Photo: Carter Oswood
A week removed from a big win against Pioneer Football League powerhouse San Diego, Drake looks to avoid a letdown as it travels to Valparaiso to take on the Crusaders. The Bulldogs have control of the conference early on, with a 3-0 record in conference play and a 4-2 record overall. The Crusaders look to win their first game of the season, currently sitting at 0-5 after a 1-10 season last year.
Last season, the Bulldogs cruised to a 50-0 victory at Drake Stadium behind four touchdowns from (now) fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski, as well as a suffocating defensive effort that only allowed 125 total yards.
Drake’s defense is coming off an outstanding performance last week against San Diego and looks to continue its surge against a struggling Crusader offense. Senior defensive end Brandon Coleman looks to repeat his success against them from last season, as he recorded six tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage, as well as a sack in last season’s game.
Piatkowski comes into the game with 1,687 passing yards and looks to attack a defense that has allowed 1,486 yards through the air after only five games. Look for the Drake passing game to be used early and often to take advantage of the Valparaiso defense. Senior Nick Rosa has been the go-to-guy for Piatkowski recently, with six receiving touchdowns.
Defensively, Drake boasts one of the best front-sevens in the Football Championship Subdivision, consistently wreaking havoc in the opposing backfield. Even though they were absent in the sack column last week, the Bulldogs have 16 on the year, and the pressure they generate has helped cause 16 turnovers throughout the season, including 10 interceptions. They will rely on the playmaking trio of linebackers, sophomore Jon Hugunin, junior Travis Merritt and fifth-year senior Tyler Moorehead, to cause problems for the Crusader offense. Currently, Huginin and Merritt make up the second most productive tackling duo in the PFL, with 117 total tackles, and Moorehead is currently tied for fourth in sacks this season with four.
Special teams, much improved from the beginning of the year, will be on display again, especially the punt return unit, which should be very busy this week against an opponent that has struggled to move the ball. Look for punt returner sophomore Drew Ormseth to be very busy.
All in all, the Bulldogs are favored to beat Valparaiso, but they can’t get ahead of themselves. This is a classic example of a “trap” game. After a huge victory last week, the Bulldogs have to go out and take care of business against a team just looking for consistency and a solid performance. If Piatkowski can continue his big season and the defense continues to make plays and cause turnovers, then Drake should improve to 4-0 in conference play.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday.