The battle for dominance in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division will come to a head on homecoming this Saturday afternoon as No. 9 Slippery Rock will look to defeat No. 16 Indiana University (Pa.).
The winner of Saturday’s game will gain the fast track to capture the PSAC West title, as both teams enter the game tied for first in the division. Both Slippery Rock and IUP boast 5-0 overall records while remaining perfect in divisional play at 2-0.
After outscoring opponents 265-84 through the first five weeks of the season, The Rock faces its first ranked competition of the season, as they try to improve to 6-0 for just the second time since 1962.
It is evident that through the first five games, Slippery Rock has simply outmatched its opponent in nearly every category. Not many Division II teams are equipped with the talent to overcome SRU’s stout defense and the buzz saw that has been Roland Rivers III and his second ranked scoring offense, but IUP is certainly one of them.
The Crimson Hawk defense ranks as one of the most elite in the nation, ranking second in sacks (4.4 per game), fourth in total defense (231.2 yards per game), fifth in scoring defense (11.4 points per game), 15th in passing defense (144.2 yards per game) and 16th in rushing defense (87.0 yards per game).The offense for IUP is nothing to dismiss either as they rank 10th in the nation in scoring (45.6 points per game).
Both teams provide intimidating statistics on paper and head coach Shawn Lutz sees similarities between his team and the rival Crimson Hawks as he breaks down their defensive scheme.
“IUP does what they do, they never change who they’re playing against,” Lutz said. “They’re gonna play their four-man front like we do, we’re pretty much mirror images of each other from a defensive standpoint.”
The fourth-year head coach went on to say that both teams tend to put one safety high, while rolling the other one day by the linebackers to put an emphasis on stopping the run.
On the other side of the ball, however, Lutz employs a simplistic philosophy that has proved to be immensely successful this season.
“[IUP] will do what they do so we need to do what we do and [we] gotta be able to run the ball,” Lutz said.
Lutz went on to give credit to IUP’s defensive line and linebackers which have wreaked havoc all season long. He credited the Crimson Hawks’ senior linebacker Damon Lloyd as the leader of the defense and potentially the most talented player on the roster, someone who The Rock plans to game plan against.
Establishing a running game will be essential if The Rock plans to overcome the dominant IUP defense. By doing so, The Rock will be able to dictate the pace of the game and alleviate some pressure from the shoulders of Rivers. After a slow start to the running game to start the season, The Rock’s ground game has exploded, putting up 410 yards in the past two weeks.
Slippery Rock enjoys the luxury of having a dual threat quarterback in Rivers who is just as capable of punishing defenses with his legs as much as he is with his arm but as of late, senior running back Charles Snorweah has stepped up his game. Snorweah rushed for a season high 79 yards last week’s 45-14 win over Mercyhurst and Lutz expects him to continue to show improvement.
“We’re very impressed with how hard [Snorweah] is running,” Lutz said. “He’s pretty tough, he’s breaking tackles and getting downhill.”
Even if Snorweah isn’t running over defenders, Lutz said that Snorweah still shows his elite speed as well when he gets space in the open field. Going forward, Lutz said that his offense will deploy a backfield by committee, stating his one-two punch will feature Snorweah and junior running back DeSean Dinkins.
Another big key for the Green and White this weekend is to keep their composure and to keep the penalties to a minimum. Lutz acknowledges that Saturday’s game will be full of drama with so much at stake, but his team cannot afford to take unnecessary penalties.
While The Rock is impressive in many statistical categories, total penalties received is not one of them. SRU received six penalties for just 43 yards in the opener at Wayne State, but has racked up 59 penalties for 507 yards over the last four games making Slippery Rock the most penalized team in Division II. IUP accrues their fair share of penalties as well, ranking 141st out of the 167 Division II football teams.
While acknowledging that Saturday’s game may get physical and emotions can run high, Lutz and his team know that every yard will count on Saturday.
“There’s going to be a lot at stake and a lot of drama,” Lutz said. “It’s gonna be a packed a house and it’s gonna be a lot of excitement, [we] just need to keep our composure.”
It seems as though these teams are very similar in most categories, even down to the penalties. Each possession will be more significant than the last as both teams will fight to someway, somehow find an edge over the other.
Saturday will serve as the 94th episode in a longstanding rivalry between Slippery Rock and IUP. The battle for lineal supremacy of the PSAC West is scheduled to kickoff at 2 p.m.