By Drae Smith
Rookery Radio YSU Football Reporter
YSU Football Sideline Reporter (570 WKBN / iHeartRadio)
The Youngstown State football team started the 2016 season with an impressive 45-10 win over Duquesne this past Saturday night at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins compiled 610 yards of total offense, including 394 on the ground. Junior quarterback Ricky Davis shined in his first career start, completing 12 of 16 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns. His running ability was also put on display, he carried the ball 10 times for 74 yards. YSU’s dominate running attack allowed three players go over 80 yards. Starters Jody Webb and Martin Ruiz collected 96 and 89 yards respectively while backup Tevin McCaster finished with 107 yards of his own.
The young YSU receiving corps also got into the action, Youngstown native Darien Townsend led the way with three catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Florida-transfer Alvin Bailey had three receptions for 32 yards and junior college transfer Stefan Derrick added three grabs for 26 yards and a score. Defensively, the Penguins were led by senior linebacker Jaylin Kelly who collected a team-high seven tackles. All-American defensive end Derek Rivers added three tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. Bo Pelini’s defense lived up to the preseason hype, swarming Duquesne all night long while allowing just 34 rushing yards and 222 yards of total offense.
The Penguins will now travel to Morgantown this Saturday to take on their only FBS opponent, the West Virginia Mountaineers. Dana Holgorsen’s team is coming off a 26-11 win over Missouri in their home opener this past Saturday. The Penguins defense will face a major test against the Mountaineer’s high-powered offense which features tremendous talent up front and at the skill positions. Dual threat senior quarterback Skyler Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns last season while also piling up over 500 rushing yards. He had one of the best passing performances in WVU history in the 2016 Cactus Bowl, completing 28 of 51 passes for 532 yards and 5 TD in his team’s 43-42 victory over Arizona State.
Howard has most of his top receivers from 2015 back this season. Senior Daikiel Shorts led the team last year with 45 receptions while junior Shelton Gibson collect a team-best 887 yards. West Virginia also features a couple of extremely dangerous running backs in senior Rushel Shell III and junior Justin Crawford. Shell III amassed over 700 yards on the ground in 2015 and found the end-zone eight times. Crawford, meanwhile, was dominate the at the junior college level with NW Mississippi Community College, finishing with 3,161 yards rushing, an average of 6.7 yards per rush and 30 touchdowns in the past two seasons. He led Northwest to its first junior college national championship since 1992 and was named the 2015 Spalding NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year. Crawford ran for 101 yards on 21 carries against Missouri while Shell III added 90 yards on 16 rushes.
The Mountaineers are less proven on the defensive side where they are replacing starters at both cornerback positions and one safety spot. The team lost veteran safety and leading-tackler Dravon Askew-Henry to a torn ACL in fall camp. The unit allowed 462 yards of offense against Missouri last week, but was able to limit the Tigers to just 11 points and 10-24 on third down conversions. Holgorsen’s team finished 8-5 last year but was just 4-5 in Big 12 play, they were picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the conference this season. Holgorsen led the Mountaineers to a share of the Big East Championship and an Orange Bowl victory during his first season in 2012. Since then, the team has fallen short and failed to meet the expectations of many in the fan base and around the program.
The Penguins will face an extremely difficult task in a hostile environment Saturday afternoon which should be great preparation for the always-tough Missouri Valley Conference schedule which lies ahead. YSU played Pittsburgh last season in their only FBS matchup and took the Panthers to the wire in a hotly contested 45-37 defeat at Heinz Field. West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen is aware of the threat the Penguins pose, saying:
“Youngstown State is a good football team now. Everyone understands that just being in this part of the country what Youngstown has done. It’s a winning tradition.. They have really good players. Bo Pelini is widely regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the country.”
This will be the first meeting between the two schools since 1938 when the Mountaineers bested the Penguins by a final of 27-6. Kickoff for the contest is set for 2pm EST at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, WV. The game can heard on News Radio 570 WKBN/iHeart Radio and will be televised on ROOT Sports.