As obvious as the "top offense vs. top defense" story line seems entering IUP's game at 2 p.m. today at Slippery Rock, it's equally unavoidable.
Allowing just six points per game, the No. 7 Crimson Hawks (5-0) have the top-ranked scoring defense in Division II, while The Rock (4-1) has averaged 50.4 points per game, the fourth-best mark among Division II teams.
Slippery Rock has scored more than 50 points in four of its five games this season and when it didn't, it scored 27 in a loss to Gannon. Since IUP's first game, it has given up just 10 points over its past four wins.
Naturally, the game's result likely will come down to how well one top-ranked unit can neutralize the other, if at all.
"We haven't played a defense like them, so it's hard to predict what kind of success you'll have," Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik said. "All I know is we better play our best game."
No player better epitomizes The Rock's ability to score than quarterback Nigel Barksdale, who has thrown for 1,765 yards and 18 touchdowns. In four of five games, Barksdale has passed for at least 300 yards.
The Crimson Hawks have three players with 25 tackles or more on the season -- Carl Fleming, West Mifflin graduate Kevin Clarke and Woodland Hills graduate Dorian Lane -- and three players with three interceptions -- Marco Pecora, Eric Williams and Penn Hills graduate Terrell Holloway -- on a team that is fourth in Division II in pass defense.
"Players know we have to win this game in order to stay in contention for the [PSAC] Western Division championship," Mihalik said. "This is a must-win if we still want to stay in contention."
Carnegie Mellon (3-2) at Westminster (1-3), 1 p.m., Harold Burry Stadium -- The Tartans won consecutive games for the first time this season, averaging 37.5 points per game. Despite a subpar record, the Titans have been competitive this season, with two of three losses coming by a combined seven points.
Edinboro (3-2) at Gannon (3-2), noon, Gannon University Field -- In victories against Seton Hill and Lock Haven, the Fighting Scots have averaged 37 points per game. The Golden Knights lost their past five games against Edinboro.
Clarion (3-2) at California (3-2), 3:30 p.m., Adamson Stadium -- Since starting the season 3-0, the Golden Eagles have dropped their past two games, allowing an average of 46.5 points per game. The Vulcans, too, have lost back-to-back games after winning their first three, though those defeats came to teams that are a combined 10-0.
Waynesburg (4-1) at Grove City (3-2), 1:30 p.m., Robert Thorn Field -- Yellow Jackets quarterback Carter Hill has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of the first five games. The Wolverines have lost the past three matchups between the teams.
Thomas More (4-0) at Washington & Jefferson (3-2), 7 p.m., Cameron Stadium -- After a surprising loss to Bethany, their second in their past four games, the Presidents will host the Saints, the lone remaining undefeated team in the PAC.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published October 11, 2013 8:10 PM