The 2016 IUP football season will begin Saturday as the seventh ranked Crimson Hawks, led by coach Curt Cignetti, travel to East Stroudsburg University to face the Warriors in an early Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) battle.
The Crimson Hawks are coming off a deep postseason run last year, making it to the second round before losing a close battle to top-ranked Shepherd University, 17-13.
IUP brings back 19 starters across the board. Ten on offense, seven on defense and both specialists.
What to watch for:
Opening the season on the road is never ideal, but some years you have no choice.
Even as a 6-5 team in 2015, East Stroudsburg has been working to be a better defensive team, running a nontraditional 3-3-5 player scheme to combat the pass-heavy offenses of the PSAC.
Last year, the Warriors gave up more than 200 rushing yards per game and gave up almost 35 points per contest.
IUP’s run-based offense could exploit the Warriors’ lack of size in the front 6.
But East Stroudsburg also has a workhorse running back in Robert Healy, who is one big game away from reaching 3,000 yards for his career. The Crimson Hawks are going to run the ball, but teams don’t bring in two transfer wide receivers without having intentions of improving the passing game.
Lenny Williams (sophomore, accounting) went 119-206 passing last year, but also ran the ball 158 times. Walt Pegues (junior, communications media) receives a lot of attention because of his danger in the open field, but IUP has a lot of big-bodied receivers that could be called upon in red zone situations.
Two years ago, Luigi Lista-Brinza (junior, kinesiology health & sport science) was IUP’s leading rusher who ran for almost 1,000 yards. Last year, he saw his carries go down in favor of Chris Temple (junior, accounting).
Could both backs spilt carries, or will Cignetti rely on one heavily?
Whatever the Crimson Hawks choose to do, rushing the ball will most likely be their primary method of offense.
Chips on their shoulders:
Two years ago, IUP was ranked first in the preseason PSAC poll and fell short of such lofty expectations.
Last year, after being picked to win the PSAC West, they won a share of the division title with rival Slippery Rock University and made a run in the postseason.
Will they make another run this season, or will the hype prove to be too much for a fairly young team?
The only difference between this team and the 2014 team is experience. The 12 seniors who were on that team are focused on never having a repeat of 2014.