By Joe Scalzo
Their normally-explosive offense sputtered last weekend, thanks to a bevy of turnovers and an off game from their standout quarterback. Now, after suffering their first loss of the season, they must rebound quickly and get ready for a nationally-ranked team.
That paragraph applies to Youngstown State.
It applies to the Penguins’ opponent, too.
Fresh off a 48-7 road loss to North Dakota State, the Penguins (4-1, 1-1 Missouri Valley) now travel to Normal, Ill., for Saturday’s crucial game against Illinois State (5-1, 2-1).
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive football game,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford. “I think Illinois State feels much like we do coming off a loss. Didn’t expect to lose. And both ballclubs feel like they haven’t played well.”
Illinois State fell to Southern Illinois 17-0 last weekend after senior QB Matt Brown was intercepted four times. It was just the second loss in the Redbirds’ last 12 games — the best stretch in school history.
“We stubbed our toe Saturday,” said Illinois State coach Brock Spack. “We didn’t play very well and got beat.
“It’s been awhile since we lost, so we’ve just gotta bounce back. When players get down, coaches got to get up. We’ll be fine.”
Brown, who owns every significant passing record in Illinois State history, supplied arguably the worst moment of YSU’s miserable 2010 season when he connected with Tyrone Walker on a 40-yard TD pass with less than a second left.
One of YSU’s biggest challenges will be stopping Walker (39 catches, 549 yards) and Donovan Harden (22 catches, 352 yards).
“I think Brown’s a great quarterback and I think they have two dynamic receivers,” said Wolford. “I felt like after watching film this summer, they were probably the top receivers in the league.”
Defensively, the Redbirds run a 4-3 that has thrived on big plays this season. Defensive end Colton Underwood has 10 of ISU’s 46 tackles for loss (YSU has just 21) while safety Ben Ericksen has three of the Redbirds’ eight interceptions (YSU has just one).
The Redbirds haven’t looked quite as good as some expected this season but they’ve gone 16-4 at home over the last four years.
“I think we’re gonna get a great effort from Illinois State in all three phases of the game,” Wolford said.