50 balls that the Eagles secondary are not winning and this is allowing the opposing offense to stay on the field and giving them more opportunity to do damage.  

 Special teams making a difference for the Eagles 

Over the past few years, special teams has never been a major strength for the Eagles, but this season has shown otherwise. The Eagles already have two special teams touchdowns through seven weeks of play. They currently lead the GLIAC with 13.2 yards per return. 

Dale Irby has found his niche as a solid punt returner for AU as he accounted for a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown against Lake Erie. It was the first punt return for a touchdown in 12 years. 

The real star on special teams has been freshmen, Kieshaun Sims. Sims has emerged as one of the most elusive players Ashland has seen in years. He has an uncanny ability of making guys miss and has great vision. He has great lateral quickness and his acceleration is nearly unmatched. 

He showed his explosiveness in the 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Northwood. 

A big key for the Eagles as they head into the home stretch of their season will be maintaining the upper hand on special teams. Special teams has the position to make or break games for teams and the Eagles may have found the best return man in the GLIAC in Sims and they must continue to utilize him in ways that will breed success for the team.

 Improving upon slow starts and preparing for the road ahead

Slow starts have plagued the Eagles this season. Against Wayne State they trailed 12-6 at the half. The Eagles trailed 3-0 at the end of one quarter against Findlay. Ferris State put up 31 points in the first half against the Eagles. AU came back to win all three of these games but they had to claw their way back into it after the slow start. 

The Tiffin Dragons made the Eagles play for their slow start as they grabbed a 14-0 lead and never looked back giving the Eagles their first and only loss of the season. It is always easier to play from in front and the Eagles have the type of offense that thrives with the lead. 

With Settlemire, Sims, and Vaughn in the backfield, the Eagles have three tailbacks that do an exceedingly good job at controlling the ball. 

It is harder to use your running backs when you are trailing and this is a big reason why the Eagles have a lower run total this season, despite having three talented backs. 

Tarnowski has done a tremendous job of keeping the Eagles in games and putting teams away, but it is not a good model to rely solely on the passing game to lead you to victory. 

There needs to be a better balance of the pass and the run in order for the Eagle offense to reach their full potential. This all starts with getting out of the gates better and coming to play each and every day from the opening kickoff.

The Eagles will play be on the road in the next two weeks taking on Kentucky Wesleyan on Oct. 22 and Michigan Tech on Oct. 29 before heading home for their final regular season home game of the season against Walsh on Nov. 5. The Eagles will finish off the regular season on the road at Ohio Dominican.