The “Big House Battle,” featuring the Slippery Rock University football team and the Mercyhurst University team at Michigan’s Stadium, one of the best college football stadiums in America, was a great experience for fans, but the game itself left SRU fans disappointed at the embarrassing 45-23 loss for the team. Before this game, the Rock had an overall record of 5-1, and they looked like one of the most dominant teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
SRU led Mercyhurst going into the second half, 23-17. They allowed Mercyhurst to score 28 unanswered points. The biggest reason for this is the quarterback change. Senior quarterback Jared Buck, who hasn’t played in a football game since 2012, was given the responsibility of stepping in for sophomore quarterback Zack Newsock and starting in the “Big House Battle.”
Why would you start a quarterback who hasn’t played in two years for the biggest game of the season? It is one of the most egregious substitutions we have witnessed. SRU head coach George Mihalik made a big mistake in starting Buck, because he hasn’t had any experience since 2012. Throwing a rusty quarterback into a huge game like the “Big House Battle” was a bad call.
Newsock, on the other hand, has led the team to five wins in his first year as the starter. Mihalik’s decision to bench him makes us question his decision-making abilities. While Mihalik has been the head coach at SRU for 27 years and typically makes sound decisions, this mistake was huge. Newsock threw three interceptions in the game a week prior against California University of Pennsylvania. However, he threw for 368 yards (32-54) with two touchdowns. So, Mihalik shouldn’t have sat him after one “bad game,” because it wasn’t even that bad. He threw for over 300 yards, and that’s an impressive statistic.
You don’t bench a player after that kind of game. Yes, Newsock threw three interceptions. Mihalik also had him throw the ball 54 times. If a quarterback throws the ball 54 times, then there is a high chance that he will throw multiple interceptions. So, if you don’t want that many interceptions, focus on what has carried you through the season thus far: running the football. That’s what was the most surprising part of the game. SRU didn’t focus on their running game at all, and it forced the defense onto the field for long periods of time.
In the game against Mercyhurst, Buck threw for 239 yards (18-29) with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Those stats may be adequate, but they’re the signs of a game manager, not a starting quarterback. A game manager is a quarterback that throws when he needs to, and rarely turns the ball over. He also doesn’t take chances or go for flashy plays. That is what fans saw from Buck in the “Big House Battle.” It made no sense for Mihalik to sit Newsock, who has had an exceptional season thus far.
Newsock has also held the responsibility of replacing last year’s offensive MVP of the year, quarterback Nigel Barksdale. Barksdale was the best offensive player last season and started every game. Newsock was chosen to be the starting quarterback right before the season began, and he has proved he can be a solid quarterback. He should have had the chance to prove this further at the “Big House Battle.”