Last week, IUP emphasized stopping the run. This week, it’s pass defense that the Crimson Hawks are emphasizing.
Just another quirky season in the PSAC.
IUP (2-0), which is ranked No. 8 for the second consecutive week in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25, visits Seton Hill on Saturday night in the opening weekend of divisional play in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
While the Griffins (0-2) are new to the league, their offensive philosophy is not.
Based on the first two games of the season, Seton Hill’s game plan is to come out throwing the ball, throw it around a little more and then keep on throwing the ball, just like some other PSAC teams have been known to do.
“They throw the ball a lot,” IUP head coach Curt Cignetti said, emphasizing his final two words.
Indeed the Griffins do. Through two games this season, both losses, the Griffins have thrown 98 passes and run the ball only 51 times. Only two teams in the PSAC have thrown the ball more times than Seton Hill. Maybe not surprisingly, those two teams — Shippensburg and Kutztown — are also winless.
“They’re wide-open,” Cignetti said of the Griffins. “They spread you out and throw the ball. They use bubble screens and throw a lot of passes.”
Seton Hill has rushed for only 35 yards in its first two games. The question is whether the Griffins have run the ball so infrequently because they are not very good at it, or if they are not good at it because they do it so infrequently.
Regardless, Cignetti doesn’t expect Seton Hill to come out Saturday night with the intentions of playing a run-first offense, like Cheyney did last week in a 49-0 loss to the Crimson Hawks. So the pressure this week has been on the IUP front line to get a push at the quarterback, and for the secondary to provide blanket coverage against the Griffins’ plethora of receivers.
One thing Cignetti isn’t worried about is who will play quarterback for the Griffins. Fifth-year senior Andrew Jackson started the season, but he left the season opener against Fairmont State with an injury and has not played since. He is not listed on the depth chart, and an official for Seton Hill said Jackson is considered “out” with an injury. So Cignetti and his staff have been preparing for Nick Halfhill, a redshirt sophomore, to start at quarterback — not that it really matters.
“Their scheme doesn’t really change a whole lot (with each quarterback),” he said, “So we prepare more for their schemes (than their personnel).”
Last week, Seton Hill lost to East Stroudsburg by a huge margin — 63 points (70-7). Cignetti has a simple explanation for the lopsided score.
“I was really surprised by the Stroudsburg game,” he said. “They made some mistakes offensively and on special teams that put them in a hole and they never recovered.”
The Griffins trailed 30-0 at the end of the first quarter and 42-0 at halftime, and from there the rout was on.
Cignetti is smart enough to know he can’t count on that happening again this week. Instead, he has been preparing his team for a road battle. The last two times IUP played on the road in the regular season, it came away with lackluster wins against Gannon (38-35 last year) and Southern Connecicut (30-20) in the 2013 opener.
“We need to create a standard of excellence and develop our identity as a football team,” he said. “We want to be relentless competitors and commit to a higher standard and play at a higher standard. The last two times we’ve gone on the road in the regular season, we haven’t exactly brought our ‘A’ game. … So that’s a challenge this week to the team to get back on the road and play a complete football game.”