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YSU looks to clinch playoff berth

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Penguins’ finale at MSU today

By Charles Grove

cgrove@vindy.com

The Youngstown State football team hopes to close out the regular season with plenty of momentum heading into the playoffs and a road win against Missouri State would do just that.

The playoff appearance, which would be about as close to a lock as you could get if the Penguins win, would be the first for YSU since 2006.

“I definitely think it’s really cool that we could make some history here,” defensive tackle Cody Squiric said. “The players are pretty amped up about it.”

This week seems to be a mixture of attempting to focus on the 4-6 Bears while also trying to solidify a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s nice to have momentum, but you don’t want to look too far ahead and jinx yourself,” Squiric said. “You just have to keep the right mindset.”

Missouri State is a team the Penguins can get some momentum on if the Bears continue the trend they’ve been on the past two weeks. MSU has been outscored by a combined 86-24 score the past two weeks in games at South Dakota State and at Illinois State. The Bears were beaten 37-0 last week against the Redbirds.

But Pelini said the Bears will be anything but easy to play in Springfield and isn’t expecting the 47-7 beatdown the Penguins put on the MSU a year ago at Stambaugh Stadium.

“They’re a much, much better team,” Pelini said. “They’ve very capable. They’ll be at home, it’s their Senior Day and we know we’ll get their best shot.”

Pelini specifically said linebacker Dylan Cole is a big reason MSU’s defense isn’t as porous as it was a year ago. Cole leads the nation in tackles per game (12.5) and has also forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes this year.

“They’ve got one of the best players in the conference,” Pelini said. “He’s a heck of a player.”

From an offensive standpoint, Pelini said the film isn’t the entire story when trying to prepare for Missouri State’s offense. The Bears have been known to slip in a special package for specific teams.

“They’re a typical spread offense but it’s well thought out,” Pelini said. “They understand what you’re trying to do and they try to exploit what they perceive to be weaknesses. They’ll have a special package of something you won’t see each week.”

The weakness of MSU’s offense, according to Squiric, is their offensive line. Pressure on the quarterback have in part caused MSU quarterbacks to throw 16 interceptions this year.

“Their offensive line gives up a lot of pressure up front,” Squiric said. “I think [we’ll succeed] as long as our defensive line comes out and has a good idea with how to confuse or strategically get around their offensive linemen.”

Quarterback Hunter Wells is expected to start his fourth straight game with Nathan Mays as his backup. Ricky Davis has been out injured the past three weeks. Pelini said he believed Davis was seeing his doctor this past Tuesday but no official update has been given.

Kicker Zak Kennedy has been out since leaving the North Dakota State game with an apparent quad injury. He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday but it’s not apparent if — or how — he will be used against Missouri State.