Coming off of two straight losses, and facing a rematch against a team who they lost to last year, the Slippery Rock football team is looking for two different kinds of vengeance this week.
“We could be 2-6, but were 6-2 right now,” Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz said. “Slippery Rock is a bullseye because everyone wants to beat you. You’re gonna get everybody’s best. It is what it is.”
Last week, the Rock squad traveled to Erie and came out empty handed against the Fighting Scots, losing 49-39.
“No question about it, I expected to beat Edinboro, I think we all did,” Lutz said. “When we beat California, I had 132 text messages. When we lost at Edinboro, I had eight.”
The Green and White face a team this week that, despite being 1-7 on the year, is much better than their record. The golden eagles had a total losing margin of eight points versus California (Pa.) and Indiana (Pa.).
“They don’t take chances on defense, they play a true cover 2 and they keep people in front of them, and they do a good job at that,” Lutz said. “I want a win. If I could guarantee right now that we beat Clarion 2-0, I would take it.”
No matter who the opponent, SRU’s main concern throughout the entire season has been attempting to improve the defense. Slippery Rock ranks in the bottom four in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in both scoring defense (33.8 points per game) and total defense (443 yards per game). The main concern has been the rushing defense that currently ranks in the bottom four in the PSAC (210.3 yards per game), but had previously led the PSAC in the past three seasons.
“Sometimes, the offense feels like it has to play catch up all the time, and that’s why we pass the ball so much, and that hurts our defense more,” Lutz said. “If you can’t cover and you can’t stop the run and you can’t do this or that, you’re not going to win games.”
If there is one thing this Slippery Rock team can do, it’s outscoring opponents. SRU ranks fourth in both scoring offense (38.4 points per game) and total offense (457.3 yards per game). This can mainly be attributed to an amazing season so far by senior quarterback Tanner Garry. Garry leads all NCAA divisions in passing yards with 2,832. Garry’s passing yards per game currently sit at 354.0; if they hold throughout the season, they would shatter the previous record of 311.3 yards per game set by Nigel Barksdale in 2013. Garry needs 904 yards in the next three games to break the school’s single-season passing record and needs 5 touchdown passes to tie that record.
“It is awesome. The reason that I’m so proud of Tanner is that he has waited patiently. He had to sit out last year. He could have got his degree and been gone, but he hasn’t,” Lutz said. “He is a tough sucker, I’m just happy for him. The guy has had to battle adversity in life, he did at Bowling Green, he did at Youngstown where he never played, now he is and it’s exciting.”
Even with two straight losses, Slippery Rock sits at the number five ranking in the Atlantic region, where the top six teams make the NCAA playoffs at the conclusion of the regular season. With a possibility at playoffs looming, Lutz wasn’t going to let it distract his team.
“When you know you have a chance at making the national playoffs, it gets you pumped,” Lutz said. “But we gotta run the table, it does give incentive.”
Senior defensive end Marcus Martin still needs only 3.5 sacks to break the NCAA all-divisions sack record but has remained sackless in the past three weeks. In those three weeks, Martin has accrued 19 tackles and a tackle for loss, mostly because team’s run the ball away from his half of the field.
Martin and Garry will be joined by 11 fellow seniors to be honored this Saturday. Those seniors are defensive back Delmar Henderson, wide receiver Marcus Johnson, wide receiver Milly Raye, running back Isiah Neely, Tight end Brian McNally, long snapper Garret MacFarland, center Jim Popa, linebacker Corey Garry, guard Ian Park, defensive end Bishop Gethers, and wide receiver Andrew Bridgeforth.
“Those guys are part of some of the most successful teams ever. The guys who redshirted have won three championships at Slippery Rock,” Lutz said. “When I think about those guys, I get emotional.”
One of the main motivators for Slippery Rock on Saturday will be attempting to regain the milk jug. The milk jug is the rivalry trophy in the series between SRU and Clarion. While the teams have played 79 times altogether, the milk jug was established in 2010, with SRU winning the first six meetings. Clarion snapped that streak last year with a 27-23 victory, and there is nothing Lutz would like more than to bring the jug back home to The Rock.
“I want that sucker, I want that back here,” Lutz said. “If we win that game, I’m taking it home with me for a day or two.”
Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium, and seniors will be honored at 12:30 during pregame ceremonies.