District football Week 7 preview: No. 3 IUP, No. 9 Slippery Rock to collide
Game of the week
IUP at Slippery Rock
2 p.m. Saturday
The PSAC has been home to some of the most productive and accomplished quarterbacks in Division II in recent years.
This season, nobody in the conference has been better than IUP's Lenny Williams and Slippery Rock's Tanner Garry, and no teams have been better than the No. 3 Crimson Hawks (6-0, 3-0) and No. 9 Rock (6-0, 3-0).
They meet this week with first place on the line in the West.
"If we beat them, it would be a great boost to our program," Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz said.
Williams (Sto-Rox), a redshirt junior who transferred from Temple, ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency (178.9). He has thrown for 14 touchdowns and 1,433 yards to go with 138 yards rushing.
"When he first came here, he was an athlete playing quarterback," IUP coach Paul Tortorella said. "Now he's a quarterback that's just a real good athlete. He's doing a lot more things from the pocket."
Williams' 14 passing touchdowns are tied for his career high set last year, when a right ACL injury ended his season after nine games. Although his rushing numbers are down this fall — he ran for 1,229 yards as a freshman and 594 as a sophomore — the threat is still there.
"I definitely wanted to become more of a respected passer," Williams said. "If that's staying in the pocket a little bit more, I'll do that. But at the same time, I have to make sure I'm sticking to my game and what I do best."
That unpredictability is what makes Williams the hardest player in the conference to prepare for, Lutz said.
"Lenny is as dynamic, elusive and athletic quarterback that's ever come through Division II football," Lutz said. "You can cover everybody, and he can extend those plays."
5️⃣ using his legs AND his arm pic.twitter.com/xeMhzN2j4U— IUP Football (@IUPfootball) October 7, 2017
Williams has been aided by a ground game led by sophomore Samir Bullock, who ranks third in the PSAC with 708 yards rushing. IUP features the top offense (504.7 yards per game) and defense (295.3 yards per game) in the conference.
That defense will be tested by Garry, a Fort Cherry product whose 22 passing touchdowns and 2,028 yards rank second in D-II. His 166.1 passing efficiency stands 11th.
Garry and Williams play opposite styles — Garry only scrambles as a last resort — but the end result is the same: winning.
"The thing about Tanner is he's tough, and he's a great leader," Lutz said. "He has a gunslinger mentality."
Garry is surrounded by playmakers. Senior receivers Marcus Johnson (University Prep) and Milly Raye (Allderdice) have combined for 83 catches, 1,343 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns. Johnson also has three touchdowns on returns.
"The one thing you have to realize is that they're going to have some catches," Tortorella said. "You don't want to give up the big pass, No. 1, and No. 2, you want to cut down the yardage after the catch. You're not going to just shut them down totally."
IUP and Slippery Rock average more than 40 points apiece, but the Crimson Hawks have remained unbeaten in mostly dominant fashion. Their only game decided by single digits came in a season-opening 26-23 victory over Ashland. Slippery Rock, on the other hand, has won its past three games by a combined 10 points.
"I like the fact that we are battle-tested," Lutz said. "I don't think this game is going to be a situation where these guys are going to overwhelmed because they've already been in so many close games."
Said Tortorella: "We've won a lot of games playing defense, so our deal is whatever we have to do to win the game. Whether we have to score 45-41 or 17-14, we feel like we can play either way."
Other top matchups
Duquesne at Robert Morris
6 p.m. Saturday
The Dukes (4-1, 1-0 Northeast Conference) will go for their fifth straight victory in the series against the Colonials (2-3, 0-0). … Duquesne graduate transfer Tommy Stuart ranks sixth in Football Championship Subdivision in passing efficiency (169.2) and passing touchdowns (15). … Dukes junior Nehari Crawford is 19th in FCS with 511 receiving yards and is tied for second with eighth touchdown catches. … Robert Morris junior Adam Wollett is tied for the conference lead with 9 tackles per game.
Geneva at Carnegie Mellon
1 p.m. Saturday
The Tartans (5-1, 3-1 PAC) look to bounce back from last week's loss to Washington & Jefferson when they host the Golden Tornadoes (3-2, 2-1). … Carnegie Mellon senior receiver John Prather ranks second in the PAC and 14th in NCAA D-III with 621 yards. His 10 receiving touchdowns are tied for first in the conference and tied for fourth in D-III. … Geneva continues to lead the conference in rushing with 356 yards per game behind junior Trewon Marshall, who has 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Damon Black, Saint Vincent
The Lakeland, Fla., native entered the season as the program's career leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, and he continues to build on those numbers.
The 6-foot-3 Black leads the PAC and is tied for second in NCAA Division III with 52 catches to go with 546 yards and three touchdowns. That puts his career totals at 166 receptions, 2,093 yards and 21 touchdowns.
By the numbers
36.7 — Average for Slippery Rock's Marcus Johnson on 10 kickoff returns, including two TDs.
22.4 — Average for Johnson on 10 punt returns, including one TD.
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.