Wednesday, November 16, 2016
By Charles Grove
With a playoff spot almost certainly solidified after last weekend’s 21-14 win over Southern Illinois, a win over Missouri State would be the cherry on top.
“Everybody sees it,” Youngstown State wide receiver Alvin Bailey said. “We know the task at hand and what winning this game can do for our program, setting us up for home games and such.”
YSU (7-3, 5-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) travels to Springfield, Mo. to take on the Bears of Missouri State (4-6, 2-5) to close out the regular season.
Despite the likeliness of a playoff spot, even if the Penguins lose this Saturday, defensive end Cody Squiric is treating this game as a need-to-win type scenario.
“In our mind we’re not in until we win this game,” Squiric said. “I think collectively we agree we need to win this game to get in. I don’t know what any projections are. I don’t look at stats, projections or anything like that. I like knowing that as long as we do our business we can go from there.”
Bailey said he’s concerned about making sure he doesn’t get too up or too down during the game and trying to make sure the playoff position is helped after the season finale.
“[The thought of playoffs] is in the back of your head,” Bailey said. “You know what can happen but you can’t just feed in and get caught up in the hype because things can go up and down. We’re just focused on gaining momentum.”
YSU head coach Bo Pelini said he believes his offense made solid strides against Southern Illinois and that his team could be hitting their stride as the playoffs begin.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Pelini said. “We ran the ball for over 300 yards and we had I think maybe one three and out. The key is to peak at the right time and we still have the opportunity to do that.”
Bailey said prior to last week, Pelini challenged the wide receivers to do more to benefit the offense. Both Bailey and Pelini said it was a productive talk that led to better production from the receivers.
“I thought [the wide receivers] practiced better and they blocked better,” Pelini said. “Jody [Webb] ran for 160 and we ran for like 300 yards so obviously we blocked well up front but we also blocked well on the perimeter. We challenged them and we called on them to do certain things and I think we made a step in the right direction.”
Bailey said that talk led to a drastic culture change within the receiving core.
“It started with the pep talk,” Bailey said. “It was meaningful. After [Pelini] gave us the pep talk we had a couple players come up and talk and just tell the team this is the checkpoint where everything has to change. Everything that was accepted in the past has to go now.
“There’s a new mindset this team has to have where we either give it all or we’re not even going to play.”
From a defensive side, one thing is for sure. Pelini isn’t worried by his defense allowing Southern Illinois to get back into the game last week when the Salukis came back from a 14-0 hole to tie the game before YSU eventually came back to score the winning touchdown.
“The one [touchdown] we had a corner fall down on a second and long. It happens,” Pelini said. “At the end of the day we played pretty well defensively. Trust me. There are no alarm bells on that side of the football.”