Following a strong display of offensive power last week, Slippery Rock University football will look to keep the momentum going with their first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West matchup on Saturday at home against the Seton Hill University Griffins (0-3).
SRU currently sits in fourth place with a 2-1 overall record in the PSAC West, with Seton Hill sitting at the bottom in eighth place. Seton Hill comes into the game having lost 17 straight games dating back to week eight of the 2016 season. This week marks the first western divisional matchup of the season and SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said the level of intensity on the field will be much greater this week.
“If you want to get a ring on your finger and be the PSAC champs and everybody right now in the conference is 0-0 and everybody has the chance to get that honor,” Lutz said.
The Rock has been missing some key players so far this season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Last week third-string quarterback junior Roland Rivers made his SRU debut, along with third-string running back, redshirt sophomore Braden Fochtman.
“You want someone who can have the continuity that can gel with the offensive line and offensive players,” Lutz said regarding the quarterback shuffle this season. “We’re fortunate to have four decent quarterbacks.”
Rivers and Fochtman will both again be in their starting roles this week, and will look to torch a Seton Hill defense that has surrendered an average of 229 passing yards per game this season, and an average of 296 yards on the ground.
Perhaps the most consistent weapon on the offense this season, redshirt sophomore receiver Henry Litwin will look to keep his touchdown streak alive this week as he has scored at least one touchdown in each of The Rock’s first three games. In total Litwin has pulled in 13 catches this season for 258 yards and four touchdowns.
“I just feel every time they try to target him he makes a catch,” Lutz said. “Henry’s done a nice job of when the ball is thrown his way whether it’s long for a touchdown pass or it’s just getting a first down he don’t drop the ball. I would really think right now he is our go-to guy.”
On defense, the Green and White will again be without senior defensive back Tavarus Sample who will undergo season-ending surgery on his thumb and a hand. Sample will be handed a medical redshirt which will allow him to play again next season. Sophomore Dalton Holt will take his place in the secondary, who also made his SRU debut last week.
“It’s really a big loss to me,” Lutz said. “[Sample’s] our captain, he would have to play with literally a club on his hand like Brad Zaffram and as a defensive back that’s hard to do.”
The Seton Hill offensive line has only surrendered three sacks so far this season, while last week The Rock defense collected 10 sacks on the day, tieing a school record for most sacks in a single game, despite only having one sack coming into last week’s game. Coach Lutz said he believes that the game could be decided by how much pressure his defense can put on their quarterback this week.
“We don’t have a one-guy like a Marcus Martin, we might never have a guy like that,” Lutz said. “But we got numerous guys who can get off the ball and do some good things.”
Another tough test this week for The Rock defense will be attempting to stop one of the top receivers in the PSAC in redshirt junior receiver Ardell Brown who through three games has already racked up 20 catches for 415 yards and three touchdowns.
“[Seton Hill has] one of the best receivers in the country; Ardell Brown he’s a stud,” Lutz said.
In week two, The Rock was hit for 12 penalties for 149 yards, resulting in first downs for Shippensburg University which ultimately lost the game for the Green and White. Last week against Millersville University wasn’t much different giving up over 100 yards again through penalties. The Rock now averages 10 penalties for 110 yards per game this season, which ranks last in the PSAC and 150th in the nation.
“We just got to be better, I mean we gotta be smarter,” Lutz said. “We talk about it, we try to do little things in practice, be more disciplined, but that will lose you games especially against really good teams.”
This week’s game marks just the 10th edition to the all-time series between the two football programs, with The Rock owning the series 7-2. Since the lights were installed at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in 2003, The Rock has gone 31-9 in home night games and will look to improve upon that record with a 6:00 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.