Slippery Rock University football will begin its quest of defending their title as the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division champions tomorrow at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium, as the Rock will take on the Gannon Knights.
The Rock, (1-1) has a history of playing close games with the Knights (1-1). In 2011, SRU lost to Gannon 33-27. Losing to Gannon in the end cost SRU the chance at the Division II playoffs.
Rock head coach George Mihalik knows there’s a sense of urgency when it comes to opening up PSAC-West play on the right foot.
“This is the PSAC-West and we begin defense of our western conference championship,” Mihalik said. “That’s the message this week, to defend the title. It’s more focusing on the importance of this first conference game.”
SRU could be without starting redshirt sophomore quarterback Jared Buck.
Buck strained his neck last week in the loss against Shippensburg.
If Buck is unable to go, it will be up to junior quarterback Nigel Barksdale to take the reins and make his first start as an SRU quarterback.
“It’s crazy,” Barksdale said about knowing that he could start Saturday. “I’m also concerned about Buck and his health because I know he took a nasty hit last Saturday. I know I have to step up and get the job done.”
While Buck is a pocket passer, Barksdale brings an added skill to the offense that can give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares, the ability to run the ball if nothing is open down the field.
“Another dimension is added to our offense with Nigel,” Mihalik said. “That is Nigel’s ability, to scramble and make plays with his feet. He can throw it well enough that we can still utilize our entire passing game. Now the opposing defense has to be concerned about a quarterback that can come out of the pocket to gain yardage.”
The Rock offense will again turn to redshirt senior Akeem Satterfield and company, utilizing the running game to try to take some of the pressure off of the passing game.
“I’m concerned about their size up front, they’re always big up front,” Mihalik said. “Defensively their front four are 350, 295, 255 and 235. They’re pretty thick and solid. We have to get a running game going to take the pressure off of Nigel.”
Defensively, SRU will look to avoid another outing like last Saturday against Shippensburg, which saw the SRU defense give up 566 yards of offense, 352 of which were passing yards.
The tough road against defending the pass will continue this week as the Rock will have to contend with Gannon quarterback Liam Nadler.
Nadler, a redshirt freshman, who is listed at 6’7 and 225 pounds, has thrown for 687 yards and has tossed six scores in the two games played this year.
“Gannon relies on the big play,” Mihalik said. “They have a good running game, but they prefer to throw the ball. Their quarterback Nadler is huge and that’s a worry because obviously we didn’t do a great job defending the pass last week.”
Pressure will be the key to stopping the Gannon passing attack and could very well be the x-factor in Saturday’s game.
The Gannon offense has given up 11 sacks in the two games played this year.
The Rock will continue PSAC-West play on Saturday, Sept.22 as they travel to Mercyhurst University to take on the Lakers. Game time is set for 1 p.m.