Pitt’s biggest test of the year looms
Garett McCullough | Sports Editor
This week’s game against Lincoln University marks the end of what could be called the Gorillas’ preseason, as the Blue Tigers are the fourth straight winless team to face PSU on the gridiron.
You beat who?
In week one, the Gorillas traveled to Tahlequah, Okla., to take on the Northeastern State Riverhawks. Surprisingly, the Gorillas led by only one after the first quarter, 7-6. The Riverhawk faithful had high hopes, but they found their team down 21-6 at the half and the game was soon wrapped up. The Gorillas easily took that game 41-20, without too much effort and without playing their best football.
The next two games were against similar opponents. In week two, PSU played poorly against the Central Oklahoma Bronchos, but still won easily, 34-19. The Gorillas dominated Southwest Baptist in week three. PSU’s first three opponents are all 0-3, and all three will likely lose again this weekend, as each faces an undefeated MIAA foe.
Essentially, if everything goes as it should, then combined record of the teams PSU has faced will be 0-16. No team could ask for a better schedule to start the season.
In the National Football League, teams have a preseason, and most Division I programs have one or two games against lower-level teams to work out the kinks at the start of the season. Since Anthony Abenoja took over at quarterback this season, the early season schedule is incredibly fortunate for PSU, especially with three of the MIAA’s top teams looming in October. Beginning on Oct. 6, the Gorillas will face Central Missouri, and then head to Kansas City, Mo., for the Fall Classic against Northwest Missouri State. Finally, the Gorillas close out their toughest stretch of the year against the surging Missouri Western Griffons. The combined record for these teams is 7-2, with the only losses coming from each other.
The first game against the UCM Mules looks to be the best matchup on paper, but at the same time, the Mules are the team that handed No. 12 Northwest Missouri State its only loss. The Gorillas convincingly handled UCM last year in a 38-17 rout, but this was at a time when the Gorillas were playing championship caliber football. The most important change for the Mules appears to be at the quarterback position. Last year Tommy Corwin was roughed up all game, but this year the 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior Colter Smith, will be much tougher to knock down. Smith has a passing efficiency of 141.0 for the young season with seven touchdowns to four interceptions. This game has all the makings of an upset. Either way, it will be a good measuring stick for the Gorillas.
Always a classic
Next up will be the No. 12 NWMSU Bearcats, a team that is in the midst of an early season quarterback competition. Trevor Adams, who played against the Gorillas last year, was benched before last week’s game. Tyler Seals and Brady Bolles stepped in to try their hands as field general last week against Fort Hays and played well enough to trounce the Tigers 48-10. Seals is the purer quarterback of the two, completing two touchdown passes, while Bolles likes to show off his running skills. Bolles went for 111 yards and a touchdown on the ground last week. The explosiveness of that tandem, plus the always exciting Jordan Simmons and James Franklin, who ran all over PSU last year, could spell trouble for the Gorillas. Although NWMSU and PSU are No. 12 and No. 1 in the nation right now, this game is impossible to predict. Anyone who goes to the Fall Classic knows that record and ranking mean nothing when these two come out of the tunnel.
Battle for the MIAA
The Missouri Western game is beginning to look like the toughest game of the three at this point. The Griffons are the only undefeated team in the MIAA that has been challenged at this point. MWSU handed UCM its only loss this season in the first week of the season. At that point, the Mules were a top-25 team, but they have yet to get back (though they did receive votes this past week). Like NWMSU, this game has no clear-cut favorite, even when considering the 38-7 trouncing the Griffons received from PSU in week one of last season.
Junior quarterback Travis Partridge is the biggest reason for the Griffons’ success this season. Last year, he looked uncomfortable in the pocket, which led to two fumbles and two interceptions. This year Partridge is averaging fewer yards per game passing than Michael Hill is rushing, but his efficiency has improved. He has nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. The entire defensive unit will need to be playing at the top of its game to stop both threats, but with the Gorillas’ offense, stopping one may be enough to make it out with a win.
This is certainly the toughest part of the regular season for the Gorillas, but at the same time, they are fortunate that none of these games is on the road. UCM and MWSU will visit Carnie Smith Stadium and the Northwest game will be at Arrowhead. On top of that, the Gorillas have their bye week the week before the UCM game. No matter the outcomes, those three weeks of football will be Division II at its finest.