A year ago when Slippery Rock’s offense lined up on the field, a starry-eyed redshirt freshman named Shamar Greene lined up in the backfield alongside standout quarterback Nigel Barksdale. Together, the two orchestrated one of the nation’s top offenses, scoring 43.4 points per game and averaging 536.5 yards of total offense per contest.
That team fell to Winston-Salem State in its first game of the NCAA Division II playoffs, 27-20. Greene had just 25 yards in the loss.
“That game was important because it gave us that drive. W made it so far last year and we knew we should’ve won that game,” Greene said. “We didn’t want to finish like that.”
A year has since passed and Greene had an entire offseason to dwell on the loss, vowing to bounce back even harder than expected. It’s safe to say he’s answered the call.
Through four games Greene leads Division II with 747 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while helping No. 20 Slippery Rock to an undefeated 4-0 record early on in the season.
If you’d ask Greene if he thought this type of season would’ve been possible, he’d tell you he’s just making the best of his situation.
“I knew I was going to be given the opportunity,” Greene said. “I just took full advantage of it.”
The words “full advantage” are the key in that statement.
Last year Greene ran for just 727 yards and four touchdowns — 20 yards and four touchdowns less than he already has through four games this season.
In SRU’s first game of the season, Greene ran for 199 yards and scored twice, setting his yards per carry average at 10.3. He did little to sway away from those numbers but instead has averaged 186.8 yards per game and 9.1 yards per carry in four games this season.
Greene’s 186.8 yards per game is more than the Rock averaged as a team a year ago, leaning more on the arm of Barksdale than the feet of the running backs.
After establishing such a solid rushing attack early on though, Greene has opened up the passing lanes for redshirt sophomore quarterback Zack Newsock. Newsock recently enjoyed the best game of his career, throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns against Seton Hill last week.
Greene knows the offense has changed a bit this season but has seen the play of the overall offense step up in recent weeks because of opposing defense’s focus on the ground game.
“We’ve been running a lot more than usual. Our offense is different in that aspect,” Greene said. “But we’ve really been establishing our passing game. We’ve been building off of that and the tempo.
“That running game is establishing the passing. We’ve got an unstoppable offense right now. If a player goes down we have someone right behind them.”
It’s true the weapons on the Rock offense may be unlimited. Take the running back position, for example. If Greene needs a break, redshirt senior Teddy Blakeman comes in and brings an added element to the rushing game.
Greene noted that the two are constantly pushing each other to be the best that they can be, taking their game to the next level, never wanting to be outdone by the other.
The two backs’ talent will be tested this weekend as the Rock hosts Gannon at 6 p.m. for the top spot in the PSAC West. Gannon boasts the conference’s second-best rusher in Brock Jones as well as the league’s top defense. Both teams, however, are allowing just under 60 rushing yards per game.
With that in mind, Greene is predicting a great game.
“I’m looking forward to a good game,” he said of the matchup. “It’s going to be some tough competition but we know that. We’re just focused on getting past them.”
After making a run at the playoffs a year ago, Greene and SRU have set forth a new motto for the 2014 season.
“Every team is just in the way of something bigger,” Greene said. “If we see they’re in the way we’re just going to get over them.”
Photo Credit: Slippery Rock athletics