SRU moves into national rankings
The Indiana University of Pa. football team was ranked seventh in the nation. They had the top defensive unit in Division II football. IUP was also undefeated with a 5-0 record. It seemed like the perfect season, until they came to Slippery Rock.
The SRU football team came out with a dominating performance, winning 42-16, and handed IUP their first loss of the season. Both teams now hold 5-1 overall records (2-1 in the PSAC).
The American Football Coaches Association poll dropped IUP from 7th to 22nd in their national rankings and cast SRU 13 votes. The D2Football.com poll, however, pushed Slippery Rock into the 24th spot and dropped IUP to 25th.
The last time SRU was nationally ranked was in 2011 when they went into the PSAC Championship Game versus Kutztown University.
Head coach George Mihalik felt the team’s mindset going into the game was a crucial part of the win.
“You could feel throughout the week that the team was prepared,” Mihalik said. “We wanted to prove that we’re as good as anybody in the country and we did it.”
The Rock defense held IUP to 59 rushing yards on 28 carries, earning them PSAC Defensive Athlete of the Week. Typically, the weekly honors from the PSAC highlight don’t highlight entire units.
“They shut down a very productive running game,” Mihalik said. “It was so well deserved that the entire defense was recognized.”
IUP’s Mike Box was sacked for a loss of 12-yards by junior defensive end Matt Peacock and intercepted by redshirt senior cornerback Brandon Burley.
Senior linebacker Gary Allen, redshirt junior safety Isaiah Coleman and senior nose tackle Tony Papley each recorded seven tackles in SRU’s defensive stand against the Crimson Hawks. Allen recovered a fumble forced by junior defensive back Austin Miele in the second quarter. Coleman forced a fumble in the third but IUP recovered.
Up until the fourth quarter, the Green and White had let the Crimson Hawks score a field goal. IUP scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and failed to complete a two-point conversion.
While the fourth quarter was the most productive for IUP’s offense, it was the only quarter SRU didn’t post points.
The Green and White posted seven points in the first, 21 in the second and 14 in the third.
The IUP defense had previously held their opponents to an average of six points per game and 213.4 total yards.
Redshirt junior offensive guard Bill Whitaker said that the line was very serious in their preparation for IUP.
“We took it on ourselves to watch more films than usual,” Whitaker said. “We knew they have an athletic defensive line and would create pressure on Nigel. We also had the scout team give us a good look at what their defense would bring.”
The offensive line was named the Division II Offensive Line of the Week in recognition of the 676 yards in total offense and 42 points SRU posted. This was the most ever allowed by a Crimson Hawk defense. Texas A&M-Kingsville previously held the record when they earned 659 yards against the IUP defense in the 1994 national semifinal game.
“We have good chemistry on the line,” Whitaker said. “We know that if we give Nigel time in the pocket and holds for the running backs that they will take advantage of the protection and get us in the end zone.”
Whitaker, redshirt sophomore Kyle Henderson, redshirt junior Kirk Nypaver, redshirt sophomore Cory Tucker, and redshirt junior Omarr Finn were credited with the award by Beyond Sports Network.
“It’s always the skill players that get recognition,” Mihalik said. “On paper, IUP was the number one defense. We weren’t intimidated, we embraced the challenge and it’s a well-deserved recognition.”
Senior quarterback Nigel Barksdale was named a Division II Offensive Player of the Week, as well as PSAC Offensive Player of the Week.
Barksdale threw for 425 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a 24-yard pass from redshirt senior wide receiver Robert Joyce.
Joyce also had two catches for 54 yards.
Redshirt senior wide receiver John Schademan caught six passes from Barksdale for 170 yards and two touchdowns and redshirt junior wide receiver Ken Amos had nine catches for 85 yards.
In addition to the 449 passing yards, Slippery Rock’s offense totaled 227 rushing yards on 48 attempts.
“The passing game continues to get a lot of attention and we still have an effective, productive running game,” Mihalik said. “That’s a tribute to the offensive line.”
Redshirt freshman Shamar Greene ran for 101 yards on 17 carries, junior running back Teddy Blakeman totaled 55 yards and two touchdowns, and redshirt sophomore Brett Crenshaw also ran in a touchdown.
Despite the recent success, Mihalik is keeping his team humble.
“We learned our lesson early in the year (with the loss to Gannon),” Mihalik said. “In this division, you better be ready every Saturday. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in this position and we can’t mess it up.”
Mihalik said that while SRU was anxious for the opportunity to play a nationally ranked team, that other teams have a similar feeling towards them.
Slippery Rock plays Clarion University (3-3) tomorrow at 2 p.m. for their Homecoming Game. Tomorrow is also the fourth annual Milk-Jug Game, which features a traveling milk-jug trophy between the teams.
Clarion is currently on a three-game losing streak but Mihalik said each opponent is taken as seriously as the next.
“You prepare and respect your opponent,” Mihalik said. “We relished the opportunity to play a nationally ranked team and Clarion is going to say the same thing. They’re going to want to make a statement.”