The return to Mihalik-Thompson Stadium was like something out of a movie for Slippery Rock. After a nearly two-year hiatus, The Rock faithful made their return to the tune of 8,101 people in the crowd. Now a week later, Slippery Rock will host Lock Haven University in their second cross conference matchup of the year.
Slippery Rock will be taking on a Lock Haven team that is coming off a 59-0 loss at California (Pa.). The last time that The Rock and The Bald Eagles faced off was in 2017, a matchup that was won by Slippery Rock 33-7.
“My expectations for this week are not about Lock Haven at all, we just need to get better,” head coach Shawn Lutz said. “We have a lot of young guys that don’t have the game experience yet, but one of our focuses for this week is getting better on the offensive line because Andrew was hit too much this past Saturday.”
One of the biggest priorities for Lutz and The Rock is to keep quarterback Andrew Koester clean. In the first two games, Koester has been sacked four times and Lutz wants to change that. Koester has still managed to put up 591 yards passing with three touchdowns so far. With the good there has also been the bad, as Koester has also thrown three interceptions.
“I think [Andrew] has adjusted in well, in the first game against a good Wayne State defense he threw over 300 yards and he’s made good plays when needed, but he hasn’t had much time back there,” Lutz said. “He hasn’t played a lot of snaps, but he’s done a pretty good job and he’s only going to get better.”
Koester has also started to settle in and use his weapons. Slippery Rock’s offense is loaded with talent, headlined by Jermaine Wynn Jr. and Henry Litwin. The offense also features the talents of Cinque Sweeting and Chris D’Or.
“We want to play fast on offense this week, but improvement is the key, and the biggest thing is just getting these guys more experience,” Lutz said. “In this conference any team can beat you on any day, and I know Lock Haven has struggled, but we’re taking them very seriously.”
The offense has shown that they can go fast a few times and the team has the speed to do it. The problem has been keeping the tempo consistent. Lutz feels that one way to keep consistent on the offensive end is to spread the ball out a little bit more.
“What Andrew’s got to realize is that there are other receivers on our team, and we can’t force it all the time to Henry [Litwin], but just having him in his hip pocket means a lot and it’s the same thing with Jermaine Wynn and Cinque Sweeting,” Lutz said.
Of Koester’s 41 completions thus far, 31 of them have been to Litwin, Wynn Jr., or Sweeting. The trio has helped Koester settle in a lot easier though, and the hope is that having them on the field will make Koester more comfortable to get to ball to other receivers, like Gavyn Barnes and Kyle Sheets, more often especially when one of the three veterans is being doubled.
In past years, the question would have been whether or not the other team will be able to slow down Slippery Rock’s offense, but now it remains to be seen whether or not The Rock will be able to up the tempo consistently.
This week will see two players come back on offense for The Green and White. Running back Eyvn Holtz will be making his season debut and he’ll share the backfield with Tim Smith. Lutz pointed out that with Holtz back, he feels they’ll have a good “one, two punch.” Wynn Jr. will also be returning after he missed the opener due to a violation of team rules. With those two back, Lutz hopes that the offensive is more explosive and will be able to score quickly.
The defense has been stellar in the two contested matchups so far, and the pass rush has been making things easier on the whole squad. Chad Kuhn’s presence has been felt by opponents with three sacks so far. In total, The Rock defense has only allowed 240 yards this season and the team came one quarter away from a shutout against East Stroudsburg.
This week they’ll be going against an offense that has struggled in the early parts of the season. Lock Haven only has 473 yards of total offense, with 273 rushing yards and 200 passing yards. It won’t get any easier for The Bald Eagles as they’ll be on the road against the No. 6 team in the nation.
Lutz feels a big key to this game is going to be the crowd again. This week will feature a white-out, and after the student section’s return last week, Lutz hopes that they’ll show out again in support of the team. After this game, The Rock will go up against PSAC West teams for the seven weeks of action, and at the home games the crowd and student section in particular may prove to be the difference.
“I can’t say enough about our student section and our support, The Rock Rowdies are in full-action and it’s going to be a white-out this week,” Lutz said. “I just hope everyone gets their white-out shirts, because Lock Haven is coming to town and wants to upset one of the top teams in the country.”