by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
The 25th-ranked Youngstown State football team will travel to Western Illinois this weekend for a crucial Missouri Valley Football Conference game. Kickoff at Hanson Field in Macomb, Illinois is slated for 1pm Central/2pm Eastern time.
The Penguins come in on a three game losing streak and are 3-4, 1-3 in the MVFC. The Leathernecks are coming off their first conference loss of the season, a 48-28 defeat at Illinois State last Saturday. They currently sit at 4-3 overall and 3-1 in league play.
YSU is coming off a heart-breaking overtime loss at Southern Illinois which may have dashed their playoff hopes. The Penguins now have to win their remaining four games to have any shot at the postseason. When asked what a win over Western Illinois would mean, junior defensive end Derek Rivers said, “It would be big, it would put a lot more confidence on our shoulders.”
The YSU defense continues to be tough against the pass, ranking second in the country allowing 118.4 yards per game. They have allowed opponents to complete just 54 passes in 123 attempts, an impressive 43.9 percent. In seven games, they have allowed double figure completions on just two occasions.
That pass defense will be put to the test again this week against a dangerous Western Illinois passing attack. Junior QB Trenton Norvell is one of the best in the league, he has thrown for 1,784 yards and 11 touchdowns so far this season. He will be throwing to a talented group of receivers who are led by junior All-American Lance Lenoir. Speaking about Lenoir, YSU Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “They have maybe the best wide out we’ve played against all year.”
Lenoir has the most receptions in school history and ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards. He has caught 47 passes for 650 yards and three touchdowns so far in 2015. He is complimented by junior Joey Borsellino who has collected 423 receiving yards and three touchdowns of his own. They also feature a bruising running back in Nikko Watson, who weighs in at 265 pounds. Watson has run for 637 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
The Leatherneck defense lost their top seven leading tacklers from last season and has struggled at times this season, allowing 29.6 points per game. They are led by sophomore linebacker Brett Taylor who has amassed an impressive 76 total tackles through seven games. They are also strong and experienced across the defensive line with seniors like Eddy Holtschlag and Gavin Ricketts reeking havoc.
Last season, Western Illinois defeated Youngstown State 30-24 at Stambaugh Stadium in Youngstown. However, the Penguins have won 18 of the 30 all-time meetings in the series which dates back to 1969. YSU has won nine of the last 11 games, including four of the past five at Hanson Field.
The game can be watched live on ESPN3.com or locally in Youngstown on WBCB TV. Fans can also listen on 570 WKBN or iHeartRadio.com