A lot can change in a single year in Division II college football for better or worse. The Rock defense has shown significant improvement since the 2017 season to 2018, and that is without the college football sack king Marcus Martin in the lineup.
“Not one single guy is going to be able to replace a guy like Marcus,” SRU football’s defensive coordinator Domenick Razzano said. “As a group though our defensive line is as productive as we’ve been in a long time. That’s something to be said considering you’ve lost the all-time leading sacker in the history of college football.”
The Green and White run defense through 10 games this season has surrendered on average 92.6 rushing yards per game which ranks them 11th in the nation in run defense.
In week one against Kentucky State University, The Rock gave up 267 total yards on the ground, but since then just two SRU opponents have hit the century mark on the ground. Junior linebacker Brad Zaffram was absent during the week one game due to injury, who really has been a staple in The Rock’s run defense this season.
“[Zaffram’s] just as good as advertised,” SRU football head coach Shawn Lutz said. “He brings confidence, he brings a killer instinct and everybody really rallies around him.”
Zaffram is first on the team in total tackles with 61 this season with two sacks to boot. Since Zaffram reentered the lineup, The Rock defense has given up a total of 659 rushing yards in a nine game span, which comes out to an average of 73.2 yards per game.
Last week during The Rock’s 48-7 home win over Gannon University, SRU held one of the top running backs in the PSAC Marcus Jones to a grand total of 16 yards on 15 carries. Jones still averages over 100 yards a game with a total of 1,298 through 10 games this season.
“We don’t do much on defense, we’re a very simple defense,” Razzano said regarding trying to defend Jones last week. “If you’re looking for an answer from a schematical perspective you’re not going to find one. We sat in our base defense and those guys dominated the line of scrimmage.”
In the passing defense, The Rock truly stepped up their game in recent weeks for a few reasons. First with the return of sophomore defensive back Khadir Roberts who returned to the lineup against California University (Pa.) and has boosted the secondary that hasn’t given up a passing touchdown in three weeks. Senior defensive back Kyle Hall who leads the team in interceptions with five which ranks second in the conference has also added some fire to the secondary in recent weeks, while also contributing 50 total tackles through 10 games.
“This is the best that I’ve seen [Hall] and I’ve coached him his entire career,” Razzano said. “He’s really developed as a complete safety with in terms of his ability to cover the pass and defend the run. Its been exciting and humbling to watch him grow over the last four years.”
The Rock has also been able to tighten things up when opponents do reach the red zone with opposing teams finding the end zone on just 41 percent of their trips inside the 20, helping them rank 10th in the nation in the category. SRU has scored four defensive touchdowns this season as well which ranks them fifth in the nation, including their most recent score last week when sophomore linebacker Terrell Gabriel scored his second touchdown of the season off a 57 yard fumble recovery.
“I really mean this, right now we’re playing as well defensively in the past couple games than we have in a long time,” Lutz said.
This week in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championship, The Rock defense might have their toughest test of the year against No. 9 West Chester University. Quarterback A.J. Long has shown great efficiency completing 67 percent of his passes for 1,767 yards for 18 touchdowns and six interceptions, while also proving to be a threat in the running game rushing for 557 yards and six scores.
“Nothing really changes from week to week,” Razzano said. “We try to put the offenses in a kind of defensive mode and we’re going to maintain that standard this week. We’re going to attack the line of scrimmage with great physicality and effort.”
In total, West Chester’s offense ranks third in the nation is time of possession, third in passing efficiency, and 16th in scoring with 40 points per game this season. Kick off is set for 1:00 p.m. on Saturday with national playoff implications on the line.