As his team prepares to play Clarion on Saturday, Paul Tortorella is certain of one thing.
Yes, the Golden Eagles are 0-5. And they lost their last game by 75 points. And they haven’t beaten IUP since President Obama’s first term.
“It sounds like coachspeak,” said Tortorella, “but I could show you — from my years’ experience — that the Clarion team you watch on film won’t be the same one we play Saturday. To what extent that is, I don’t know, but they’ll be engaged. They’ll want to beat IUP, and they will play better. That’s a fact, not an opinion.”
Here’s some proof:
- The last time IUP lost to Clarion, in 2010, the Golden Eagles entered the game 1-5 while the Hawks were 4-2. Two fourth-quarter TDs helped Clarion pull away for a 21-14 win.
- In 2000, IUP (6-1) held a 13-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, but the 4-4 Golden Eagles scored three touchdowns and won 21-13.
- In 1997, Tortorella’s third season as IUP’s defensive coordinator, Clarion came to Indiana with an 0-7 record, while IUP was 3-4. On a rainy and sloppy afternoon, the Golden Eagles ran all over IUP for a 21-6 win.
While all three of those games were played at IUP’s Miller Stadium, and this year’s meeting is at Clarion, Tortorella isn’t selling the Golden Eagles short, even if statistics say he probably could.
“You have to be smart enough to realize that we’ve lost a couple of games around here, back in the old days, to teams that were really struggling,” he said.
To say Clarion is struggling might be an understatement. In their past three games, the Golden Eagles have been outscored 193-54. They’re dead last in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in 10 statistical categories, including scoring defense (49.0 points per game), passing defense (312.2 yards per game), total defense (452.0 yards per game) and turnover margin (minus-8).
The reasons for Clarion’s ineptitude vary. Like most teams, the year off because of COVID has reshaped the Golden Eagles’ roster, but Clarion is especially young. Of the 92 players on the roster, 57 (62 percent) are freshmen. Clarion has only eight seniors and eight juniors, and only seven current players had ever started a game for Clarion before this season. Between the offense and defense, 33 players have started at least one game this season for the Golden Eagles.
The offensive line has been particularly snakebitten. Nine linemen have started at least one game this season. Right tackle Jake Linder is the only lineman to start all five games. In last week’s blowout loss at Slippery Rock, Clarion started three freshmen on the line.
The results have been predictable. After opening the season with losses to lower-tier programs Lake Erie College and Millersville, the Golden Eagles got whipped in succession by Shippensburg (62-33), Gannon (56-21) and Slippery Rock (75-0).
Last week’s game was particularly tough for Clarion. Slippery Rock scored touchdowns on its first 11 possessions and outgained the Golden Eagles 588-81.
But Tortorella doesn’t care much about all of that. In 2017, his team was 7-0 and had just whipped Slippery Rock the week before when it went to Clarion to face the 1-6 Golden Eagles. IUP was in a battle from the start and barely escaped with a 23-17 win. The next year, IUP was 4-2 when Clarion came to Indiana. The Crimson Hawks fell behind 20-0 in the first half but rallied for a 24-23 win.
Tortorella believes Clarion’s Chris Weibel is one of the better head coaches in the PSAC and that he will have his team ready to take another shot at IUP.
“He’s a really good coach,” Tortorella said. “They’re pretty sound, they’ll do some quirky things. They’ll take chances on defense, with pressure and some pretty exotic blitzes. And offensively, I’d expect some trick plays. But the thing that really stands out is they’re well-coached. I know that they’re not very good and they’ve struggled this year, but it’s not because they don’t know what they’re doing. So I don’t I don’t think, by any stretch of the imagination, that we’re going to get the Clarion team that we see on film.”