Chuck Bitner

Bloom faces Ship for PSAC East Title

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The PSAC championship is still two weeks away, but this Saturday Shippensburg will host an unofficial championship game for the PSAC Eastern division. Bloomsburg and Shippensburg both come in to this game undefeated at 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the division. Both are highly ranked in the national polls, and in the Regional Rankings announced on Monday, Shippesburg is first and Bloomsburg is third. There is still one round of divisional play following this Saturday, but the winner of this game will already own the divisional crown and a date with the Western division champ on November 10.

PSAC fans have been anticipating this game for several weeks, and with both teams still unbeaten, it puts the conference and national spotlight on Seth Grove Stadium for this Saturday’s brawl. Its only Tuesday, so I reserve the right to think about this a little longer before making a pick. But this game deserves lots of hype and lots of talk (and judging by the message board, you’ve all beaten me to it). So here is my breakdown of the match up. I’ll preview the other seven contests and give all my picks in the Thursday (maybe Friday) blog.

Unofficial PSAC Eastern Division Championship

#5 Bloomsburg at #13 Shippensburg

Saturday, October 27

Seth Grove Stadium, Shippensburg University

Game Time 1:00

Scouting Shippensburg

Last week Shippensburg was seriously challenged for the first time since their season opener against Shepherd, and the Red Raiders passed the test with flying colors. They ended up winning the game by a final score of 42-24, which is a great outcome for any team playing on the road, in-conference. Especially in front of West Chester’s homecoming crowd. If you dig a little deeper into how this game played out, the result becomes even more impressive.

The Red Raiders had been averaging well over 50 points per game, and also had been averaging a pretty healthy margin of victory. But after just one quarter of play at WCU’s Farrell Stadium, the Red Raiders trailed 21-0, and they still trailed by a score of 24-21 after three quarters.

The Red Raiders hadn’t been in situations like that all year, and this was the worst possible place to be on the ropes – in front of 6,500 hostile fans. One might have expected a little bit of panic or frustration to set in, but the Raiders kept their composure and quickly cut into West Chester’s early lead. As with all come-from-behind efforts, it takes all three phases of the game. The offense hit it's stride and began finishing drives with touchdowns, but it was the defense that set up the first two scoring drives of the day by forcing turnovers. The same defensive unit also held West Chester to just 3 points over the final three quarters of the game.

Zach Zulli and the Shippensburg offense have dominated the PSAC headlines all year. Zulli has been in the top three of the national rankings in most passing statistics and he is a five time recipient of the PSAC East offensive player of the week. The offense sets records on what seems to be a weekly basis, and we see them all over the websites and newspapers. But stop being wowed by all the flash and glam of the offensive numbers for a few minutes and look at what the defense has done.

Out of 16 teams in the PSAC, the Raiders rank in the top three in three of four major categories.

Scoring Defense: 22 points per game (third)
Total Defense: 320 yards per game (second)
Rush Defense: 91 yards per game (second)
Pass Defense: 229 yards per game (eighth)

The Raiders also have the second most sacks with 26, only one behind Clarion’s league-best 27.

Let’s dig even further…In terms of points, this is what the Shippensburg defense has given up by quarter, for the season to date:
First: 63 Second: 64 Third: 14 Fourth: 34

That’s some second half defense. Consider this: The Raiders have been behind at half time twice this year (Shepherd, West Chester). In both games, they shut out the opponent in the second half.

Talk to me all you want about Ship’s offense, but championships are won by teams that can play defense, and this unit may have what it takes.

Scouting Bloomsburg

The aforementioned Shippensburg offense currently ranks first in all of Division II in total offense. But after week seven, do you know who was right behind them in second place? If you don’t, I can tell you – Bloomsburg. The Huskies fell to fourth in total offense this week thanks to a sleepwalking performance at Cheyney, but don’t judge the Huskies on that poor effort. That would be a huge mistake.

The Huskies have been winning games the old fashioned way by controlling the line of scrimmage. They are led by a veteran offensive line that averages almost 300 pounds per man, and they know how to open the running lanes. Throw in some seasoned Tight Ends and fullbacks, and you’ve got quite a challenge just to get your hands on the ball carriers. The Husky rushing attack is averaging 334 yards per game, good enough for third in Division II. Junior tailback Franklyn Quiteh is second in the nation in rushing yards per game with 168 and is first in yard per carry (7.38) among the nation’s top 20 rushers. Teammate Eddie Mateo is also averaging well over 100 yards per game with a 7.03 yards per carry average.

You probably already knew or could have guessed at those stats. Here are a few things you may not know about Bloomsburg’s offense…

Quarterback Tim Kelly is 12th in the nation in passing efficiency. The redshirt freshman stands in a modest 9th position in the PSAC with 167 passing yards per game, but remember, that is complimenting a running game that averages 333 yards per game. Through eight games, he has thrown 18 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. In six of eight games, he has thrown zero interceptions. Kelly is averaging almost 16 yards per completion, and the Huskies’ top three receivers (Ryan Dickerson, Kyle Fisher and Glenn Hutton) are all averaging more than 14 yards per catch. Over the past four games, the Huskies have developed a very effective deep passing game as well. Four different receivers have had touchdown catches of 65 yards or longer. Not too shabby for a team that supposedly doesn’t throw the ball.

Defensively, the Huskies can best be described with the old saying, “bend but don’t break.” They are a somewhat understated unit that has a knack for coming up with stops when they really need them. They’re not too far off their counterparts at Ship in most areas. They yield 23 points per game (only one more than the Raiders) and 354 yards (about 30 more than Ship). They are particularly stout against the run and have given up only 8 rushing touchdowns. They are a little more vulnerable to the passing attack (242 yards per game) but they have produced 22 sacks and 10 interceptions. The pass rush has been effective all year, and the down lineman have put many hits on some of the league’s top passers.

The Match up

When Bloomsburg has the ball

In the trenches, this will be a strength-against-strength match up. Bloomsburg runs with power, but Shippensburg boasts a strong defensive front. The Defensive line, led by Mark Kahlil Smith and Jake Metz is very good at filling the gaps and linebackers Cody Flemming and James Brennan fly to the ball. The Huskies will face their biggest challenge of the year when it comes to establishing the run.

But understand that Bloomsburg runs the ball on 70% of their snaps because that is what they want to do. It’s not because they can’t throw or are afraid to throw. If Shippensburg plays close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the Huskies have a passing threat to make them pay for it. The receivers are very fast, and can beat man coverage repeatedly. Kelly has had the deep ball touch lately, and that could be a big difference in this game, especially if standout receiver Kyle Fisher is healthy enough to return to action. The Huskies’ style is to run to set up the pass, but if they have to, they can make a team respect the pass in order to establish the run.

When Shippensburg has the ball

The Raiders don’t have to dominate the line of scrimmage, but if they can win the war, they’ll set up their offense for a great day. It won’t be easy against a Bloomsburg front that has been getting stronger each week. Larry Webster is among the PSAC leaders in sacks and his mates up front don’t give up much on the ground.

The Raiders may get some yards running the ball with Mike Frenette and Kevin Herod, but to win they are going to have to do what they do best, which is move the sticks with the passing game. Trevor Harmon and Jacob Baskerville will have a definite size advantage on Bloomburg’s secondary and if Zulli can exploit that, it will be hard for the Huskies to stop. However, Ship’s passing game picks up a lot yards after the catch, and Bloom’s secondary may be undersized, but they are all good tacklers. If they can keep things in front of them and bring receivers down before they can get the YAC, they will be able to force some punts.

Final thoughts

I can see this game going either way. Shippensburg definitely has the advantage of playing at home and the momentum of a 12 game winning streak, which is the longest in Division II. Their last loss was a 38-18 defeat at Redman Stadium one year ago. As with all close games, turnovers and penalties will be big. If one team can hold the advantage in both of those categories, they’ll probably be the winner. Shippensburg has committed more fouls than the Huskies (63 to 57), but they have also drawn 69 penalties from opponents, which is far superior to Bloom’s 38. Shippensburg also has the turnover advantage with a +12 margin to Bloomsburg’s +3.

Be sure to come back later this week for my pick in this game as well as the rest of the match ups in the week nine schedule.

Questions or comments? Leave them here or send me a message at

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Updated 10-23-2012 at 07:13 PM by Chuck Bitner

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  1. shiplb54's Avatar
    Wow, the difference in turnover margin is pretty huge.