Slippery Rock Football may only have one loss on the season for wiggle room if they want to have a good chance at making it to the PSAC championship. That loss came against rival Indiana (Pa.). SRU’s head coach Shawn Lutz voiced his and the teams’ frustrations about that game. It was a one score loss that was winnable for either team all the way to the end.
“We lost a game we thought we should’ve won against IUP,” said Lutz
The Rock took out some of their anger on opponent Mercyhurst, whom they soundly defeated 31-17 in a game that saw six different SRU rushers combine for 200 rushing yards on 44 attempts. This was good for 4.5 yards per carry and helped Noah Grover into the redzone multiple times where he himself thrived, throwing three redzone touchdowns.
Slippery Rock garnered some more momentum from their last game, a thorough 40-14 annihilation of Gannon University. Lutz explained that the victory was satisfying and well rounded. The Rock didn’t turn the ball over once and gained 371 yards of total offense on the way to scoring five touchdowns. They also converted five of five redzone opportunities into scores.
“I thought that was the best performance against a quality opponent playing a 60-minute game, offense, defense, and special teams,” Lutz said.
As elite teams and coaches do, however, Lutz added that there is always room for improvement and a handful of things that could’ve been done better. He highlighted a few small technical miscues that could’ve made the lopsided affair an even more satisfying blowout.
“I still think we left some things on the field. We gotta be better finishing drives… The biggest thing defensively is just playing the ball better in the air,” Lutz said.
These two games combined for a dominant scoring margin of 71-31. Now The Rock looks toward a key October 22 rivalry matchup against Cal U which will feature the return of wide receiver Jacob Odom who has missed two games but is still third on the team in receiving yards.
SRU is going into Cal U’s Adamson stadium for their homecoming game, looking to dampen the spirits of the Vulcans. That doesn’t mean there is a lack of confidence going in for The Rock, which won eight of the last ten matchups including four straight. Coach Lutz stressed the importance of every game and doesn’t want his players to ever drop their guard or lessen the intensity.
“Every game is a playoff game… It’s gonna be a big test,” Lutz said.
Additionally, Lutz doesn’t want anyone thinking that Cal U’s 4-3 record makes them anything less than a formidable opponent. Out of the Vulcan’s three losses, all three were decided by five points or less. This included an overtime loss to Shepherd and a brutal loss to IUP when Cal U was setting up for a game winning chip shot field goal only for an offensive penalty to cause a clock runoff that ended the game.
“Don’t let their record fool you,” Lutz said.
Coach Lutz also offered several keys to win that his team will be focusing on. The Rock has a nationally ranked defense and he intends on using it to the best of its ability to stop Cal U’s run game and force them to work through the air.
“We’ve got to make them one dimensional,” said Lutz.
If Coach Lutz’ first plan works and SRU is able to force Cal U to throw, the next step is doing everything in their power to limit Jaquae Jackson. Jackson leads the Vulcans in receiving yards (788), yards per game (112.57), touchdowns (9), and receptions (50). In all four of those categories Jackson more than doubles the number for second place on his team. Assuming Cal U starting quarterback Noah Mitchell can get the ball to him, the offense runs through Jaquae Jackson. Slowing him down and neutralizing the run game would likely grind the Vulcans offense to a screeching halt.
Coach Lutz also emphasized the battle in the trenches. Whoever wins the offensive line versus defensive line battle has a huge advantage toward winning the game. While the goal is to always be dynamic and attack the opposing defense in multiple facets of the game, Coach Lutz wants his team’s offense to flow smoothly through pounding the rock with four separate running backs.
“We’ve gotta be able to run the football,” said Lutz.
Coach Lutz also noted that Cal U sends a lot of pressure. He wants to take advantage of that pressure by blocking well to create big runs in addition to converting some big plays to his receivers that will open up even more running lanes.
Equally important is not being susceptible to defensive pressure and not forcing plays on offense that become turnovers. The Rock didn’t turn the ball over at all against Gannon University. Coach Lutz attributed much of that win to playing clean football and shared that the same idea could be a large factor in deciding how the game against Cal U goes.
Regardless of records, rankings, and gameplans, Coach Lutz is expecting the game to be well fought until the clock hits zero.
“We’ve always had good games against Cal,” said Lutz.
The Vulcans are undoubtedly coming into this game with a fire lit under them for multiple reasons. Slippery Rock has enjoyed more recent success in the matchup- most notably taking down Cal U to win the PSAC West just last year. On top of all that, the game is already a PSAC rivalry clash on Cal U’s home turf during Cal U’s homecoming.
The Rock on the other hand would like nothing more than to play homecoming spoiler.
“It’s a rivalry… We’re going into their house, and we want to ruin their homecoming,” said Lutz.