By Drae Smith
YSU Football Reporter for Rookery Radio
YSU Football Sideline Reporter for 570 WKBN / iHeartRadio
The #12 Youngstown State football team will travel to Brookings, South Dakota this weekend to face the #7 South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Penguins are coming off a 14-10 comeback win at home over Northern Iowa which put them at 5-1 overall. The Jackrabbits are coming off a 19-17 upset win over five-time defending national champion, North Dakota State, in Fargo which put them at 4-2 overall. Both teams are 3-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and tied for first place so the winner of this game will sit alone atop the MVFC standings.
The YSU defense continued its dominance against UNI, allowing just 173 total yards and sacking the quarterback five more times. The group has proven to be one of the best in the FCS again this season. They currently rank third in scoring defense (15 points per game), third in sacks (4.00 per game), fifth in total defense (271.0 yards per game), ninth in rushing defense (96.2 yards per game), 10th in third down percentage defense (27.7 percent) and 14th in passing yards allowed (174.8). YSU is the only Division I program which has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
However, they will be facing one of the most prolific offenses in the FCS this week. South Dakota State is averaging an MVFC-best 40.7 points and 471.7 total yards per game. They are more of a passing offense than running, averaging 333.5 passing yards per contest compared to just 138.2 rushing. The Jackrabbit offense is led by sophomore Taryn Christion, who is quickly becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He has been stellar through the air this season but is also a great athlete who can hurt you with his feet. YSU defensive end Derek Rivers said of Christion, “The kid is a beast, he’ll be somebody that people need to watch out for in the future.”
Christion is has already thrown for 1,939 yards and 22 touchdowns while averaging 323.2 passing yards per game. He is completing 65.6 percent of his passes and has only thrown two interceptions. He has a couple of extremely dangerous weapons in wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert. Wieneke is one of the best wideouts in the FCS and was a first-team STATS All-American in 2015. The 6’4 junior has already recorded 39 receptions, 703 receiving yards and leads his team with 11 touchdowns this season. Goedert, a 6’5 receiving tight end, leads the Jacks with 711 receiving yards and 45 catches while also adding nine touchdowns.
In stark contrast to SDSU, the YSU offense has been able to find great success on the ground, rushing for 258.8 yards per game which is tops in the MVFC and 10th in the FCS. They will look to continue that success against a South Dakota State defense which is allowing 198.5 rushing yards per contest. They are also giving up 456.5 total yards and 32.5 points per game so there should be opportunities for the Penguins offense to score points. The Jackrabbit defense has been led by redshirt freshman linebacker Christian Rozeboom who leads the team with 66 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Jesse Bobbit is second with 52 total tackles and was named honorable mention All-MVFC in 2015. Cole Langer is one of the best defensive tackles in the FCS and has been named second-team All-MVFC the past two seasons.
The big question for the YSU offense is who will start at quarterback. Starter Ricky Davis suffered a knee injury against Northern Iowa that Head Coach Bo Pelini characterized as a bruise. Pelini told the media this week that Davis is feeling a lot better and that he anticipates he will start this weekend. With backup Trent Hosick out for the season with a broken collarbone, redshirt freshman Nathan Mays will likely serve as the number two quarterback on Saturday. Mays saw playing time last week after the injuries to Davis and Howick and helped engineer the comeback victory. Pelini said that Mays will get plenty of reps this week in practice so he is ready if called upon against the Jackrabbits. He also added, “I have a lot of confidence in Nate, he’s smart, he’s a good player, he’s just young.”
Kickoff this Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium is scheduled for 3pm Eastern/2 pm Central. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, WBCB TV in Youngstown as well as ESPN3/WatchESPN App.