Heading into the 2013 season the Shippensburg University community knew that the football team needed to answer major questions along the offensive front.
The Raiders, who led the nation in total offense (529.92 yards per game) and were second in the nation in points per game (46.85), looked nowhere near its 2012 counterpart as the starting offense could not manage a point in its defeat in the Red vs. White Spring Game.
However, for the Raiders, this slow start is expected.
Losing Jacob Baskerville, Mike Frenette and Chris Restino have left the Raiders with major question marks. Baskerville, Zach Zulli’s go-to target in 2012, led the team with 85 receptions and 1405 yards, including eight 100-yard games in the season. Frenette bulldozed his way for 871 yards on the ground and provided a check-down to Zulli coming out of the backfield while Restino was one of the anchors of a staunch offensive line.
With the 44–0 drubbing in the Spring Game, the Raiders gave few answers for the many questions they face. Zulli was pressured early and often by the Red defense as the offensive line, currently decimated by injuries, looked shaky.
“Up front, we’re lacking right now, significantly,” said first year offensive coordinator Joe Davis. “It’s disappointing, I think, with some of the returners we have comeback, but I do think the group is very, very willing. They are a hard working group. They are conscious of their mistakes, but we need to get better up front.”
Part of the Raiders dilemma in the offensive line is finding a replacement for Restino. He was a workhorse for the Raiders, starting in all 13 games and anchored a line that gave up 16 sacks — good for No. 33 in the nation — while also enabling Zulli to lead the nation in touchdowns thrown.
“If we’re going to say that Zach Zulli is going to come in the season again and throw 55 touchdowns again and everything is going to be honkey-dory, that’s not realistic,” Davis said. “We have to have 10 other guys step up. We need to protect him and we need to find other guys to make plays for him.”
With Baskerville, the team’s leading playmaker, gone, the No. 2-receiver position is still wide open. Kyle Kush and Ravone Kornish both looked out of place in Davis’ offense. The two combined for 21 yards of total offense and as Davis pointed out, could not take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
“The easiest position to take away on offense is one wide receiver,” Davis said. “We have yet to find some guys to step up, who can prove they can take the advantage of one-on-one matchups.”
Despite that, Kush and Cornish have had playing time under their belts in years past.
Both combined for more than 200 yards of receiving last year and have shown that they can become solid playmakers for Zulli and the rest of the offense. Jordan Harro also seems to be a legitimate player who could snatch away that No. 2 slot for SU.
“We have a lot of young guys,” Zulli said. “But we have a lot of guys that stepped up today and they’re going to play really well.”
Zulli and Davis look to build off a tremendous 2012 season and so far the relationship between the two has been budding — both of whom are looking toward the same goal in 2013 — a PSAC title.
“Me and [Joe] are really good friends so far,” Zulli said. “I’m in the office 24/7 talking about football and leadership. We’re going to be able to battle with everybody in the conference.”
“The first goal of this program is to win the PSAC,” Davis said. “I tell our guys there’s going to be some games where we’re going up and down the field, we score 60 and everyone’s loving it, and there’s other games where we’ve got to grind it out.”
The Raiders have three practices left in the spring session before taking a hiatus into August.
The Raiders’ first game of the season is Sept. 7 against Shepherd University. The Raiders defeated the Rams 38–20 last season — their first victory over Shepherd in seven years. SU’s first home game Sept. 21 vs. East Stroudsburg University.