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YSU Scouting Report: North Dakota State

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State defensive back Jordan Trowers (11) forces a fumble during the Penguins’ game at Kentucky on Sept. 17. YSU visits North Dakota State this week.

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State concluded its nonconference slate with its toughest opponent outside of the Missouri Valley. It will begin MVFC play in the same fashion.

The Penguins (2-1, 0-0), which received votes in this week’s Stats Perform Top 25, are back on the road again, this time to the FargoDome for a matchup with the No. 1 North Dakota State Bison (3-1, 1-0), winners of nine of the last 11 FCS national championships.

“For us, they’re the standard,” YSU head coach Doug Phillips said of NDSU. “To see where you are, and use it as a measuring stick — we did that in November (a 49-17 NDSU win at Stambaugh Stadium), and guess what? We were far off. So we knew going in, and for me, it’s a measuring stick of how we recruit, how we develop … using that as a measuring stick, knowing we have to get to that point that we can compete with the best in our league.”

If the Penguins are to measure up this year, they’ll have to contend with one of the FCS’ most potent run games.

NDSU, which topped South Dakota 34-17 last week after trailing 17-10 at halftime, enters Saturday having rushed for 265.5 yards per game. That’s coming at a clip of 6.1 yards per carry, and is paced by All-American fullback Hunter Luepke, who runs for 83.2 yards per game and has six touchdowns this year.

It also comes from a stable of capable backs, as NDSU will utilize about six different backs, in addition to quarterback Cam Miller.

“They stick to it,” Phillips said of NDSU’s run game. “They run the ball 60 times a game in some cases … they have a system, they know who they are, and they’re going to stick to it.”

He added, “No matter who’s in the game, they’re running the same thing, but they do it in different ways. People say it’s simple, (but) it’s a little more complex and might look simple. … They make subtle adjustments up front — who they’re double-teaming, who they’re kicking out. They’re going to test A-gap integrity the whole game, and if you’re out of your game, it only takes one time that you’re out of your gap. They’re going to send a guard and a tailback right through it for a big gain.”

It will prove to be the toughest test yet for a YSU run defense that has given up just 69.7 yards per game — the sixth-best average in the FCS — and has shown to be the strength of that side of the ball.

Of utmost importance will be continuing to rack up tackles for loss. YSU’s 9.3 TFLs per game rank it No. 4 in the FCS, and putting NDSU behind the sticks early could get the Bison into situations in which they’re uncomfortable. Miller is 33-for-52 this season for 451 yards and five touchdowns, but is throwing for just 112.8 yards and 13 attempts per game.

As a team, NDSU ranks 112th out of 123 teams in the FCS in passing offense at 120 yards per game. That comes due in part to the departure of speedy receiver Christian Watson, who now is a Green Bay Packer. The Bison also will be without starting tight end Noah Gindorff this week due to a recurring ankle injury.

“If we can win in the trenches and recreate the line of scrimmage, then it doesn’t matter what running back we face, we’ll be able to be successful against any of them,” YSU defensive back Jordan Trowers said.

The Youngstown State offense, meanwhile, is seeking to get back on track after getting blanked at Kentucky in a 31-0 loss. YSU gained just 192 yards of total offense in that matchup, including a season-low 58 yards rushing.

Stopping YSU’s quick-strike run game has been something NDSU has had no trouble with in recent matchups. Penguin tailback Jaleel McLaughlin was kept to 52 yards on 11 carries last season and 19 yards on eight rushes the season before.

This year, the Bison are allowing 138.5 rushing yards per game, but still have the No. 12 scoring defense in the FCS at 16.25 points per game.

“It all starts with players, and then I think they have a great scheme (a 4-3 base) that fits their players,” Phillips said. “As coaches, that’s what we do. It’s players first, and then what type of schemes and formations do you have to fit the strengths of your players? They have an All-American defensive end (Spencer Waege), an All-American inside linebacker (James Kaczor), an All-American safety (Michael Tutsie), and they fit the scheme around those guys, and those guys make plays. Then those guys trust the guys to the right and left of them to make plays.”

Phillips also noted the Penguins are preparing for what should be another hostile environment — something YSU struggled with at Kentucky. The Penguins frequently were flagged for pre-snap penalties at UK.

In preparation for the dome environment, he noted the Penguins have been using their indoor practice facility.

“We use that as preparation, because have to eliminate those mistakes,” Phillips said. “We saw that at Kentucky. We’re in a coming out situation two times early in the game, and those things kill you. When you get penalties, it’s third and one and now it’s third and six; it’s third and eight, now it’s third and 13. So that was because of the crowd noise there. So we needed to assess that; we needed to find a solution to it. We’re going to get tested this Saturday.”

PREDICTION

Similar to NDSU’s game at South Dakota last week, this could be an interesting one heading into the third quarter, and maybe even the fourth.

However, over the course of the second half, that NDSU run game eventually will wear the Penguins down.

NDSU wins, 31-13.

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