By Joe Scalzo
Instead of getting defensive about its four-game losing streak, the Youngstown State football team got, well, defensive.
Led by its improving defensive line, the Penguins held South Dakota to 10 points last weekend and seem poised for another big day today against Western Illinois’ anemic offense.
“Their defensive line is outstanding,” Western Illinois coach Mark Hendrickson said of YSU. “That’ll be a challenge right there.”
Senior defensive tackle Aronde Stanton has looked like an all-conference player the past few weeks, something he attributes to seeing fewer double teams.
“The last couple weeks I’ve been seeing single blocks and [defensive line] coach [Tom] Sims always says, whenever you get a single block, you have to win that one-on-one battle,” Stanton said.
Youngstown State (5-4, 2-4) recorded just one sack in its first three conference games, but has nine in its last three. The Penguins also have 16 tackles for loss over that span.
“They’ve been eating glass, we’ve been giving them raw meat — all the usual things you do to get guys to play with fire,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford. “I’ve always said it all starts up front. When you can control both sides of the line of scrimmage, like we did last Saturday, you increase your success.”
On paper, Western Illinois shouldn’t be much of a challenge. The Leathernecks are averaging just 7.8 points per conference game (and just 11.1 overall) and rank last in the Missouri Valley in total offense, rushing offense and passing offense.
“We’re going to dig deep, so to speak,” said Hendrickson, who hinted he might not use a typical game plan. “We’ve got to do that, based on what we’ve done on the offensive side of the ball.”
The Leathernecks have lost four straight and have been outscored 82-3 over the past two games. Their struggles date back to last season, when they followed up a 2010 playoff season with a 2-9 season that included a 56-14 loss to Youngstown State.
On Senior Day, Western Illinois is playing for pride.
The Penguins are playing for more. A win keeps their playoff hopes alive. A loss ends them.
“We know what’s at stake for us and not just them,” Stanton said.