Penguins preparing for UNI’s run game

By Charles Grove

A win against Northern Iowa this week and fans will have something to at least raise their eyebrows over when looking at the Youngstown State football team.

Beating the Panthers (2-3) would push YSU’s record to 5-1 and potentially see the Penguins grab a spot in the top 10 of the FCS rankings. YSU (4-1, 2-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference) is 12th in the current Coaches FCS poll and 14th in the STATS FCS poll.

And when you see the marks Bo Pelini’s team are making in some key statistical areas, it’s hard not to think of what could be later in the season.

The Penguins have allowed zero rushing touchdowns this year. West Virginia didn’t get in, South Dakota didn’t get in and Illinois State didn’t get in despite having multiple first-and-goal chances inside the 5-yard line this past Saturday.

Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said the Redbirds’ inability to run the ball made them one-dimensional against a YSU defense that only seems to get better each week.

“[YSU] gets you into must-throwing downs and then they’re able to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback with four guys which is really nice,” Spack said after his team’s 20-6 loss last Saturday.

The Redbirds had -10 rushing yards in the fourth quarter when YSU began to take over and when it became apparent ISU was in need of airing the ball out, they managed just 48 passing yards in the final quarter.

This Saturday looks to be a strength-against-strength matchup when UNI’s offense takes the field. The Panthers are averaging 167 yards per game on the ground against a defense allowing just 97 per game.

The YSU defense will have to face a two-headed beast at running back for their visitors. Running backs Tyvis Smith and Aaron Bailey are averaging 82 and 81 yards per game so there won’t be just one back to prepare for. But after going up against Martin Ruiz, Jody Webb and Tevin McCaster all preseason and nearly halfway through a regular season now, the YSU defense may be better equipped than most to handle the two-back threat.

The YSU offense has been far from flawless so far. Quarterback Ricky Davis has started four games in his collegiate career and with a new batch of receivers, it’s taken a bit longer than usual to get in sync. A much-improved offensive line and veteran running attack has been a major help in aiding the margin of error for the passing game.

But what the YSU offense has done well so far is keep their defense fresh. The Penguins are controlling the ball for more than 34 minutes a game, which while not entirely dominant, shows they’re moving the ball down the field consistently and giving the defense a chance to catch their breath.

Perhaps even more important though is how the Penguin offense is playing late in games. YSU has outscored its opponents 55-21 in the fourth quarter so far and outscored Illinois State 17-0 in the final quarter last Saturday.

Trends like these aren’t the exciting All-American quarterback who can throw for 500 yards every game, but they’re the backbone to what should be one of the more exciting FCS teams to watch as teams battle for playoff spots.

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