When considering the history of football, a consistent theme is that the offense garners more attention than its counterpart, defense.
This theme remains true when it comes to one of the powerhouses in Division II football, Slippery Rock University. Justifiably, much of the attention has gone to Roland Rivers III and his supporting cast, having broken the stat charts in every category. However, it is without a doubt that the Harlon Hill trophy contender and the rest of his offense know that without their stalwart defense, the juggernaut that is SRU would not be functional.
Returning all 11 starters in 2019, the defense brings experience and chemistry that any team would strive for. A leader in the secondary, junior defensive back Dalton Holt explains how his experienced unit maintains a business-like mindset.
“Saturdays, we get to have fun,” Holt said. “But Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we’re out there working,”
With Slippery Rock’s offense firing on all cylinders, the defense has not been called to preserve a win for the Green and White in 2019. As for Holt, the ball hawk and his defense continue to perfect their craft, knowing that they will be prepared for the big moment.
“We just come out to work every day. We know our offense will put on a show and people want to see a show,” Holt said. “But when it’s time, the defense will emerge.”
With most of the attention surrounding Division II’s most prolific offense, the defense’s performance is often overlooked and under credited. After the defense allowed 37 points on the road against Wayne State in week one, The Rock has come on strong since then, only allowing 33 points combined in the last three games combined.
Defensive captain Brad Zaffram gave some insight on what has motivated the defense to raise the bar after a poor week one performance.
“It was pretty much a wake-up call honestly,” Zaffram said. “We were kinda high on ourselves going in there and it was kind of a punch in the face.”
Holt went on to expand off Zaffram’s point, citing that the defense had to knock off some rust in week one. Displaying the team’s professional mindset, the defensive back then explained that the defense went to film study the next day and made the corrections. Since then, the results have shown.
In addition to only allowing 11 points per game since week two, the Green and White defense has improved its rushing defense from 248 to 88 yards a game, putting The Rock’s run defense 24th in the nation out of 166 Division II football teams.
As well as stopping the run, The Rock defense is talented at getting pressure in the backfield. A mainstay in this defense since 2017, defensive end Chad Kuhn currently leads the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in sacks with 5.5. As for the team, the experienced unit ranks fourth in the nation in sacks as a team at 4.25 sacks per game while also ranking second nationally in team tackles for loss at 10.5 per game.
These statistics are especially impressive when considering how quickly the offense scores which in turn results in the defense being on the field for a majority of the game. Of the 34-total scoring drives Slippery Rock had this season, the offense has scored in less than two minutes of game time on 22 of those drives.
Kuhn, Zaffram and Holt alike welcome the challenge, citing a multitude of reasons as to how the defense embraces the challenge.
“It’s more opportunity to make plays, that’s the way we look at it,” Holt said.
Zaffram quickly followed as he began to grin. The 230 pound, 6’1″ enforcer emphasized how he will never complain about the offense scoring too quickly, as he gets more opportunities to punish opposing offenses.
Showing a team first mindset, Kuhn expressed his confidence in the defense to outlast its opponent.
“If the defense is on the field a lot, that means that our offense is doing their job,” Kuhn said. “And if we’re on the field a lot that means we’re making their offense tired.”
The talented defensive end continued by saying that the defense is ready to go all four quarters, bringing the same energy from the first snap to the last.
On Saturdays, most will see the defense locking down their opponent play after play, but what isn’t seen is what occurs during the rest of the week. No matter how big or how small, the defense strives to become better than they were the day before.
“[We need to] get 1% better every day,” Kuhn said. “[We] just find something to go out there to practice and focus on every day.”
Holt added on by explaining the mindset that head coach Shawn Lutz instills in his team each day.
“Coach always preaches 100% effort 100% of the time,” Holt said. “So, like [Kuhn] said, we gotta get better every day and just go out there and work.”
Blood, sweat and tears have gone into building this Rock football team into what it is this season ,and with the defense finding its rhythm, The Rock has had no problem rolling by its opponents in 2019. As the season wears on, the defense continues to make its presence known, reminding us all of an inherent truth about the game of football. While it is true that offense wins games, it is defense that wins championships.