Despite a 178-24 scoring margin over the past three games against Millersville, No. 11 Slippery Rock University football is not looking to let complacency afflict its week three matchup against the Marauders.
SRU head football coach Shawn Lutz did not mince words in regard to playing the Marauders at home this weekend.
“We’ve put them in their place so much, and I don’t mean that to be arrogant,” Lutz explained. “If you watch us practice, our staff doesn’t allow our guys to taper off with anything they do. I gotta tell our guys to layoff sometimes, to be perfectly honest.”
The highest-scoring offense in Divison II football will be back in action Saturday for a crossover matchup with Millersville University at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
SRU (2-0, 0-0 PSAC) is coming off a 54-19 victory over Shippensburg in which it scored 48 straight points after falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter. Rock senior quarterback Roland Rivers III had a second straight game of 350 passing yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers.
The Marauders (1-1, 0-0 PSAC) hosted No. 24 Indiana University (Pa.) and were held to 26 total yards in a 54-0 shutout loss. Quarterback Collin Shank was knocked out of the game and his status against SRU is unknown.
Saturday’s clash features a matchup between the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s highest and lowest scoring offenses, at 58.0 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.
Rivers leads all of D-II, not just the PSAC, in passing efficiency (228.20), by a whopping 28 points, passing touchdowns (10) and points responsible for (66) while ranking second in passing yards (774) and passing yards per game (387).
Between Shank and backup quarterbacks, T.J. Pergine and Evan Morrill, the Marauders have only thrown for 263 yards and one touchdown this season.
A veteran Rock defense that has allowed 28.0 points per game this season, including 37 to Wayne State in week one, enters the game against the Marauders with a chance to improve upon the 19 points allowed last week against Shippensburg.
Senior linebacker Brad Zaffram, the vocal leader of the defense, was awarded the PSAC-West Player of the Week honor following a stellar performance against Shippensburg in which he recorded six tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception.
Lutz, who recruited Zaffram to SRU by way of Jones County Community College and Lackawanna College, admitted he never expected the senior from Buffalo to make such an impact on and off the field.
“If you told me when Brad Zaffram set foot on this campus that he’d be a captain on this football team, I’d look at you and say, ‘you’re absolutely crazy.’ He has turned himself around, I don’t know what lightbulb went off in his head, but I got the grade report today and he has not missed one class. He’s leading, he’s on time for everything and he sits in the front of team meetings,” Lutz said.
Leading a defense that allowed 21.2 points per game last season, Lutz said the defense felt angry after allowing 37 points to Wayne State and responded in a big way with three forced turnovers and four turnovers on downs against Shippensburg.
Facing an offense that has only averaged 10 points and will potentially be without its starting quarterback, The Rock defense will have a chance to put together a statement performance heading into conference play.
While Rivers and junior wide receivers Henry Litwin and Jermaine Wynn Jr. have dominated the headlines this season, as each rank inside the top 10 nationally for their respective positional stats, Lutz still has not found a true complement in the run game.
Transfer senior Charles Snorweah led the way with 14 carries for 58 yards, but it was fellow senior Nassir Weaver who led the team with 77 yards on three carries. However, 75 of those yards came on a long fourth-quarter rushing touchdown.
Juniors DeSean Dinkins and Braden Fochtman have also factored into the backfield equation this season. While Lutz said he would like to have one or two guys emerge from the backfield, he pointed to another ‘running back’ no one is talking about: Rivers.
Through two games, Rivers leads SRU in rushing yards with 85 at 5.3 yards a clip. Lutz pointed to the NFL with the success of mobile quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson as a way to spread out the offense and create more opportunities for an already potent offense.
With 12 of SRU’s 16 touchdown drives coming in under two minutes, Lutz said that conditioning will not be an issue for the offense even though his team has never put an emphasis on conditioning.
The intensity and competition level at practices from camp and throughout the season enable the offense and defense to remain in game shape without the need for heavy conditioning.
In comparison to other football programs, at the D-I and D-II level, Lutz instills an intensity during practice that allows his team to face stiff, game-like competition that leads to better results in games.
“Let me put this into perspective,” Lutz said. “In terms of Duquesne, you know we have two scrimmages with officials? They have zero with officials. They never take someone into the ground, all camp. We take guys into the ground every day. There’s a mentality that we’ve built to be successful.”
Entering Saturday’s game, SRU has an all-time program record of 599-400-42. Lutz has the opportunity to guide The Rock to 600 wins and enter an elite group of programs across the NCAA.
“I never really thought I’d be the head football coach at this great place, with a lot of great people here,” Lutz reflected. “Guys like coach Mihalik, coach DiSpirito, and I never met N. Kerr Thompson, of course, but even some of the guys who have coached here. Phil Longo at North Carolina and Al Washington at Ohio State. It starts with the people that make this place so special; all this stuff makes it so easy for you to be the head coach.”
Lutz attributed some of the program’s winning tradition to SRU’s ability to win games at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium and credited the support of the university students and community to that success.
Since the beginning of the 2010 season, SRU is 45-7 (.865) at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
“Why are we good at home? When our players see that many people in the stands, that’s fun, that gives them an adrenaline rush. To see all of that, it doesn’t surprise me that we’re nearly up to 600 wins,” Lutz said.
Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, Lutz credited the team for being on the same page across the board. He explained how the team is focused on the big picture and not to individual success.
Weaver’s 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was a prime example, he said. Despite leading by 37 points, the excitement and energy on the sideline spoke volumes to the bond built by the team.
That lack of ego, Lutz said, starts with two of the biggest leaders on the team: Litwin and Wynn.
“When you talk about those two, you can lump it together with both of them,” Lutz said. “They’re driven, intelligent and good people. They have great ball skills, they’re tireless workers. The best thing about them though? If you go one game and they don’t get this or that, they don’t care. They’re team driven.”
The chance to continue to strengthen those bonds continues against Millersville, Lock Haven University and Mercyhurst University before SRU welcomes No. 24 IUP to Mihailk-Thompson for one of the biggest games in the PSAC this season.
Not to be overlooked, however, kickoff against Millersville is set at 6 p.m. The game is designated as Family Day as part of Village Fest at Slippery Rock.