Surging Redbirds next for Penguins
By Brian Dzenis
On paper, the latter half of No. 19 Youngstown State’s football schedule appeared to be a lot easier than then the first half.
And then today’s opponent, No. 21 Illinois State, beat then-No. 4 ranked South Dakota, 37-21, last week.
That’s the signature piece of the Redbirds’ resume, the only win against a ranked team from the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Illinois State (5-2) was previously on a two-game losing streak and neither game was close, dropping road contests at Northern Arizona, 37-16, and Southern Illinois, 42-7.
Redbirds quarterback Jake Kolbe threw six interceptions in that stretch and after throwing the ball 45 and 47 times in the losing streak, he threw the ball a 19 times. It helped that the Redbirds were averaging 7 yards-per-carry against the Coyotes, racking up 331 yards.
As an offense, Illinois State is the anti-YSU when it comes to giving up sacks with just three on the season to the local team’s 26.
That comes even though four of the Redbird’s five starting offensive lineman have been injured at various points in the season. Last week, starting tackle Dean Helt had to replace center Garrett Hirsch at center and won the MVFC’s offensive lineman of the week title for his efforts.
Kolbe stays upright by getting rid of the ball. He averages 7.8 yards an attempt, but his receivers average 13.3 yards per play.
Youngstown State’s (3-4) quarterback trio of Hunter Wells, Nathan Mays and Ricky Davis average 8.7 yards an attempt.
Kolbe’s top target is Spencer Schnell, who is third in the league in receptions (41) and yards (609) with four scores. He does most of the work after the catch at 14.9 yards per grab.
The Redbirds are pretty good at getting to the quarterback on the other side of the ball, ranking second in the conference with 21 on the season. Defensive lineman Dalton Keene is third in the MVFC in sacks with five and Adam Conley has four.
Statistically, the Redbirds have the second-best run defense, conceding 76.3 yards a game, but with the exception of South Dakota, they haven’t faced any rushing attacks ranked in the top half on of the conference.
The Redbirds haven’t done well in the turnover battle at -5, losing seven fumbles — including three inside the opposing 20 — and Kolbe has nine picks to 10 passing touchdowns on the season.
Kicker Sean Slattery is among the Top 5 field goal kickers in the Football Championship subdivision. He’s made 13-of-15 attempts with his longest coming t 51 yards.