For the full PDF version of the Week 1 game notes, go to http://www.goashlandeagles.com/sports/fball/2015-16/files/2015FBreleaseWK1LE.pdf.
Sights and Sounds
This week's game will be broadcast live on WNCO-AM 1340, with Matt Brubaker handling the play-by-play and Don Graham providing the commentary. The game can be heard at WNCOAM.com, and also can be accessed on the football schedule page of the AU athletics website - GoAshlandEagles.com (click on the audio link beside this week's game).
Looking Ahead and Behind
Ashland opens its 94th football season with a road Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference contest against the Lake Erie Storm. This will be the first of back-to-back road games for the Eagles prior to their home opener Sept. 19 against Ohio Dominican.
The Week 1 contest will mark the third time Ashland has traveled to Painesville to play the Storm. The Eagles are 1-1 all-time against Lake Erie on the road.
Under head coach Lee Owens, AU is 6-5 in season openers.
The Eagles had a successful rebound season in 2014, finishing 8-2 overall and in the GLIAC and narrowly missing out on their second playoff berth in three years. It was Ashland's eighth winning season in Owens' tenure.
Ashland finished second in the GLIAC South Division and fourth overall in the league.
Last Look At 2014
The Eagles finished 2014 with an 8-2 record – the sixth time in Owens' first 11 seasons guiding Ashland that the program has ended a season with at least eight victories. AU finished second in the GLIAC South Division, meaning the Eagles have placed no worse than third in the South each season since divisional play began in 2010.
Ashland reeled off six consecutive victories to put itself in position for a spot in the NCAA playoffs. Included in that stretch were the Eagles' first road wins at Findlay since 2010, at Hillsdale since 2008 and at Grand Valley State since 1992.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Tarnowski earned the GLIAC's Freshman of the Year award after starting all 10 games, completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,167 yards and accounting for 18 touchdowns. Senior running back Anthony Taylor became the program's all-time leader in both rushing yards (4,456) and total touchdowns (45), and senior guard James Triplett finished his career with All-GLIAC first team and three regional honors.
Defensively, Ashland was the GLIAC pacesetter in scoring defense (18.2 points per game). Inside linebacker Cody Bloom had a team-high 97 total tackles, and defensive end Chase Hoobler had a team-best 10 1/2 tackles for loss in nine games.
The Eagles and Storm have met five times prior to 2015, with Ashland winning four of those meetings.
In the 2014 season-opener at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field, AU won, 66-21. In his first collegiate start, Tarnowski set a new Eagle stadium record with 374 passing yards, while going 18-of-29 with three touchdowns. Tailbacks Taylor (three), Jordan McCune (two) and Vance Settlemire combined for six rushing touchdowns, and wide receiver Dan Piko caught eight passes for 135 yards and a score.
The Ashland offense racked up 673 yards and averaged 10.2 yards per play, and the Eagle defense forced a pair of turnovers, and six fumbles overall.
In their four wins against the Storm, the Eagles have averaged 70.8 points and 607.5 yards of total offense per game, and have an aggregate turnover margin of plus-13.
"Offensively, we've played pretty well," said Owens. "Even the time we got beat, we scored 42 that time. We scored just about every time we had the ball, it just wasn't enough."
2010 Ashland 87, Lake Erie 17 (at Ashland)
2011 Lake Erie 45, Ashland 42 (at Painesville)
2012 Ashland 68, Lake Erie 21 (at Ashland)
2013 Ashland 62, Lake Erie 10 (at Painesville)
2014 Ashland 66, Lake Erie 21 (at Ashland)
Running Through the Storm
Ashland's offense has had more than its share of success in the ground game against Lake Erie in the brief series history. The Eagles have rushed for more than 250 yards in each of their four victories against the Storm:
YEAR ATT. YARDS AVG. TD LEADING RUSHER
2010 49 307 6.3 5 D.J. McCoy, 120 yards
2011 33 103 3.1 2 D.J. McCoy, 62 yards
2012 35 251 7.2 4 Jordan McCune, 102 yards
2013 63 441 7.0 8 Anthony Taylor, 311 yards (school record)
2014 35 290 8.3 6 Vance Settlemire, 99 yards
Leaders Of The Pack
The 2015 Ashland University football captains are split evenly between offense and defense, and they span across three classes in eligibility.
Eagles Earn Preseason Recognition
The Eagles have received some significant national preseason recognition heading into Week 1.
As a team, Ashland was ranked No. 23 in the 2015 Lindy's Division II Preseason Top 25 Poll, published in Lindy's 2015 National College Football Preview magazine, and received votes in the 2015 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Preseason Division II Coaches' Poll.
Individually, senior cornerback James Ester, Settlemire, junior defensive end Adam Wallace and Tarnowski were selected for honorable mention on the 26th Annual USA College Football Division II Preseason All-American Team.
Consistently Stopping The Run
Ashland's Week 1 opponent features one of the top returning tailbacks in Division II in senior Anthony Bilal. His matchup against an Eagle defense which yielded the third-fewest rushing yards per game in the GLIAC (131.9 ypg.) is a classic case of the irresistible force against the immovable object.
"It will be a real test," Owens said. "I went across the field and shook his hand last year and told him, 'You're an all-league player.' And he was. And not only was he all-league, he was the Offensive Back of the Year. It will be a good test for us."
AU's defense has allowed just three individual 100-yard rushers in the last 18 games.
Ashland Picked To Finish Second In The South
The Eagles were picked to finish second in the GLIAC South Division by division coaches.
Ashland earned one first-place vote and 31 points. Ohio Dominican, the 2014 South Division champion, received six first-place votes and 36 points.
Ferris State, which won the 2014 North Division title, is picked to repeat, garnering seven of eight first-place votes.
AU Tries To Turn Road Fortunes Around
The Eagles love their still relatively-new digs at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field (27-7 since 2009). The road, however, hasn't been as friendly in the last six seasons (18-14).
Ashland came up with three big road victories in 2014 against Findlay, Hillsdale and Grand Valley State. Playing away from home, however, hasn't been a positive experience in total in the last six seasons.
"We haven't been near as good on the road as we have been at home," Owens said. "You're always concerned when you've got to travel and play."
Did You Know?
In his first two collegiate seasons, Settlemire has averaged 9.5 yards every time he has touched the ball. He has gained 1,133 rushing yards on 149 carries (7.6 avg.), 300 receiving yards on 24 catches (12.5 avg.), 375 yards on 16 kickoff returns (23.4 avg.) and has one punt return for no yards.
"Obviously, we've not gotten him the ball enough. He needs to touch the ball more," Owens said when he heard the statistic. "Vance has got to prove his durability. He's been beat up, he's been hurt. He's had issues he's had to deal with. They weren't major issues, major injuries, but it was just enough of a nuisance that he hasn't been able to play as much as I'd like him to play. This year is big for him."
Coaching Staff Remains Nearly Intact
There weren't many changes to the Eagle football coaching staff in the offseason - a staff which has more than six decades of service to the program combined.
"You lose coach (Dave) Elliott from a year ago, and Dirk's (Dickerhoof) stepped in and picked it right up with the football operations part of it, and being a full-time guy," Owens said. "We had a volunteer graduate coach (Chris Badenhop) last year, so we moved him into Dirk's GA spot. We're rolling. We never missed a beat.
"We're basically the same staff, intact, on the same page. I think it's a pretty good coaching staff. We've seen it all. I think we have a pretty good idea of what we're trying to do, and our players respect what we're trying to do. I think they buy into what we're trying to do. I'm pretty blessed to have the coaches I have right now, and the experience they have. Our guys work really hard."
Eagles In The NFL
Former Ashland University standout defensive linemen Jamie Meder and Jeris Pendleton have been working to secure spots on the 2015 regular-season rosters of the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts, respectively.
Meder, 24, is in his second National Football League training camp and his first with Cleveland. He became the first former Eagle to play in a regular-season game for the Browns in Week 17 of the 2014 season at Baltimore, recording one solo tackle. Meder originally was an undrafted free agent with the Ravens last year, and spent more than two months on their practice squad before joining Cleveland.
Following in a long line for highly-decorated AU defensive linemen, Meder was a two-time All-American, Ashland's first GLIAC Freshman of the Year (2010), a two-time GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year (2012-13) and a four-time All-GLIAC first-teamer. His career totals include 247 total tackles (96 solo), 35 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and three forced fumbles.
During the 2015 preseason, Meder has collected seven total tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble in 51 plays.
Pendleton, 31, was in his fourth NFL training camp after Jacksonville selected him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, before being waived by the Colts on Aug. 31. He has seen time in five NFL regular-season games – four with the Jaguars as a rookie and one with the Colts in 2013 – and has two solo tackles and an assist. He missed the entire 2014 season due to injury.
A transfer from Joliet Junior College, Pendleton's two seasons as an Eagle were impressive. He was a first-team All-GLIAC selection in 2011 after earning all-conference honorable mention in 2010. Pendleton racked up 84 total tackles (39 solo), 11 tackles for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles at Ashland.
"As a league, we're pretty well represented (in the NFL), Owens said. "It's good for us. It's good for recruiting to point that out. They're both quality young men. They've done things right, so they're going to represent us well."
Meder and Pendleton are two of eight former Eagles to have played in an NFL regular-season game.