The Rock and Clarion University have taken very different paths leading up to this game. Slippery Rock is 4-0 (1-0) and has been finding their footing as the games go on and it’s shown on the field as they’ve put up 98 points in the last two games. If you’re keeping track, those 98 points in two games is one point greater than the amount of points Clarion has put up in four games. All four of those games resulted in losses, and The Golden Eagles sit at a polar opposite 0-4 (0-1).
Slippery Rock’s offense seemed to finally turn on the switch last week against Seton Hill on the road. Andrew Koester looked comfortable in the pocket, and as a result he threw for 346 yards and five touchdowns. That performance earned him PSAC West offensive player of the week honors.
“I think [that our success last week] was something that was needed, and it needed to happen against a good defense,” coach Shawn Lutz said. “I knew we could do it we have the guys and we haven’t played a lot of football, and that’s no excuse because no has. But I think you’re starting to see the offense will start getting going and we need to build on that.”
Lutz had two things he wants the team to improve this week, with the first being their play on special teams. Last week, The Rock allowed two kickoff returns. Both were called back due to holding calls, however. The Rock has also missed multiple extra points this season, including another one last week.
The second is that he wants to be able to run the ball more effectively. They only had a net of 60 yards on the ground last week. That was only 24 attempts in the game, though.
“We weren’t able to run the ball too much against Seton Hill, and we didn’t try to because they stacked the box, so hopefully we can run the ball a little bit,” Lutz said.
With the running game all but eliminated against The Griffins, The Rock was able to count on its veteran receivers. Henry Litwin and Jermaine Wynn Jr. scored all five of Koester’s passing touchdowns. Litwin had three just in the first half on nine receptions.
“People don’t remember that in 2019, we were a run 50/pass 50 team, and people tend to think that we threw the ball, but we love to run the ball here,” Lutz said. “At the end of the day though, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Clarion’s defense will have their hands full, as they’ve struggled against the pass this season. They have let up 1,119 yards and 13 touchdowns. Now they’ll have to attempt to shut down the trio of Litwin, Wynn Jr., and Cinque Sweeting. A tough task for any team, but when it comes to these three it seems to be a pick your poison situation. Last week, Seton Hill decided to try to take Sweeting out of the game, which opened things up for Litwin and Wynn Jr. even further.
“It’s no secret to what you should do with how to score points, you get the ball to what we call our dudes, and dudes are guys that make plays,” Lutz said. “Coach Neugebauer and the offensive staff do a great job, but the bottom line [when you’re struggling with running ball] is get the ball to Henry, Jermaine, or Cinque, and let them do their thing.”
On the other hand, Slippery Rock’s pass defense has been stellar this season. They have held opponents to just two passing touchdowns and only 391 yards of total passing. The Golden Eagles have tended to be a pass first team this season. Slippery Rock has allowed 598 rushing yards and in this game it’s easy to wonder if Clarion will test their luck against them.
When it comes to games like this, some teams may tend to look ahead which can cause slip-ups and problems. But when it comes to Lutz and his team, they take every opponent seriously no matter what their record is.
“If you’re a top program you don’t have a layoff, and to be honest I don’t see that ever happening in our program because our guys love to compete and they love to play the game,” Lutz said. “We respect everybody we play, but we just need to take care of ourselves because it doesn’t really matter who we’re playing, because anybody can beat you any given day.”
The Rock will return home to play their first PSAC West game at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in nearly two years, a place they haven’t lost a PSAC West matchup in since 2017. Much of that can be accredited to atmosphere from the home-field advantage at Slippery Rock.
“There’s nothing better, our last two crowds [have been awesome],” Lutz said. “From the Rock Rowdies to the band and cheerleaders, Dr. Roberta Page has done a great job. It’s definitely what you call a home-field advantage, that’s for sure.”