YSU, JSU apply defensive pressure


By JOHN HARRIS

sports@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

FCS teams still alive in the national championship hunt often possess many of the same essential qualities. They’re as good running the football as they are stopping the run.

Enter Youngstown State (9-3) and Jacksonville State (10-1), who meet for the first time ever Saturday at 2 p.m. at Burgess-Snow Field in Jacksonville, Ala., with the winner advancing to the FCS quarterfinals.

The Penguins recorded their first playoff win last week since 2006. The Gamecocks, who received a first-round bye last week, lost to North Dakota State in the 2015 national championship game.

The teams are virtual mirror images of each other in several key areas.

“It’s going to be a really good football game. Two teams (who) play similar values of what you build your programs around,” said Jacksonville State coach John Grass. “They want to be able to stop the run and run the football and we want to do the same thing.”

“They’re going to put a lot of guys in the box. They’re kind of built to stop the run,” said YSU coach Bo Pelini about the Gamecocks, who have won nine straight overall and 14 in a row at home. “They’re going to try to put more guys up there than you can block. That’s kind of how they’re built.”

Grass said YSU is built in much the same way.

The Penguins rank first nationally in sacks per game, seventh in scoring defense, eighth in total defense and 12th in rushing defense.

Jacksonville State ranks second nationally in total defense, third in scoring defense and third in rushing defense.

“I kind of compare them to LSU (defensively),” Grass, whose team suffered its only loss this season at LSU in September, said about the Penguins. “They’re a little similar schematically, but different in the way they get extra hats to the box. So fundamentally sound in everything. Hard to get them out of their gap. Their third down blitz is very hard to handle. That’s going to be an issue for us. Stay out of third and long because they do a good job of getting five, six and sometimes seven-man pressure to you. It poses some problems.”

Senior strong safety Jameel Smith said YSU’s defenders thrive on applying constant pressure.

“We bring pressure a lot more at the safeties and backers,” said Smith, who ranks second on the team with 68 tackles.

Pelini said senior defensive end Avery Moss’ return from an ankle injury makes the Penguins’ defense even more dangerous. Moss, who sat out last week’s home playoff win against Samford, has 10 sacks and 121/2 tackles for loss this season.

Moss’ return is extremely fortuitous for the Penguins, who figure to have their hands full against Jacksonville State senior quarterback Eli Jenkins, the Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year with 2,762 total yards and 22 touchdowns.

“Avery’s a pretty special player. It’s a good boost for your defense,” said Pelini.

Moss and fellow senior defensive end Derek Rivers (team-high 11 sacks and 141/2 tackles for loss) have dominated opponents.

“Avery and Derrick are monsters coming off the edge,” said Smith.

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