Jacksonville State wary of dangerous YSU
By Charles Grove
Jacksonville State comes into today’s second-round FCS playoff game right where it planned to be. National runner-up a year ago to North Dakota State, the Gamecocks earned a first-round bye and the third overall seed in the playoffs.
But Youngstown State — JSU’s second-round opponent today — likes its position, too.
The Penguins (9-3) are riding high after blowing through the invisible October and November wall that stopped YSU from making the playoffs the past 10 years.
YSU is averaging 51.5 points per game its last two contests against Missouri State and Samford and played the type of schedule that should have prepared the Penguins to play well today against a JSU team that’s won three straight Ohio Valley Conference championships.
Six of YSU’s road opponents are a combined 47-20 and three (North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Jacksonville State) are in the top eight of the FCS playoffs while another is 9-2 West Virginia.
Because of that, the Penguins may not be a typical four-and-a-half point underdog as they’re listed on SportBet.com.
“If you get to this point in the year playing in our conference you’re pretty much battle tested,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said. “You’ve played a number of fourth-quarter games. They’re not going to be surprised or shocked by the environment.
“We’re not so much concerned with Jacksonville State as we’re concerned about us. We have a process we go though and if we take care of our business during the week we’ll be ready.”
Jacksonville State head coach John Grass said YSU could be the best opponent the Gamecocks (10-1) have faced at this point in the playoffs in recent memory.
“Youngstown State is as good as or maybe better than the last two second-round teams that we have played,” Grass said. “Defensively we have to stop their rushing attack and try to create turnovers and be great on third down like we have all year long.”
The main threat that may be keeping Grass up at night is Jody Webb. The senior tailback has amassed more than 200 all-purpose yards for three consecutive games. He had a career-best 174 rushing yards last week against Samford.
Webb said the offense as a whole is performing at its best at the right point in the season, and the Penguins hope that momentum will hope to carry them through into the FCS quarterfinals.
“Right now we’re doing it at the perfect time,” Webb said. “We’re going into round two. What better time to click on offense?”
Webb could be playing in his final collegiate game today but he said he tries to not let that enter his mind because thinking that could end up causing career-ending mistakes.
“There’s ups and downs with [playing a one-and-done scenario],” Webb said. “You can go in and try to play mistake-free ball and that’s when you make mistakes. As long as we trust in the game plan and each other, we’ll be just fine.”
YSU’s rushing attack only seemed to get stronger as their game with Samford went into the second half. Offensive lineman Justin Spencer said the Penguins know when their rushing attack is taking over a game, something few teams have been able to do against the Gamecocks this year.
“You can tell when you can break the other guys’ will,” Spencher said. “That’s just when you just have to continue to push, make sure you break it and continue to push on.”
Quarterback Ricky Davis, who was cleared to play last week against Samford and dressed for the game, didn’t play. But Pelini said he could play against Jacksonville State.
“There’s a chance he’ll play. Absolutely,” Pelini said.
Kicker Zak Kennedy saw action last week which Pelini said was a big boost to what’s been a very strong special teams unit all season. Kennedy is listed as the starting placekicker while Nate Needham remains the starting kickoff specialist.