The Slippery Rock University returns home Saturday to take on Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival Clarion in what will be a televised contest as the two teams battle to take home the Milk Jug Trophy. SRU holds an 8-1 advantage over Clarion since the “Milk Jug Trophy” was introduced in 2010, with Clarion’s only win coming in 2016. Saturday’s game will serve as The Rock’s annual “Salute to Military and First Responders” game where all former and current military personnel and first responders will be admitted for free.
The Rock is coming off a 41-30 road victory at Edinboro, sitting atop the PSAC Western Division with a record of 7-0 and 4-0 in PSAC West games. Clarion dropped to an overall record of 3-4 and 1-3 in the PSAC West after getting blown out at home by Indiana (Pa.) by a score of 59-21.
Even with Clarion in a four-way tie for last place in the PSAC West, Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz and his team will not look down upon their opponent. Lutz said that the Golden Eagles’ offense is the second-most talented squad his team will face in the regular season, citing Clarion’s talent at quarterback and size at the wide receiver position.
“The quarterback knows the system, he’s a veteran guy,” Lutz said. “He does not throw a bad ball, he won’t make mistakes and they throw the ball quick.”
With proven talent in their passing attack, Clarion’s offense will get another big boost this weekend as starting running back Mylique McGriff is slated to return to the lineup. McGriff led the PSAC in rushing through the first weeks of the season, before missing the last two weeks due to injury. After allowing 30 points to a reeling Edinboro team last week, Lutz intends to challenge his defense to have a bounce back game this Saturday.
“I think our biggest test going into this game is getting stops on defense,” Lutz said. “We saw two teams go ahead of us [in the polls], I told them to leave no doubt this week. If you want it bad enough, we have the talent. Just worry about yourself, be disciplined and play the game how you’re supposed to.”
Lutz went on to the say that the defense needs to understand that Clarion’s offense is built to get the ball out quick, so the defense needs to eliminate giving up ‘the big play’ and force the Golden Eagles to drive on them to create more opportunities for a turnover or a quick punt.
The defensive unit will certainly be challenged this week as Clarion will bring a multitude of talent to Mihalik-Thompson stadium on Saturday, but an even bigger challenge The Rock will need to overcome is dealing with the injury bug.
The running back depth for Slippery Rock has taken a permanent hit this season as redshirt senior Nassir Weaver suffered a torn pectoral muscle. Junior running back DeSean Dinkins is also nursing a rib injury and is considered questionable for Saturday’s game. Starting running back Charles Snorweah has been battling an ankle injury as of late and Lutz describes Snorweah’s chance to play as a ‘game time decision’.
Injury has impacted the Green and White’s defense and special teams as well, as starting linebacker Trysten McDonald will be on the sideline for an indefinite amount of time after he went down with an ACL injury shortly after his electric defensive touchdown against IUP. Senior kicker Jake Chapla surprisingly took a few hits last week against Edinboro, leading to a back injury.
With injuries scattered throughout the team, Lutz and his team will look to employ a next man up mentality.
“Be ready for Fochtman, Sweeting and even Grange,” Lutz said. “Grange was our leading rusher in the spring game and now he gets to move up a little bit and possibly get an opportunity.”
Fochtman, who has served a complimentary role in the backfield this season, has been productive when his name is called upon, turning 28 carries into 141 yards, good for 4.9 yards per carry. It should not be overlooked that Cinque Sweeting has experience at the running back position as well, as he led Seton Hill in rushing for two consecutive seasons before transferring to The Rock. In last week’s contest against Edinboro, Sweeting logged eight carries for 30 yards.
With the dominant pair of redshirt juniors Jermaine Wynn Jr. and Henry Litwin along with redshirt freshman Qaadir Dixon holding down the wide receiver position, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Sweeting plays a majority of his snaps as a running back on Saturday.
With the top three running backs injured in some way, Lutz is hopeful that star quarterback Roland Rivers III and his stable of talented pass catchers can take advantage of a poor Clarion pass defense.
“I expect us to have a big day in the passing game and just do what we do,” Lutz said. “We have explosiveness all over the and [Rivers] has really just done a good job in the passing game as of late.”
Saturday’s contest against Clarion proves to be a favorable matchup for Rivers III, who ranks first in the nation with 25 passing touchdowns and first in pass efficiency (197.0) while Clarion’s pass defense ranks near the bottom of the list across all of Division II. Out of the 169 teams in Division II, Clarion ranks 163rd in pass defense (292.4 YPG) and has allowed an average of three passing touchdowns per game.
After what some could consider an underachieving win against Edinboro last week, Saturday will serve as a chance for The Rock to establish themselves as a top 10 team in the nation. And with the Milk Jug trophy on the line, Lutz knows his team will have some added incentive to defeat the Golden Eagles.
“It’s a TV game, and [our guys] don’t want to see the trophy go to Clarion, they want to see it go to [themselves].” Lutz said. “[We’re] making history. We’re 7-0 for the first time since 1939, each week we need to continue to make history.”
Saturday’s game will serve as another piece of history, as Slippery Rock and Clarion are set to battle at 1 p.m. at Mihalik-Thompson to determine the winner of the 10th annual Milk Jug game.