2018 Slippery Rock The Rock Football Recap
If you are a Michigan football season ticket holder and have a great memory, you might recall that Slippery Rock had an up year in 2018, improving off some good seasons in years past to go 11-3, and 7-0 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference before losing in the conference championship game to 9th ranked West Chester University. Entering the NCAA Division II football playoffs 9-2 and as the Northeast Super Region 7 seed, Slippery Rock upset both #13 LIU Post and University of New Haven on the road before losing to Notre Dame (OH) 21 - 17 in the Super Regional Finals / National Quarterfinals on December 1st. Slippery Rock finished the year ranked 12th by the ACFA Coaches Poll.
Expectations are high for Slippery Rock as they are presently ranked 10th in the ACFA Coaches Poll. This is largely thanks to the fact that they return senior QB Roland Rivers III who eventually sparked to the offense after he got the start in The Rock’s Week 3 matchup at Millersville University in his first game of the season. He scored a touchdown on a 10 yard scamper on the first drive en route to a 57-10 victory that crowned him the champion of the three-man QB battle against Andrew Koester and Taylor King. Rivers threw for 226.8 yards per game and posted a 28 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. The Slippery Rock offense averaged 38.5 points per game in games Rivers started.
Rivers will retain a lot of the help on offense that helped him shine as well. Redshirt juniors Henry Litwin and Jermaine Wynn Jr. shared the team lead with 51 receptions last year and finished first and second on the team respectively in receiving yards. Their 1,586 combined receiving yards accounted for 44.3% of the team’s passing yards last season. Expect the left side of the O-line to be a strength too, as LT Chris Larsen, LG Ryan Podgorski, and C Austin Wayt all started every game last season and will be returning. That’s not to say that The Rock offense will be taking off right where it left off however. The Rock will have to move on from Wes Hills who graduated last year following his only season at Slippery Rock and three years prior playing for Delaware. In his senior season Wes Hills set the Slippery Rock University single season rushing record with 1,714 rushing yards to go along with 17 rushing touchdowns and chipped in 193 receiving yards as well. Roland Rivers was the only other player to eclipse 250 rushing yards for Slippery Rock last season, but they’ve got another division 1 transfer in Charles Snorweah, who graduated from Rutgers after playing in 7 games in his senior year for the Scarlet Knights.
The defense, which limited opponents to 21.2 points per game last season brings back plenty of reasons for optimism as well. 11 of 14 players who started for Slippery Rock this past season are returning in 2019. The highlights of this unit include redshirt junior LB Tim Vernick, who will serve as a team captain and started 21 games in his first two seasons for The Rock and led the team in tackles in 2018. Redshirt Sophomore Jeff Marx earned 1st team All - Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference honors during a 46 tackle, 7 TFL, and 1 sack campaign last year. Chad Kuhn posted 48 tackles, 14, TFL, 7.5 sacks, and 8 QB hurries during the 2018 season. You can expect this side of the ball to improve on that 21.2 points per game number, while the offense will likely keep up the pace or extend their 38.5 points per game under Rivers from last year, which should mean plenty of big wins for The Rock in 2019.
Let’s take a look at what might lie ahead of Slippery Rock this season, and what scores might be celebrated in Michigan Stadium.
Don’t care for the Bears or the Packers? Well, you’ll probably still choose to watch that game, but Slippery Rock travels to Michigan this week to take on Wayne State (who they played in the Big House in 1981) on Thursday at 6. Wayne State was ... less pleased, with their 2018 season going 2-9. Slippery Rock should be off to a good start with their season and Big House score announcements in 2019. Expect a victory and announcement during the Army game on Saturday to the tune of:
Slippery Rock 55 - Wayne State 13
Michigan is off on Saturday, September 14th, but Slippery Rock isn’t. Slippery Rock lost 25-21 in Shippensburg, PA, last season. This defeat prompted the QB change that put Roland Rivers in command of the offense. Expect Slippery Rock to avenge their defeat from last season.
Michigan hits the road to Maidson on September 21st, but Slippery Rock stays at home and plays, and should defeat Millersville just as they did last year on the road.
On September 28th, Michigan hosts the Rutgers of the B1G East: Rutgers. Slippery Rock visits the Rutgers of the PSAC West: Seton Hill. The Griffins won just one game last year. Expect Carl Grapentine to announce another Slippery Rock win after their two week hiatus. I’m thinking something like:
Slippery Rock 42 - Seton Hill 20
Michigan hosts the second half of back-to-back home games on October 5th, and Slippery Rock plays their second consecutive road game. Mercyhurst was average a year ago going 5-6 and losing by 20 in Slippery Rock PA. This is the first game where I think an upset is possible. Both games are noon kickoffs, so a final score likely won’t be read although division II games go quicker. Nonetheless expect the fans in Ann Arbor to celebrate a win along the lines of:
Slippery Rock 31 - Mercyhurst 27
Michigan travels to Illinois to face the Illini while The Rock return home and host Indiana (PA), a formidable opponent who Slippery Rock narrowly defeated in Indiana, PA, last year.
Michigan and Slippery Rock both hit the road on October 19th, and will both be in Pennsylvania. Edinboro didn’t put up much of a fight last year.
On October 26th Michigan and Slippery Rock host Notre Dame and Clarion University respectively. Unlike Michigan, Slippery Rock won their matchup last year against a 4-7 squad. Don’t expect anything too different, and count on another Slippery Rock victory / big lead on the scoreboards at the Big House. Let’s say about:
Slippery Rock 35 - Clarion 13
Michigan will be in College Park facing the Terrapins on November 2nd, Slippery Rock’s senior day. California (PA) was a good team last year but still lost by 23 at home to The Rock
Michigan has the week off, but Slippery Rock never takes a week off. Seriously, they never have BYE weeks. Gannon went 2-9 last year.
Michigan hosts Michigan State during the final week of The Rock’s regular season. Slippery Rock will have to travel to Eastern PA to play PSAC East opponent Bloomsburg. The Huskies went 6-5 last season, and went 2-4 against opponents who also played Slippery Rock in 2018. Slippery Rock went 4-2 against those opponents. This is one of the few games on the roster where Slippery Rock shouldn’t be a heavy favorite; however, I expect the better team to pull through. For the final time of the season, Michigan fans should be celebrating a Slippery Rock victory that looks something like:
Slippery Rock 24 - Bloomsburg 14
While the potential for a perfect regular season is likely to get spoiled by an upset along the way, Slippery Rock should be one of the best division two teams in the nation. I would have to call them PSAC favorites and should have a high seed in the Northeast Super Region come tourney time, and make perhaps the most noise of any division two team by causing the 110,000 fans in Ann Arbor to roar 5 times this season, with the potential to still be playing, and winning football when The Game returns to Ann Arbor on November 30th.
Image credit: Ken Lund retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenlund/21735028072