See you soon, West Chester

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: September 9, 2022
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Coming into the season, Rock football head coach Shawn Lutz knew that in the first two games of the season he would figure out what this team’s identity was going to be. In their first game, they showed what they can be. They rolled over Wayne State in a 42-10 rout.

This Saturday they’ll get the chance to prove that winning is their identity when they travel roughly 330 miles to West Chester for their first road game of the season.

“You really find out what you’re made of from week one into week two, you really find your identity,” Lutz said. “You find out what you’re all about, and the most improvement has got to be from week one to week two, so I expect us to get better in a lot of different ways.”

Against Wayne State, The Rock saw the emergence of a lot of new players. But there were also some familiar faces making plays. One of which was Cohen Russell, who made his return to Slippery Rock this season after spending one away.

After the game, Russell explained why he came back to The Rock in the first place, and if you ask around the locker room, it’s quite likely that you’ll get an answer very close to his.

“The family atmosphere [is what made me come back], at my last JUCO I could say it was more of a me, me, me instead of being a team and a family,” Russell said. “So when coach Lutz and coach [Adam] Neugebauer came to my house to recruit me, it was all about family and making sure I do the right thing in school.”

Neugebauer, who departed this past offseason, helped bring Russell back after he coached him in 2019. Russell showed up in The Rock’s season opener, and it couldn’t have gone any better for him. He had two receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns to go along with a 58-yard kick return and 37-yard punt return. Both of which set up touchdown drives.

Russell joins newcomer Jacob Odom, who put up eight receptions for 97 yards in his Rock debut, and the veteran, Kyle Sheets, who posted three receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown on the receiving core.

“We don’t want to have one guy, we got some guys that can do a lot of a different things and I think it makes us a lot more multiple that we have other guys step up,” Lutz said. “I think it makes our offense a lot more explosive and I think having an experienced quarterback like Noah Grover really helps as well.”

The core is basically brand new to Grover, but throughout the offseason their chemistry was built, and it showed last Saturday. That can only be helped by a long trip.

“I like it that we’re going on the road because you get an opportunity to bond, and you leave on Friday and stay overnight and you kind of get closer as a team,” Lutz said. “We did what we needed to do [last week], but this West Chester team is going to be a lot different and historically they’ve been the best team in the East.”

It’s been just four years since West Chester walked into Slippery Rock and outplayed The Rock for the PSAC title. So, Lutz knows this team very well. That was the teams’ last meeting. This time the teams will play at Farrell Stadium.

“You really find out what you’re made of from week one into week two, you really find your identity,” Lutz said. “You find out what you’re all about, and the most improvement has got to be from week one to week two, so I expect us to get better in a lot of different ways.”

The rushing attack that consisted of Tim Smith, Chris D’Or, Isiah Edwards, Grover and Chris Wells showed up last week as well. The game may have been Slippery Rock’s most rounded game offensively in a while.

“Last year we didn’t run the ball good enough, and if we’re going to have a good offense, we need to be multiple, so now people have to choose between helping in the pass game or putting more people in the box to stop the run,” Lutz said. “We have a multitude of guys that can get the job done [at the running back position], and it also helps to have an experienced offensive line.”

The green and white will lean heavily on their rushing offense that put up 132 yards on 27 attempts last week. But they’ll be playing a defense that allowed only 269 total yards last week in a gritty battle against Bentley University. The Golden Rams pulled out a close 17-16 win.

The Rock’s defense also comes in off of an impressive performance. Slipper Rock held Wayne State’s ground game to 137 yards on 40 attempts. Something that they’ll need to do this week again.

“I think Wayne State runs the football and they play bully ball, and we held our own in that challenge, and it’ll be the same thing against West Chester,” Lutz said. “They have a big running back that reminds of Wes Hills, another guy who’s pretty good and their quarterback likes to run, so the key at West Chester is to tackle these running backs and stop the run, and if we can do that, I like our chances to win this football game.”

Phil Poquie put up 92 yards on the ground last week for West Chester and to Lutz the ability to stop him could make the difference between a win or a loss.

Slippery Rock’s only aspect of their game that didn’t play well last week was their special teams.

“Kickoff team wasn’t good enough and we missed two field goals, we just have to make those and have better protection on that,” Lutz said. “We’ve got to make big plays on the special team’s unit and play the field position.”

Lutz also wants the team to limit penalties. In their opening game, they committed 10 penalties for 79 yards. They’ll have to limit any penalties in order to walk out of West Chester with a win on Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t like the penalties, it’s always been a concern here and something that the guys need to be smarter about and need clean up,” Lutz said.

Well, the season did just start, every game in college football is huge. A loss at any point in the season could be the reason you don’t make the playoffs. California (Pa.), whose only loss was to Slippery Rock on the road last season, didn’t make the playoffs just last year. The significance of each game isn’t lost, especially to Lutz.

“If look at our schedule and ask us to circle a game, West Chester is definitely a game we’d circle, they’ve had their coach there for a long time and they got great guys on their football team,” Lutz said. “I think we can go on run if we find a way to win this game, it’s a must win.”

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