Coming off a 62-37 victory over Wayne State, the No. 11 Slippery Rock University football team will return to Mihalik-Thompson Stadium for the first home game of the season against Shippensburg University this Saturday.
The two teams met just over a year ago where SRU lost to the Warriors in a game that featured a slew of SRU mishaps, namely a last minute fumble that was recovered in the end zone to give Shippensburg its first lead of the game with under a minute to play. After driving back downfield in hopes to recapture the lead, The Rock turned the ball over once again, cementing a 25-21 loss.
The Rock will attempt to avenge the heartbreaking loss in the confines of Mihalik-Thompson stadium. Head coach Shawn Lutz emphasized what it means to him and his team as they prepare for SRU’s first home game of 2019.
“We take a lot of pride when we play at home, I can count out with my fingers how many home games we have lost in the past 10 years,” Lutz said. “It’s a night game, so hopefully we get those Rock Rowdies out to support the team. It’s just a special feeling at home.”
Despite The Rock’s impressive home record, Lutz emphasized that his team has been immensely successful over the years and the record books back it up. For reference, SRU has been 48-9 (.842) at home since 2008 and has only suffered three of losses under Lutz.
Despite The Rock’s impressive home record, Shippensburg will come to Slippery Rock hungry for their first win of the season after losing to Clarion 49-28 last week. Lutz emphasized that his team cannot underestimate The Warriors, and that his defense’s top responsibility is to contain The Warrior’s passing attack, following a disappointing performance against Wayne State last week.
“Shippensburg can really throw the ball with their returning quarterback [Brycen] Mussina,” Lutz said. “He’s got a quick release and he can throw the ball deep so we need to be able to take away their big plays and get pressure on them early.”
Mussina is the son of Major League Baseball (MLB) Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, who spent 18 combined seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, winning seven Gold Gloves and being named to five All-Star teams.
Aside from trying to suppress the arm of Shippensburg’s quarterback, Lutz touched on other key points to combat The Warriors’ attack.
“We want to try and wear Shippensburg down,” Lutz said. “We are a fast-paced offense and our defense is used to it, so we want to get a good start and play a clean, 60 minute football game.”
Establishing a rhythm on offense and playing solid fundamental football will go a long way in helping the Green and White pull away from Shippensburg early, something that The Rock was unable to do last year.
After last week’s tremendous performance by quarterback Roland Rivers III, which resulted in Rivers claiming the Division II lead in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and points responsible for, Lutz said he would like to see a more complete team effort this week, namely from his backfield and defense.
“The biggest improvement I want to see is our ability to run the football,” Lutz said.
The backfield combined for only 40 yards on the ground, despite toting the ball 16 times. Rivers was able to outpace the backfield’s production, rushing for 67 yards while taking seven less carries (9).
With Rivers putting on a show in last week’s game, it can be argued that there was not a dire need for production from the backfield. However, a balanced rushing attack to compliment The Rock’s deadly passing game will make the Green and White offense nearly unstoppable.
The Rock backfield will look to exploit a poor Shippensburg’s run defense that allowed over 350 yards a week ago.
With one game under The Rock’s belt, there is substantial room for improvement across the board as the season wears on. This Saturday serves as a prime opportunity for the Green and White to show once again why they were picked to capture another PSAC championship.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is slated for 6 p.m. where Slippery Rock will look to improve to 2-0 on the season and capture its 14th consecutive home opener victory.