Penguins, Eagles meet tonight in FCS semifinals
By CHARLES GROVE
There’s plenty of interesting numbers and statistics associated with tonight’s FCS national semifinal between Youngstown State and Eastern Washington.
While plenty of attention has rightly gone to Eastern Washington’s offense, which has rattled off 555 points — 121 more than anyone else in the Big Sky Conference — YSU’s offense also has been plenty productive throughout the playoffs.
The Penguins have scored at least 30 points each the past four weeks, and if not for missed opportunities against Wofford, likely would have scored plenty more a week ago.
Running back Jody Webb took 34 carries for 213 yards against the Terriers, filling in for the suspended Martin Ruiz, and he’ll likely have to carry the load again — this time against a defense giving up 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.
Eastern Washington’s defense isn’t solid against the pass either. The Eagles are giving up 221.5 passing yards per game. And while YSU quarterback Hunter Wells doesn’t exactly jump off the charts statistically (171 passing yards per game), he’s shown he’s capable of taking opportunities defenses give him. He also hasn’t turned the ball over late in games.
On the other side, YSU (11-3) has remained dominant in stopping the run. The defense may have given up 297 rushing yards last week, but that was mainly because Wofford had 0 passing yards.
For the season, the Penguins are giving up just 130 yards per game and that’s right in line with Eastern Washington’s 131.3 yards per game.
Linebacker Armand Dellovade has been crucial in YSU’s run defense. He leads the team in tackles with 95. Dellovade said it’ll be that much easier to stop the Eagles’ attack if the Penguins can shut down the run and make EWU (12-1) more predictable on offense.
That’s exactly what YSU was able to do against Jacksonville State’s dual-threat quarterback Eli Jenkins. He managed just six completions on the day and was forced to use his legs to try to beat YSU.
“Just a few weeks ago Jacksonville State had a really good quarterback and we kind of made him one dimensional,” Dellovade said. “I think [EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud] is a lot better passer than [Jenkins] was, though.
“I think it definitely goes to our advantage [if we can make them one-dimensional], but that’s the tough part. They’re really good. They’re the two seed and the only loss they’ve had is to North Dakota State.”
Both teams have been excellent this year in winning the decisive fourth quarter. YSU is outscoring opponents 127-69 in the fourth quarter while Eastern Washington has done an even better job, outscoring their opponents 141-50 in the final frame.
While temperature forecasts have risen slightly in the past couple days, today’s game looks like it could be the coldest game either team has ever played.
Eastern Washington’s coldest game was Dec. 12, 2013 at home against South Dakota State with a temperature of 12 degrees.
YSU’s coldest playoff game was Dec. 11, 1993 when the Penguins played Idaho at home with temperatures at kickoff of 22 and snow.