The 2018 Rock offense has had its fair share of rotating pieces with quarterback and running back injuries to key players. The only thing that has been certain all year is the uncertainty to who The Rock’s number one target is in the receiving game.
During the Green and White’s week five home game against Mercyhurst University, 12 different Rock players caught a pass in the team’s 41-21 win.
“That really is amazing because last year it was basically Milly Raye, Marcus Johnson, and the occasionally [Andrew] Bridgeforth,” SRU football Head coach Shawn Lutz said. “You get all these different guys, it’s gotta be frustrating for a defensive coordinator; who do you key on, what do you do. I’m glad I don’t have to play against us and stuff like that, its a good problem to have that we have right now.”
On paper, redshirt sophomore receiver Henry Litwin has proven to be the most productive member of The Rock’s receiving corp with a team leading 24 catches for 404 yards and five touchdowns through six games. In the grand scheme of things, Litwin’s team leading 404 yards ranks him just 11th in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), while his team leading 24 receptions ties him for 12th in the PSAC.
Including Litwin, there are five Rock receivers with at least 200 receiving yards through six games with 12 touchdowns between those five players. Senior Carnel Harley currently sits in second on the team in receiving yards with 259, followed by junior Austin Scott with 227. Second on the team in touchdown receptions would be redshirt junior Mike Merhaut with three on ten catches for 223 yards.
Redshirt sophomore Jermaine Wynn Jr. rounds out the 200-plus club with 208 yards off of 17 receptions and one touchdown.
“Our offense is set up really on what the defense allows us to do,” Lutz said. “It’s basically pick your poison, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about it like I said, but we still got to get better.”
The success of the receivers does begin first and foremost with the success of the quarterback. Although only starting since week three against Millersville University, junior Roland Rivers has been gone 75 of 133 for 1,040 passing yards and 11 touchdowns and three interceptions through the air, while also leading the team in rushing touchdowns with five. Rivers’ success has mostly come off his ability to extend the play and look for the open receiver or run for the necessary yards, but to coach Lutz, that isn’t always the best option.
“Roland has to realize to go down and not try to make a play every single time, that can hurt you in a big game,” Lutz said. “But he is a playmaker. You’re happy when he makes these unbelievable plays, but then you gotta be smart.”
In Rivers’ second start, he was able to collect a total of six touchdowns, five through the air, while leading the team in rushing attempts with 12 for 80 yards and a score. This past week against Indiana University (Pa.), Rivers finally had an off day after a fast start to his colligate career as he went 23-39 for 293 passing yards for one touchdown and two interceptions, while rushing for 68 yards and a score against the Crimson Hawks. Coach Lutz did praise how his quarterback has changed over the past few weeks and how he has improved even more as a passer.
“I think the first couple of games he [Rivers] was just taking off and running a little bit. I think right now he’s more poised back there and is more of a pocket passer,” Lutz said. “Sometimes he’s taking some shots after he throws it. He’s just more control comfortable and he’s being a leader on the football team, being more vocal.”
The Rock’s 5-1 overall record and 3-0 record in conference play lands them currently in first place in the PSAC West standings with four teams nipping at their heals with 4-2 records. SRU will look to extend their winning streak to five games this week when the team plays host to Edinboro University this Saturday for homecoming with a 2:00 p.m. kickoff.