Gators starting with fresh faces

Jordan Fowler, ’12, will make his first career start Saturday night against Bethany College. CHARLIE MAGOVERN/THE CAMPUS

Following a disappointing performance in their scrimmage against Thiel last week, head coach Mark Matlak is not sure what to expect from his team for Saturday’s home opener against Bethany.
In the scrimmage, the offense was shut out and the defense showed multiple weaknesses, which was largely due to the many new faces at key positions, particularly quarterback. Jordan Fowler, ’12, is the new signal caller for the Gators following the graduation of TJ Salopek, the school’s all-time leader in nearly every passing statistic. The season opener will be Fowler’s first start in a regular season game of his career.
Matlak is taking an open-minded approach to the game, particularly with his expectations of Fowler.
“We’ll find out on Saturday,” said Matlak about Fowler’s progress at the position. “You’ll find out when I find out.”
Despite being a senior, Fowler has seen little of the field in his time at Allegheny. With that in mind, Matlak isn’t going to scrutinize Fowler’s performance too heavily .
“That was his first competition of any kind of significance at Allegheny, so we’re not going to judge him on that and we’re not going to judge him quickly,” Matlak said. “He’s clearly the best guy we have and we’ve got to let him work through the growing pains.”
Prior to this year, Fowler made just two game appearances and completed three of five passing attempts. But because he has spent so much time lower in the depth chart, Fowler is comfortable with the responsibility that his coach placed on Salopek. The key to his success will not be learning the playbook, but rather executing it, and Fowler is confident he can make a smooth transition.
“TJ and I were good friends and he always helped me [during practice],” said Fowler. “It’s not really anything too different. He’s gone and now I’m there. That’s all it is really.
While Fowler has an experienced offensive line to protect him and to provide a running game, he will throw to new starters at the receiver position. Seniors Matt Griffith and Sean Griffin will be his top two targets. Although they weren’t starters last year, they were productive members of the passing game, each of them averaging more than 13 yards per catch. Griffin’s 14.7 yards per catch average was the best on the team last year.
Following training camp, Fowler thought he and his receivers were playing well together, but their inability to consistently connect served as a wake-up call that there is much more work to be done in the passing game.
“As a whole for offense, we had a really good camp but we did struggle against Thiel,” said Fowler. “It’s just a stepping stone, it’s a learning experience. We’ll be good to go.”
The Allegheny defense also wasn’t immune to problems against Thiel. The group has two huge holes to fill after losing defensive tackle Jermaine Mitchell and safety Sid Facaros, who were each longtime staples of the “Black Flag” defense. The team’s inability to stop Thiel’s first team offense in the scrimmage has Matlak concerned about keeping opponents off the board.
In fact, he said he was worried more about fixing the defensive problems that were exposed in the scrimmage heading into Saturday night. Last year’s unit was one of the biggest strengths of the team, as they were able to make many teams one-dimensional with their run defense. The Gators gave up 62.3 yards per game on the ground, which was the fourth-best average in Division III.
“Thiel ran the ball well, threw the ball well and did everything well,” Matlak said. “We struggled so we want to try to redeem ourselves on Saturday.”
Kickoff against Bethany is set for 7 p.m at Robertson Field.