SELINSGROVE — Newly minted Susquehanna University coach Tom Perkovich need not wait until the eighth or ninth week of the Crusaders’ schedule for a rivalry game.
His gridders get one right off the bat.
Susquehanna plays host to Lycoming in the 19th installment of the Stagg Hat Trophy game Saturday in Selinsgrove, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.
“It is obviously a great way to open the season,” Perkovich said. “Lycoming is a great football program. They’re very physical and well coached. (Coach) Mike Clark has done a great job with that program and we have a tremendous amount of respect for them.”
Lycoming claimed a 42-13 triumph in 2014 — its 13th win out of the series’ last 15 contests — using a 28-point second quarter to secure the decision. The Warriors would go on to finish 8-2; Susquehanna was 2-8.
Perkovich knows execution is going to be critical if the Crusaders were to claim victory.
“We have enough talent to match up. We will definitely have to match the physical part of their game,” he said. “That physicality is how their schemes are built, and they’re very good at it. They have a big offensive line and their guys are in the right places on every down.”
The Warrior O-line features nary a starter under 260 pounds. And though Lycoming lost 15 seniors from its 2014 edition and must break in a new quarterback, one weapon not lost was 1,000-yard receiver Ryan Umpleby.
“He’s a player we’re most worried about,” Perkovich said. “We’ve got to know where he’s at at all times. Defending a player like him isn’t easy. Our guys will have to be aligned properly and make sure their eyes are where they’re supposed to be.”
Offensively, the Crusaders feature sophomore field general Nick Crusco, who threw for more than 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns and was among the conference leaders in passing efficiency. He’ll pilot the Crusaders’ new-look offense, which could go from power to five-wide formations on a dime.
“He’s picked up the offense very quickly and done a great job for us,” Perkovich said. “He came to camp in great shape. He’s operating at a very high level.”
It’s not lost on Perkovich that Crusco ran a similar-paced offense in his high school days at New Jersey’s powerful Don Bosco Prep.
“I think that helped him a lot,” Perkovich said. “You can just see the game slows down for him because he processes things so quickly.”
In his time as offensive coordinator at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Perkovich mentored an offensive unit which moved quickly, but efficiently, wasn’t reliant on the big play and had excellent conditioning.
“We’re gonna go (quick),” Perkovich said. “Our goal is to run 75 to 80 offensive snaps per game. But we’re not going to go for the big plays and have our defense be out on the field too long.
“Staying on schedule is huge for our offense,” he continued. “At Muhlenberg, we once averaged 24.5 first downs per game and converted more than 50 percent of third downs. We want to keep the chains moving and take what the defense gives us.”
What would a win Saturday afternoon mean?
“I think it would be huge and be what the doctor ordered for our program,” Perkovich said. “It would show the kids have been working hard. It would be a great way to begin what I guess you could call a new era for our program.”