After opening up conference play against Gannon University (3-1, 0-1) with a win, no. 9 ranked Slippery Rock University (4-0, 1-0) is headed back on the road to face the no. 24 ranked California (PA) University Vulcans (3-0, 1-0) in what should be the team’s biggest challenge yet.
“They’ve been having lopsided scores,” Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said. “It starts with their offense.”
The Rock has outscored its opponents 160-92 in four games. The Vulcans have surpassed that number outscoring its opponents 199-20. CalU is the second highest scoring offense in the country even after playing one less game.
Both teams have high profile quarterbacks to credit to its success. Cal’s junior quarterback Michael Keir is the most efficient quarterback out of the two. Completing 44 of his 66 passes on the season, Keir has not thrown any interceptions this season, compared to SRU’s senior starting quarterback Don King III’s three. Keir completed 19-31 passes for 311 yards and 6 touchdowns, all season highs, in a 59-17 win against Seton Hill (3-1, 0-1).
King may not have had that same efficiency initially, but he is beginning to come into his own. In The Rock’s last game against Gannon, King threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns. It was his second game in a row with 300 plus yards, three scores in the air, and no turnovers.
“Our quarterback position is always scrutinized, but it takes time,” Lutz said. “I love where our offense is right now. He’s starting to get on the same page as receivers, especially Cornelius Raye and Marcus Johnson. You can see it when he plays.”
Receivers junior Marcus Johnson and redshirt junior Cornelius Raye have become “DK3’s” main targets. He connected with each receiver nine times against Gannon. Johnson had 123 yards for a touchdown, and Raye added 88 yards of his own.
Keir and the Vulcans have a problem causing receiving core of their own to strike back. Keir has connected with receivers senior Garry Brown and junior Tom Greene more than anyone on his offense. Though the duo has caught half as many passes as The Rock combination of Johnson and Raye, they have managed to get almost the same number of yards and one more touchdown this season.
Greene had 5 receptions for 75 yards in his last contest. Standing at 6’4”, he is taller than any player in The Rock secondary. Though physically Greene can cause problems for SRU, Brown seems to be the biggest threat on the field. He is the Vulcan’s leading receiver with 12 receptions for 268 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was named the PSAC West special teams player of the week for week four. He had 4 receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns against Seton Hill and returned a kick return for a touchdown the week before. Lutz called him an NFL-type player.
“He’s an amazing talent,” Lutz said. “He’s big time.”
The team’s rushing attacks are evenly matched. While running back redshirt senior Shamar Greene carries the workload for The Rock, the Vulcans have four players, led by redshirt junior Nick Grissom, that all have over 100 yards rushing this season.
Both teams will be put to the challenge this week against each other’s offense. Both teams have held their opponents under 100 rushing yards per game. CalU has stopped the ball behind the line of scrimmage 38 times this year and has gotten to the quarterback 15 times, while SRU has 30 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks. The Rock’s defensive push is led by redshirt senior linebacker Anthony Zappone who was named PSAC West Defensive player of the week after he had recorded 12 tackles, a sack and an interception against Gannon.
These strong defensive fronts are going to cause problems and force the pass. Lutz said that is exactly what he wants to do, even though they will be facing tough receivers.
“If they are able to be two-dimensional, we have no chance in that game,” Lutz said. “We have to get them in an obvious passing situation so we can tee-off, get our ears back, and get to the quarterback.”
Lutz and The Rock head to California, Pa. on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. to face the best team they have seen all season. Lutz said that despite the big numbers that the Vulcans have put up, his team is ready and he is confident that his program will give a fight.
“I can promise you one thing,” Lutz said. “I like what direction we are headed in as a football team. We are playing consistent football, and that’s the Slippery Rock way.”