The 2017 season begins today for UDM. The Titans head South to take on the team that has been their season-opener more than any other: Ohio State.
Ohio State is a team on the fringe of the national rankings (receiving votes in one poll, No. 16 in the other). They are led by three preseason All-Big Ten honorees, all of whom are seniors hailing from Canada. Attack Eric Fannell was third on the team in scoring last Spring with 15 goals and nine assists. Midfielder Johnny Pearson was only a tick behind, though far more tilted toward goal-scoring than feeding with 20 goals and three assists. Rounding out the group is faceoff specialist Jake Withers, who hit .607 on draws last year, and picked up ground balls at an insane pace (110 GBs on 184 faceoffs won).
That the Buckeyes’ leading scorer isn’t one of those all-conference honorees but also returns for his senior year is an impressive display of balance. That’s Michigan commit-turned-Bellarmine player-turned-OSU transfer Austin Shanks, yet another Canadian (and the third starting attackman, despite hailing from Ohio, is a senior himself, JT Blubaugh). Blubaugh’s fellow Columbus native Tyler Pfsiter, a senior midfielder, joins him and Withers as team captains.
The question marks for this team come on the defense, but not in the cage. Tom Carey had a .511 save percentage last year – decent, but not spectacular. Defenseman Robby Haus – named the team’s MVP last Spring – is no longer around, though, and he was the anchor of the unit. There’s experience among the defenders, with Erik Evans coming off a sophomore year in which he started every game, but the departure of Haus and LSM Chris Mahoney will be tough to overcome. The Buckeyes were able to get young guys some experience last year, but there’s also a reason the older guys were starting: they were better.
Detroit has only beaten the Buckeyes once in seven tries, and it didn’t come in Columbus. Can UDM change that today? The national observers are down on this team – and understandably so, given some key roster departures and a disappointing 2016 campaign. I think the opinions are harsh, but I’m also of the opinion that – key defensive departures notwithstanding – Ohio State is going to be a really good squad this year.
Remaining competitive with a chance to steal the game in the end may seem like the lamest, moral victory-est thing to hope for, but it’s about the ceiling in Game One.
Not expecting it to go well, but perhaps well enough that projections of the Titans in MAAC play are revised upwards.
- Jason Weber does not have a super-great game. Ohio State is a talented offense, and a very experienced one. The UDM defense is in rebuilding mode, and there’s only so much Weber can do to bail them out. Even a good individual performance is unlikely to look pretty on the scoreboard.
- The Titans are not as turnover-prone as we’ve become accustomed to seeing in recent years. The Buckeyes have a decently aggressive defensive scheme, but their execution on that end of the field will be a work in progress very early in the year, which should mean at least one game to get in a groove. Detroit cuts down on the unforced turnovers, and the Buckeyes don’t go out of their way to force many.
- Detroit runs out at least three faceoff specialists. Jake Withers is one of the country’s best, and not only is he good at winning the clamp, he’s individually dominant enough to control a lot of the ground balls. Running out multiple FOGOs and a pole or two (no word on who it will be with the graduation of Jordan Yono) is all-but guaranteed.
In case you haven’t sensed a theme, I don’t think Detroit will win this game, but I do think they’ll have a season that exceeds expectations (and I’m more than willing to see the first instance of that happen this afternoon). Buckeyes take it, 14-8.