Penguins, Bison set to battle for first place
to start at QB
By Charles Grove
Another road trip for the Youngstown State football team and another chance to play for first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Penguins (6-2, 4-1 MVFC) will take on five-time defending conference and national champion North Dakota State (7-1, 4-1) today at the FargoDome. The winner would move into a first-place tie if South Dakota State wins today against Missoui State. The Jackrabbits hold the tiebreaker over both the Penguins and the Bison.
Last year was about as heartbreaking as it could get for YSU fans when the Penguins squandered a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead and the Bison escaped with a 27-24 victory.
Quarterback Hunter Wells will lead the YSU offense for the second year in a row against NDSU. Wells had some rust to shake off last week against Indiana State completing 13 of 26 passes for 101 yards and two interceptions to zero touchdowns.
Ricky Davis had some significant snaps last year against North Dakota State, primarily in a running role. YSU head coach Bo Pelini declined to say how much of a role Davis could play in today’s game during his Tuesday press conference.
As far as each team’s rushing attacks are concerned it will be a strength-against-strength matchup no matter who has the ball.
The Penguins are averaging 237.8 rushing yards per game while the Bison allow just 93.8 per game.
On the other side, North Dakota State racks up 223.4 rushing yards per game on average while the YSU defense allows 102.9 yards per game.
If rushing the ball becomes the wash it appears it could be on paper, the consistency of the passing game will be crucial. And NDSU has been effective when passing the ball, though the Bison don’t do it often.
Quarterback Easton Stick has completed 61 percent of his throws, averaging 14 yards per completion and has 11 touchdowns as opposed to six interceptions.
If YSU’s passing offense sputters the way it has the majority of the season, offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery may have to get a little creative getting his wide receivers involved in the game.
But if the Penguins is within striking distance late, they can’t be counted out. The last three Penguin wins this year have all been fourth-quarter comebacks (Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Indiana State).
In a game with two dominant defenses, that will make special teams play that much more important.
Last week the Penguins were saved when Darien Townsend returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown. But in the same game, Zak Kennedy missed one field goal while Indiana State blocked another.
Flawless play on plays that determine either points or field position will be that much bigger should the scores remain close.