By Drae Smith
YSU Football Reporter for Rookery Radio
YSU Football Sideline Reporter for 570 WKBN / iHeartRadio
The Youngstown State football team will host Indiana State in a key Missouri Valley Football Conference contest at Stambaugh Stadium this Saturday at 4pm ET. The Penguins come in at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the MVFC after a 24-10 loss last week at South Dakota State. The Sycamores sit at 4-4 overall and 2-3 in conference play after a 22-14 win at Southern Illinois this past Saturday.
The Indiana State offense has been explosive this season under the direction of starting quarterback Isaac Harker. The sophomore is in his first season as the number one after the Sycamores lost last year’s starter, Matt Adam, to academic problems. Harker has already thrown for 2,337 yards, 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
His top target is 6’5 senior wide receiver Robert Tonyan Jr. who leads his team with 47 receptions, 638 yards and nine touchdowns. Tonyan is starting to gain attention from NFL scouts because of his combination of size and speed. Miles Thompson has also been very productive; he has 31 catches for 548 yards and six touchdowns so far this season.
The Sycamores also have a talented running back in senior Roland Genesy who leads the team in rushing with 509 yards and six touchdowns. Dimitri Taylor has 377 rushing yards and a touchdown while Jaquan Keys has added 221 yards and a score. The Indiana State offense is averaging 30.1 points, 127.6 rushing yards, 293.4 passing yards and 421 total yards per game.
The Indiana State defense is led by senior linebacker Jameer Thurman who is playing at an extremely high level this season. Thurman leads his squad with 70 total tackles and nine tackles for loss while also returning an interception for a touchdown. The Sycamores defense has been susceptible at times this year, allowing 33.2 points and 427.2 total yards per contest.
YSU Head Coach Bo Pelini told the media this week that the Indiana State defense likes to put a lot of players up near the line of scrimmage on most snaps. The Penguins have struggled mightily in the passing game recently so you would expect the Sycamores to sell out to stop the run and dare YSU to beat them through the air.
YSU quarterback Ricky Davis has dealt with injuries and struggled to find a rhythm over the past few games. He has to be much better in the passing game for this YSU team to make their playoff goals a reality. Pelini has not ruled out the possibility of turning to redshirt freshman Nathan Mays as the starting quarterback. When asked if Davis is still the starter, Pelini said, “Every position is up for grabs.”
The defense has been the backbone of this YSU team and continues to rank as one of the best in the FCS. The group ranks second in the nation in sacks per game (3.71), fourth in scoring defense (16.3 points per game), seventh in total defense (283.1 yards per game), 14th in rushing defense (106.3 yards per game) and 14th in third down percentage defense (29.8 percent). The Penguins defense has allowed just five touchdowns in their last 16 quarters of play.
With a record of 5-2 and four games remaining, the Penguins likely need at least two more wins to be in prime position for an FCS playoff berth. With an extremely tough road test at North Dakota State looming, this Indiana State game at home is one YSU really needs to have. Youngstown State has dominated the all-time series with the Sycamores, winning 20 of the 25 meetings. However, Indiana State has won each of the previous two meetings by the same 27-24 score with game-clinching field goals at the end.
Kickoff for the Homecoming contest at Stambaugh Stadium is scheduled for 4pm ET. The game will be available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio and ESPN3/WatchESPN App.