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Mutka: ‘D’ priority for VU: eliminate big plays

The Gold team's BrandHall runs ball during Valparaiso University Spring Football Game Saturday April 26 2014. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times

The Gold team's Brandon Hall runs the ball during the Valparaiso University Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 26, 2014. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 29, 2014 6:33AM



Incoming Valparaiso University football coach Dave Cecchini understands the problem. How soon he can correct it is the question.

He inherited a defense that frequently self-destructed, giving up big play after big play on its way to a third straight 1-and-10 meltdown. Hoping to plug holes in the dike, he recruited 13 freshmen for defense. Six of them are backs.

“Our biggest priority is to stop the big plays, to make them (opponents) earn it,” he said before Saturday’s Brown-Gold scrimmage. “We’re also preaching a lot more turnovers.”

Last season the Crusaders were a minus-four in that category. They were particularly vulnerable in the red zone, giving up scores 85 percent of the time. Opponents made the most of 11 interceptions, averaging 22-plus yards per pick.

Obviously, the secondary needs help up front. Hopefully, end John Guilford and tackle Nick Moffitt will provide it. Playing on opposite sides, they combined for three sacks Saturday. Moffitt also batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage.

Guilford, named one of the team captains, was VU’s top tackler up front last year with 26 solos, including 8.5 tackles for loss.

“I like his motor,” Cecchini said. “He’s playing with confidence and doesn’t break down mentally.”

Valparaiso’s 4-3 scheme isn’t much different, according to Guilford, who considers the transition fairly smooth. Most of the adjustments were in refining techniques.

“Big plays hurt us last year,” the 240-pound end said. “I’m hoping they will be limited.”

Because VU’s offensive strength lies with tailbacks Gordon Bastin and Jake Hutson after the departure of record-setting quarterback Erik Hoffman, Cecchini is striving to become more run-oriented. But Scott Staal and Ben Lehman combined for 57 passes on Saturday, completing 37 for 355 yards.

“We were able to get a real good feel for the offense in 13 practices,” said Staal, who has yet to make a game appearance.

“We’re meshing really well,” said Lehman, VU’s only experienced quarterback. His seasoning consists of 16 games in three years, which gives him an early edge.

Neither holdover can ease up on the throttle since 25 incoming recruits include quarterbacks Ryan Clarke (6-4, 205), Perry Meridian’s Conner Smith (6-2, 220) and Dalton Stokes (6-1, 195).

NCAA strikes again

Not that I’m excusing Mitch McGary for his abrupt departure from Michigan, but would somebody please explain to me why the NCAA chose to randomly test the recovering 6-11 forward (back surgery) during a tournament when he wasn’t even dressing, let alone playing?

Now let’s talk about overkill. The 22-year-old preseason All-American basically was forced to depart after traces of marijuana caused him to flunk because the NCAA levies a one-year suspension for that offense.

The draconian institution already has lightened up a bit, reducing the excessive punishment to half a season as of Aug. 1, but too late for the power forward from Chesterton.

Thus ended McGary’s brilliant, but brief, college career. He was electrifying in the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, then led the Wolverines to the NCAA finals with six-game totals of 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. But he played only eight games last season.

I’m not excusing McGary’s indiscretion, though I never thought using marijuana was a hanging offense. But if he had failed the same test when it was administered by Michigan, his punishment would have been just three games.

McGary told Yahoo.com, which broke the story, that he had been tested eight times in two years at Michigan and passed every time. A full season could have maximized his NBA market value. Too bad. So sad.

His departure strips Michigan of its front line with center Jordan Morgan graduating and Jon Horford transferring to Florida. That leaves only Max Bielfeldt, a five-minute garbage guy with a 39-point career resume, up front.

Other NBA casualties include Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, completing a Michigan exodus that turns a national contender into a probable middle-of-the road team next season.



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