District college football preview: Cal (Pa.) visits Slippery Rock for key PSAC clash
Game of the week: California (Pa.) at Slippery Rock
• When: 1 p.m., Saturday
• Records: C: 6-2, 4-1; SR: 7-1, 4-1
Slippery Rock dealt California (Pa.) its first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division loss each of the past two years.
Perhaps a change in the standings will produce a better outcome for Cal.
There's a strong chance the PSAC West title will go to the winner, as The Rock and the Vulcans are tied for first in the division. Slippery Rock enters the contest with spots in the Division II national rankings — No. 24 in the American Football Coaches Association poll, No. 22 in D2football.com.
Cal, on a three-game winning streak, must contain or at least slow a Slippery Rock offense that leads the PSAC in scoring (46.5 ppg), total offense (580.8 ypg) and passing offense (376.3 ypg). The Rock's senior quarterback, Nigel Barksdale, is fourth in Division II in passing yards per game at 348.8, while senior wide receiver John Schademan is sixth in receiving yards per game at 126.5.
The Vulcans' defense deserves much of the credit for Cal's success this season. Cal is second in the PSAC in scoring defense (14.4 ppg) and first in total defense (298.6 ypg).
Due in part to a midseason quarterback switch, the Vulcans steadily improved on offense during the past several weeks. Sophomore James Harris, who started each of the past four games in place of sophomore Cody Schroeder, has thrown for 1,035 yards and eight touchdowns. And in last week's win over Gannon, Jeff Knox Jr. became the first Cal running back this season to reach 100 yards in a game.
Slippery Rock fares well against the run, allowing just 97.1 yards per game. But its high-scoring offense often forces teams to turn to the air early and often.
Barksdale burned Cal a year ago when The Rock survived a fourth-quarter comeback effort to win, 28-26. The quarterback threw for 283 yards and rushed for 119.
Saturday's other games to watch
• St. Francis at Duquesne, 6:10 p.m.
Duquesne needed a second-half comeback and a field goal with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter to down St. Francis, 24-21, a year ago. To win for the 14th time in 15 meetings, the Dukes (4-3, 2-1) must contain running back Kyle Harbridge, who averages a FCS-best 173.7 yards per game for the Red Flash (3-4, 1-1). No ball carrier has gained 100 yards on Duquesne this season.
• Bryant at Robert Morris, Noon
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Prather, an Akron transfer, filled in for Paul Jones and threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns in his first career start to lead Robert Morris (3-4, 1-1) past Wagner, 17-13. He might get the nod again against Bryant (4-4, 2-1), which scored 35 points in the second half to pull away from Duquesne in a 42-14 win last week.
• Indiana (Pa.) at Clarion, 1 p.m.
IUP (6-2, 3-2) returned to its dominant, defense-first form and kept its slim hopes of a PSAC West title alive with a 28-6 win over Mercyhurst last week. The Crimson Hawks can continue to distance themselves from their two-game skid when they meet Clarion (4-4, 2-3), which lost to IUP, 45-0, a year ago but won in 2010 and 2011.
• Waynesburg at Westminster, 1 p.m.
Waynesburg (6-2, 4-2) looks to end a trend against Westminster (3-4, 2-3), as the teams have alternated as winners of this matchup the last five years. The Yellow Jackets claimed last season's game, 42-16. Junior quarterback Carter Hill leads a potent Waynesburg passing attack, but he'll have to deal with a scrappy Titans defense that humbled Bethany's high-powered spread and used a blocked punt to win, 7-6, last week.
• Washington (Mo.) at Carnegie Mellon, Noon
The three-game University Athletic Association farewell tour for Carnegie Mellon (3-4, 0-0) begins with Washington (5-2, 0-0), which beat the Tartans each of the last three seasons. Last year's 15-3 outcome marked the first time since 2005 that this matchup was decided by more than 8 points.
• Robert Morris junior Antwan Eddie has made a habit of slipping through the cracks in opponents' punt coverage. With six returns for 99 yards in last week's win over Wagner, the Florida native set a single-season record for the Colonials. In 18 returns, he has 347 yards and scored once. Eddie owns three of the team's top four single-game punt return yardage totals, and all three came in the span of Robert Morris' last five games.
• As he proved last week in a 41-2 win over Seton Hill, there's no shortage of ways junior defensive end Julian Howsare can create headaches for opponents. Howsare, an Altoona grad, earned PSAC West Defensive Player of the Week honors after he finished with 10 tackles, including three for losses, and blocked two punts in Seton Hill's end zone Saturday. He has 55 tackles, 14 stops for a loss, six sacks, four blocked kicks, four pass break ups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
• Despite a discouraging day on the ground, Gannon senior running back Jansen Jones broke the Golden Knights' single-season rushing record last week in a 35-7 loss to California. Jones, who had 69 yards on 17 carries, surpassed the mark of 1,100 yards set by Sterling Pierce in 1998 and now has 1,102 yards on 205 attempts with three games remaining.
• For a program with a storied, successful history, Washington & Jefferson has churned out relatively few 1,000-yard rushers. Senior Dion Wiegand, a Keystone Oaks alum, became the eighth President to hit the four-figure mark, as he gained 93 yards in a 42-7 win over St. Vincent last week to reach 1,003 for the season.
Player to watch: Austin Miele
School: Slippery Rock
Weight: 200 pounds
Of note: As a two-way starter at Mars, Miele put up absurd rushing numbers, including a WPIAL-record 448 yards in a playoff game. But he proved himself more than capable on defense in college and has become no less valuable since transferring from St. Francis a year ago. He averages a team-best 7.6 tackles per game for The Rock, which has a defense that, though often overshadowed by the team's explosive offense, ranks third in the PSAC in total defense (329 ypg). Miele had one of his best games of the season a week ago, as he made seven solo tackles and assisted on three others during a 44-20 win at Edinboro.