YSU hosts hot Salukis
in key MVFC game today
By Joe Scalzo
On Monday afternoon, 48 hours after suffering one of the toughest losses in Youngstown State history, head coach Eric Wolford leveled with his team.
“I said, ‘Hey, what’s reality? Reality is we’re 4-2,’ ” he said. “Is that ideally what we want to be? No. Should we be better than 4-2? Yes.
“But, reality is, that’s what we are.”
Thanks to two straight losses, the Penguins (4-2, 1-2 Missouri Valley) have gone from national championship darkhorses to playoff hopefuls. Today, they host one of the league’s hottest teams in Southern Illinois.
Wolford likes to say that almost every game comes down to four or five plays and, outside of the first 15 minutes of last week’s loss to Illinois State, the Penguins haven’t made any of them in the past two games.
Here are three things they can do to change that:
Score a quick touchdown.
If you throw out the Valparaiso game — and you should — YSU’s scoring drives this season average 9.4 plays and 71 yards. None of their 21 scoring drives in the other five games has been less than 45 yards and only one took fewer than five plays.
That says two things. One, the defense and the special teams aren’t making enough plays. Two, the offense isn’t explosive enough.
A long touchdown run or a big pass play does more than add six points. It swings momentum.
Get a pass rush from the front four.
In three conference games, Youngstown State has one (one!) sack. Southern Illinois has 14 in four conference games.
One of the reasons Penguins quarterback Kurt Hess has struggled the past two weeks is because he’s been pressured. And one of the reasons YSU got blown out by North Dakota State two weeks ago is because Bison quarterback Brock Jensen could have been holding a cup of coffee for most of the game.
YSU’s secondary isn’t good enough for defensive coordinator Joe Tresey to blitz on every down, so YSU’s front four needs to do more to create pressure. The four senior starters (Aronde Stanton, Nick DeKraker, Josh Fenderson and Luis Quinones) have combined for three sacks. That’s not good enough.
Wolford hinted that there may be changes coming on the defensive line. He could use some, both in production and personnel.
Make a play on special teams.
Linebacker Ali Cheaib has blocked two punts — the second one, against Albany, set up the game-clinching touchdown — but that’s been pretty much the only special thing about YSU’s special teams. The coverage and return teams have been mediocre and Wolford’s aversion to field goals isn’t just because he feels like he has to score big to win.
A big play from this unit — which has struggled each of the past three years — could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Just ask Southern Illinois. The Salukis have blocked a punt each of the past two weeks. They won both games.
Freshman wide receiver Michael Wheary missed two practices this week with an injured shoulder but is expected to play. ... Senior offensive tackle Andrew Radakovich, who missed the first game of his career last week with a shoulder injury, has been cleared to play. ... A YSU official described ticket sales for today’s game as “fair.” ... YSU band alumni will join current members for the Nov. 3’s Homecoming festivities, which includes performances in the tailgate lot and at halftime.