By Joe Scalzo
While most of the FCS was reveling in last weekend’s success against FBS schools, Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford had a simple message for his team: pass or be passed.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference was the FCS’ best conference last season and if last weekend’s games are any indication, it’s going to be even better this fall.
Two MVFC teams — North Dakota and Northern Iowa — knocked off BCS conference teams (Kansas State and Iowa State, both of the Big 12), while another, Southern Illinois, lost by eight points to Illinois. The Salukis were just 3 yards from scoring the game-tying touchdown in the final minute.
In all, the MVFC went 6-4 last weekend, with three of the four losses coming to FBS teams.
That’s why there was so much hand-wringing over YSU’s closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Dayton.
“You look at all the teams in our league and how well they played and you have to continue to get better every week,” Wolford said. “If you’re not getting better, you’re going to get passed.”
While the Penguins did plenty of good things against the Flyers — the front seven got consistent pressure, the special teams seemed improved, RB Adaris Bellamy topped 200 yards rushing for the first time — YSU still committed four turnovers and managed just 73 yards passing.
“We’ve still got a lot of things we need to work on,” Wolford said.
Enter Morehead State, a non-scholarship FCS team that is coming off a 13-10 loss to NAIA-member Pikeville. YSU owns just an 8-6 series lead against the Eagles but the team haven’t met since 1987, when second-year YSU coach Jim Tressel led the Penguins to a 38-14 win.
Today’s game should serve as a confidence-booster for QB Kurt Hess and a depth-builder for YSU’s coaches heading into next week’s showdown at Michigan State.
Wolford said the coaches will keep things basic, hoping to see more consistency than they did last week.
“We’ve got a bunch of creative stuff we can do but we’ve got to simplify some things and do those things well before we start getting more creative,” he said.
Today’s game is YSU’s second straight against a non-scholarship FCS team. The Penguins also play Duquesne in two weeks. The Dukes compete in the Northeast Conference, which allows its team to offer 40 scholarships — 23 fewer than the FCS maximum.
While most YSU fans would like to see YSU play better non-league opponents, most of the top-tier FCS opponents would demand a home-and-home series (i.e. one game at each school’s stadium).
Wolford said the Penguins are wary of giving up any more home games since few YSU fans can travel to Missouri Valley stadiums. But Wolford would be open to playing a second BCS conference team if the price was right. Northern Iowa and Missouri State have done that in recent years and Indiana State plays Indiana and Purdue in back-to-back weeks to open this year’s schedule.
“It all comes down to money,” Wolford said. “I like when you can get those big paychecks. That obviously pays a lot of bills.”