Published September 2, 2011http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
1. YSU's offense looked good, as expected, but it was the Penguins' defense that looked most impressive to me Friday night. They gave up a couple big plays but they held their own and stayed competitive throughout.
I'll write more about the defense for Sunday's paper -- tonight's story sticks to the basics -- but consider this: YSU gave up more than 28 points in eight games last year. The Penguins lost all of them.
2. Back to YSU's offense. The Penguins won the time of possession battle 31:09-28:51 and ran more offensive plays (69-58). Considering there were several points when the offense didn't have a single senior on the field, and considering they were playing a more talented team in front of 75,000 fans, YSU fans had a lot to be happy about Friday night.
3. Jamaine Cook carried 17 times for 76 yards -- 4.5 yards per carry -- but stats don't do that kid justice.
One of the highlights of a frustrating 2010, for me, was watching him every week.
Cook had 69 yards at halftime and the coaches wisely sat him for most of the second half. He was getting banged up and they need him to stay healthy this season.
4. Before the game, I predicted a 42-10 loss. They exceeded my expectations in everything except the kicking game (where they missed a field goal and an extra point).
5. Before the game, I thought YSU would win seven games. I still think that way.
And if Michigan State doesn't get better -- fast -- it might be looking at a seven-win season, too.
Kurt Hess just threw his first interception of the season and it was a costly one, giving Michigan State the ball at the YSU 17. Three plays later, the Spartans scored on a 3-yard TD by Le'Veon Bell with 7:09 left. Spartans lead 28-6.
In case you're wondering, the point spread is 34, but, remember, that's for entertainment purposes only.
YSU's last drive -- an 11-play drive, by the way -- stalled at the MSU 43 and Wolford opted to punt and keep the score where it was. Good decision. A 28-6 loss is nothing to be ashamed of.
Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy missed 27-yard field goal attempt with 8:29 left. It looked like he kicked the laces (the TV replay is about 15 feet over my head so it's a little hard to see) and the kick just flatlined through the left side of the end zone. Never had a chance.
It's 21-6 Spartans and you have to believe they were hoping to be playing second-stringers by now. Instead, they're in a dogfight. YSU's defense, in particular, has been impressive in the second half. The Penguins have given up yards but they're keeping Michigan State from getting big plays. That was their Achilles' heel last year.
(OK, YSU's defense had a couple Achilles' Heels last year. But that was a big one.)
Michigan State leads YSU 21-6 after three quarters.
The teams traded punts to start the third quarter, then Michigan State put together a nice drive midway through the quarter. Kirk Cousins completed a 18-yard TD pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham with 4:52 left in the quarter. Donald D'Alesio had pretty good coverage on the play so it's hard to complain too much on that one.
YSU's defense is starting to look a little tired. Michigan State found some holes on that 11-play, 75-yard drive and, for the first time, looked like a Big Ten team. Gotta remember -- this is the first time YSU's defenders have gone 60 minutes at full speed and it's unseasonably warm out there.
YSU then drove to the Michigan State 40 but the drive stalled when, on third-and-8, the snap went over Kurt Hess's head and all he could manage was an incomplete pass to limit the damage. Fun fact -- at one point, YSU didn't have a single senior playing on offense.
The Penguins aren't going to win this game, but you can't help but be very impressed with how they've performed so far. This performance is a very, very good omen for the rest of the year.
Youngstown State trails Michigan State 14-6 at halftime.
1. YSU's offense has been tremendous.
Michigan State has a slight edge in yardage (189-173), but the Penguins have big leads in first downs (14-8), rushing yards (90-66) and time of possession (19:36-10:24). This crowd hasn't had a chance to get into the game and looks a little stunned.
It's no fluke, either. YSU is 4 of 8 on third downs and Kurt Hess (10 of 19 for 83 yards, TD) has look poised and confident.
2. Michigan State is killing itself with penalties.
The Spartans have seven for 50 yards, compared to just three for 27 for YSU.
3. The Spartans' big advantage is in space, where their skill players can do some damage.
YSU's secondary remains a work in progress and I'd look for MSU's coaches to try to exploit the Penguins' defense in the passing game in the second half. Especially since YSU's pass rush has been almost nonexistant.
4. MSU's decision to move this game to Friday night so they'd have a national audience on the Big Ten Network is a double-edged sword.
You have to believe there's a lot of college football fans and reporters, particularly in SEC country, who are watching this game and thinking, "THIS is one of the Big Ten preseason favorites?"
5. Jamaine Cook has carried 15 times for 69 yards for YSU and has looked like one of the two or three best players on the field. But Cook has taken some big hits. Might not be a bad idea to get the ball to Jordan Thompson and Adaris Bellamy a little more in the second half and save Cook for the conference season.
Kurt Hess hit Jelani Berassa on a 10-yard TD pass on third-and-5 (MSU held initially but a defensive offsides penalty gave the Penguins a second chance). David Brown's extra point was blocked up the middle with 7:38 left.
Michigan State answered by going 74 yards in about 90 seconds. The big play was a 55-yard TD pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham. Le'Veon Bell finished the scoring drive with a 3-yard TD with 5:47 left in the second quarter.
The Penguins answered, driving to the MSU 22 but David Brown's 39-yard field goal attempt was wide right with 2:20 left. Another tremendous drive by the YSU offense. YSU then forced a punt and kneeled down to end the half.
Larry Caper scored on a 6-yard run on third-and-four for Michigan State's first TD with 12:04 left in the second quarter.
Following the TD, YSU went 3-and-out deep in its own territory, but the Penguins caught a break when Dom Rich recovered a muffed punt return, giving the Penguins a first down at their own 38. If he doesn't lose that ball, YSU would have been in big, big trouble. The Penguins then drove 62 yards in nine plays for their first TD.
The Penguins dominated the first 15 minutes of the game but saw two drives stall at the MSU 35. The first ended on a stuffed 4th-and-1, the second ended in a punt.
YSU's defense has looked OK up front but the Penguins are vulnerable on the corners, where the Spartans' skill guys are giving YSU's secondary some fits. No surprise there -- three of the four starting DBs are playing their first games for YSU and the other, sophomore Donald D'Alesio, is playing corner after spending last year at safety. There's talent back there but there's going to be some growing pains.
YSU's offense has been poised and patient, with Jamaine Cook rushing nine times for 34 yards with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. He should have about 20 yards but he's making chicken salad so far.
I'm blogging live from East Lansing for tonight's YSU-Michigan State game and in honor of my first trip to Michigan, I'm going to share my favorite Woody Hayes story (with a couple curse words deleted):
One night on a recruiting trip in the state of Michigan, an assistant noticed that the car he was driving was going to run out of gas. He let Woody, who was dozing in the passenger seat, that he had to pull over for gas. Woody refused, and the assistant drove on. The assistant, who saw the weather was starting to get bad, began to become worried about getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, and once again stressed his desire to pull over and get gas. Woody erupted: "No! We do NOT pull in and fill up. And I'll tell you exactly why we don't. It's because I don't buy one drop of gas in the state of Michigan! We'll coast and PUSH this car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money!" The assistant knew he wasn't kidding, and they barely made it across the border and sputtered into the first gas station they found in Ohio.
Alas, I've already bought a $6 sub in the MSU press box. Turkey and bacon. I'm also paying for a hotel but I'll probably try to save my gas purchase for when I get into Toledo.
My prediction for tonight is 42-10 Michigan State. I think Youngstown State will be better than last year, but I think this year's Michigan State team is a lot better than last year's Penn State team, which beat the Penguins 44-14.
Incidentally, based on watching the Penguins in the spring, I think YSU will go 7-4, losing to Michigan State, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State -- all road games -- with another loss to be determined.
I'll blog a few thoughts after each quarter tonight. Until then, here's three pregame notes:
1. Last time I checked, Cardinal Mooney great Ted Bell still lives in Lansing, Mich. He is now 56 years old and, a few years ago, he finally replaced the knee he injured in the 1973 state championship game. I've talked to him a few times over the years. Great guy.
Bell went on to play at Michigan State but he was never the same after the knee injury.
2. In case you're wondering whether the Penguins would have played had there been a faculty strike, the answer is yes. High school teams are forced to cancel when there's a teachers' strike, but not college teams. The main reason? Money, of course.
If YSU had to cancel, not only would it have to refund the $600,000 it stands to make for this game, it would have to pay a $600,000 penalty on top of it.
3. With 10 minutes before game time, the stadium is still only about 60 percent full. I'm guessing that's partly because it's a Friday night game.
Count me among those who thinks the Big Ten should never play Friday night games. Those are for the WAC teams of the world.