Coming off an ugly, injury-plagued loss to Shippensburg last week, the Slippery Rock University football team will take on the Millersville University Marauders (0-2) in the final game before both teams begin conference play.
The Rock (1-1) will have to do without quarterback Andrew Koester (knee), running back Wes Hills (AC sprain), lineman Colten Raabe (foot), defensive back Tavarus Sample (hand), and lineman Wilford Clark (fibula), the latter of the five being out for the season.
Although the injuries definitely impact the team negatively, head coach Shawn Lutz said he has players ready to step-up to fill in for those injured.
“We’re not going to use the excuse in our program that ‘if we’re not successful, it’s because of injuries,” said Lutz, sternly. “Other guys who want that opportunity are now going to have to be put, and are going to have to step-up, in these clutch, and pressure-filled games.”
Lutz said that although Koester, the team’s first-string quarterback, is out for an undisclosed amount of time, he is confident in his backup, Taylor King. King, a 6-4, 230 lbs. sophomore, was Koester’s main competitor for starting quarterback during the preseason. The primary reason behind Koester getting the nod before week one was because he has experience playing in a Division I program, as well as serving as The Rock’s backup in 2017, Lutz said.
“Andrew [Koester] probably understood the offense a little better heading out of camp, but Taylor King can throw the ball,” Lutz explained. “[Taylor] looks a little bit awkward throwing the ball because he is so tall, but you look at last week, he threw the ball 300-something yards, while only playing in the second half.”
King, a transfer from Butte College (Ca.), took over for Koester starting in the third quarter against Shippensburg last week. In two quarters, he threw for 335 yards, in addition to connecting with redshirt sophomore Henry Litwin on a 62-yard touchdown. Despite the strong numbers, he threw two interceptions in the game, with the second quelling any hope for a Green and White comeback. With King now taking over the quarterback duties for the time being, SRU’s primary backup is now junior Roland Rivers, a transfer from Valdosta State University (Ga.). Lutz said he hopes that he doesn’t have to use Rivers this season, but he is confident in his abilities if the time comes.
With Hills out for a few weeks at least, redshirt sophomore Chacar Berry is poised to be the main running back in the backfield. On the season, Berry has 76 rushing yards and one touchdown. Lutz said in addition to Berry, fellow redshirt sophomore Braden Fochtman can also be expected to get more carries.
“We gotta get these guys in and give them reps so we can find out who is going to give us the best chance to win,” Lutz explained. “You see the difference when you don’t have a Wes Hills, you see where our running game went.”
During week one against Kentucky State, The Rock rushed for a total of 269 yards. Week two saw Slippery Rock rush for 45 yards, a 224-yard difference from week one to week two.
Losing one of the most formidable running backs in the conference in Hills, Lutz said that The Rock’s passing and receiving game is going to have be “that much better.” Right now, The Rock’s top three receivers, in terms of yards, are Litwin (217), senior Carnel Harley (137), and junior Austin Scott (130). Lutz said for his offense to be more successful, there needs to be more production from the slot position.
“Our inside receivers really need to step-up this week,” Lutz said. “Last week, Ship was taking things away from the slot, that’s why our outside receivers were big in that game. We also need to get more out of this Jermaine Wynn Jr. because our running backs are good, but they are not Wes Hills.”
Defensively, The Rock will look to Ohio State transfer Eric Glover to take over for Sample for the time being. Glover, traditionally a wide receiver, moved sides of the ball because, according to Lutz, being a receiver “simply did not work out for him.” Glover certainly has big shoes to fill. In two games, Sample has 10 tackles and two interceptions for 62 yards.
The defense certainly has their work cut out for them on Saturday against Millersville. Although winless, the Marauders have one of the most productive quarterbacks in the conference. Collin Shank currently ranks fourth in the conference with 581 passing yards, 331 of which came last week against nationally ranked Indiana University (Pa.) University. Lutz said he needs his defense to become better tacklers if they want to stop Shank and the Marauders’ offense.
“Against Kentucky State, we had 31 missed tackles, against Ship, we had 11 or 12 missed tackles, so we have gotten better in that area, but we still need to improve,” he said.
Looking for redemption this week is junior kicker/punter Jake Chapla. Chapla has been called by Lutz as one of the best kickers in the entire country. Last season he had a 70% (11 for 16) success rate when kicking field goals. In the game against Shippensburg alone, Chapla missed three field goals on three attempts. Lutz said he understands that one missed field goal happens, but there is no excuse for three in one game.
“I have never seen Chapla get so mad when he missed that first field goal,” Lutz said. “He let it get to his head and he admitted to that. Kickers are mental; We might need a shrink to just come in and talk to him because we are going to need him in some critical role somewhere down the line.”
Even with the poor field goal percentage, Chapla still ranks third in the conference in punting yards (356), behind Indiana’s (Pa.) Nico Ruiz (372) and Mercyhurst’s Brendan Cole (383).
Heading into week three, Lutz and the rest of the SRU football team will look to put last week’s performance against Shippensburg behind them.
“This past week I told the guys, ‘We can’t lose to Ship twice,’” Lutz explained. “What I mean by that is that we have to get out of thinking about the Ship game and focus on the Millersville game. So I use the analogy. We can’t lose to Ship twice, because we have to move forward.
Kickoff for the game against Millersville is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Chryst Field at Biemesderfer Stadium in Millersville, Pennsylvania.