BY ETHAN WILT
What: Salisbury Football (RV) hosts No. 16 Frostburg St.
Where: Sea Gull Stadium
When: Saturday at 1 p.m.
How to Watch: Sea Gull Sports Network
On Saturday, Salisbury looks to start another streak against their longtime rivals Frostburg State. Falling to the Bobcats last year 21-17, Salisbury’s 12-game winning streak in the rivalry came to an end. With a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title out-of-reach, Salisbury (7-1 NJAC, 7-2) looks to finish the season on a high-note, while Frostburg (7-1 NJAC, 8-1) continues to be in the hunt for an NCAA Playoff spot.
With consistency year in and year out, the Sea Gulls are always a tough match-up for visiting teams with their explosive players on offense, a stout defense and a special teams unit with a knack for making plays. With a strong team in Frostburg, Salisbury will have to be playing at the top of their game.
Offense: The Salisbury offense is largely one dimensional with the triple-option, not even attempting 100 passes on the season. They rely on the legs of their quarterback, senior Brandon Lewis, as well as senior super backs Malique Pratt and Dandre Dennis.
While one dimensional, this has done nothing to inhibit the Sea Gull offense. Salisbury is ninth in the nation in rushing, averaging 295.4 yards on the ground with 5.1 yards per carry. With that in mind, the Salisbury option offense has been dominant this season.
Defense: While the offense continues to run, run, run, the Sea Gulls’ defense has developed into a true star unit for the most part this season. Last week’s game against Wesley is the first time a Salisbury opponent has cracked 20 points since the first game of the season at Albright.
The defense consistently holds teams under 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Salisbury also possesses a strong ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ mentality, allowing 12.4 points-per-game (second in the NJAC, 16th in the nation). The low amount of points allowed is also a tribute to their 55 percent red zone defense, seventh best in Division III.
Staying fresh has also not been an issue, as the Sea Gull offense averages 32 minutes of possession a game, not allowing the defense to tire out.
Keys to the Game: Salisbury needs to maintain a potent rushing attack, or do something they have not done all season: pass the ball. That was a necessity vs. Wesley last week, but SU completed only 4-of-16 passes in the contest.
Frostburg comes into Saturday’s matchup with the top rushing defense, not allowing over 60 yards per game this season good for sixth best in the country. With a reliance on the ground game, Salisbury could get stuck with a lack of production out of their run option.
If they can get Lewis going in the passing game, however, the offense should be able to get enough opportunities against the Bobcats.
Player to Watch: Senior Quarterback Brandon Lewis
Lewis really needs to shine in order to win against Frostburg. Using both his arm talent, and his skill at weaving between defenders on the ground, he will have to put this game on his shoulders Saturday.
In this top-3 NJAC battle, this is going to be a tough match-up, without factoring in the history between the two teams. Each team is going to want this win badly, but with Salisbury playing well at home this season with a 4-0 record, it’s their game to lose.
Frostburg comes into Sea Gull Stadium in a similar position to Salisbury within the conference and is looking ahead to potential playoff opportunities. With the potent rushing attack of the Sea Gulls, the Bobcats will face quite the challenge this Saturday.
Offense: Compared to Salisbury’s one-dimensional offense, the Bobcats are much more dynamic on offense. Not only are they averaging almost 170 yards per game on the ground, but they add almost another 270 yards passing on top of that.
Experience in the pass game has been a key to that success. Throwing to a very deep receiving core is junior quarterback Connor Cox. Despite not starting in the team’s 17-14 win vs. Kean last week, Cox is expected to be back after being banged up over the course of the season.
The Davidson, Md.-native is 27 passing yards from 2000 for the season and leads the NJAC in total offense per game with 263.1 yards. Coz is familiar with playing in Salisbury, nearly leading the Bobcats to a win two years ago in the same venue.
Defense: The Frostburg defense really matches up well with Salisbury’s offense. The Bobcats lead the conference in rushing defense, allowing 57.3 yards per game.
While Salisbury’s defense stays fresh because of their offense’s time of possession, Frostburg’s does just as good of a job and their defense stays just as fresh. Their defensive line play is excellent led by senior defensive lineman Niles Scott who totals 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2017.
Their defensive backs are on the attack as well led by junior Josh Scales, leading the team in tackles and fumble recoveries. However, the unit has been porous through the air, seventh in the NJAC in pass defense.
Keys to the Game: This offense seems to breathe through their upperclassman quarterback Cox. Play well against the Salisbury secondary that has given up big plays this season, and they could be well on their way to a win.
However, if he falters, the Sea Gull defense can focus in on running back Jamaal Morant, and the run game. Then, they won’t be leaving Sea Gull stadium with a ‘W.’
Player to Watch: Frostburg’s defensive line
With Salisbury counting on their ground game, Frostburg’s defensive line will play a large role in deciding the success of Lewis, Pratt and their explosive read option. A victory for them will be decided in the trenches between a young, bruised Salisbury offensive line and Scott and the Bobcats.