by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7-9pm
The Youngstown State football team took another step in the right direction on Saturday with a dominating 31-3 victory over South Dakota to open Missouri Valley Football Conference play. YSU moves to 3-1 on the season and 1-0 in conference, below are five takeaways from the game.
1. The Penguins secondary continues to defend the pass at a very high level. The YSU defense led the nation in passing defense entering Saturday’s game, allowing just 53 yards per game. South Dakota QB Ryan Saeger completed just 9 of 25 passes for 119 yards on the day. The unit also forced a turnover when CB Kenneth Durden intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter. Their performance thus far has been refreshing, since the secondary has been a weak spot for YSU in recent years. If they are able to continue this level of play, it will improve the Penguins playoff chances immensely.
2. In addition to the secondary, the defense as a whole appears to be making great strides with each game. Coach Bo Pelini seems to be finding his best personal combinations and learning more about his team each week. Defensive players are starting to feel more comfortable in Pelini’s system and building more trust with one another. Coach Pelini is known for his elite defensive acumen and with time, I would expect even more improvement. I would not be surprised at all if this group ends the season as one of the nation’s best defenses.
3. The offense was balanced once again and showed flashes of their explosive ability at different points throughout the game. YSU QB Hunter Wells found WR Andrew Williams four times for 79 yards, including a 51 yard touchdown in the second quarter. They would have had another long touchdown connection later in the game, but Williams dropped the pass while running wide open towards the end-zone. Wells completed 15 of 26 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw his first two interceptions of the season. RB Martin Ruiz was a work horse once again, carrying the ball 28 times for 90 yards and two scores.
4. While the Penguins played well, it is important to note that South Dakota is probably the least talented team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. In 2014, the Coyotes finished 2-10 and last in the conference at 0-8. While every team in the MVFC is tough and competitive, USD is miles behind other teams YSU will face. South Dakota committed three turnovers and set the Penguins up with great field position multiple times, leading to 17 points. The YSU offense struggled to find a rhythm at times and committed two turnovers of their own.
5. Youngstown State will need to play much better in order to win their next game. They will welcome #4 Illinois State to Stambaugh Stadium this Saturday. The Redbirds lost in the National Championship game last season to the four-time defending champs, North Dakota State. They are currently 3-1, coming off a 21-13 victory over #10 Northern Iowa in their conference opener. ISU also features two of the nation’s best offensive players, QB Tre Roberson and RB Marshaun Coprich. YSU lost to the Redbirds last season, 35-21 in Normal, IL.