by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
The 20th ranked Youngstown State football team will host 2nd ranked North Dakota State this Saturday in their final home game of the regular season. Kickoff for the Senior Day game is slated for 2pm at Stambaugh Stadium. The Bison are the four-time defending FCS National Champions and are currently tied for first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings. They come into this contest with a record of 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the MVFC. A dominating 59-7 win over Western Illinois last week was their third victory in a row.
The Penguins come in with a record of 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the MVFC. They are also coming off a big win, defeating Missouri State 47-7 at home last Saturday. YSU has won two consecutive games and must win their last two contests to have a shot at postseason play. The Bison hold a 5-4 edge in the all-time series and have won the last three meetings. They beat YSU by a score of 38-14 at the Fargodome in last year’s regular season finale.
North Dakota State lost All-American QB Carson Wentz to a serious wrist injury earlier in the season. Since then, redshirt freshman Easton Stick has filled in quite nicely. He has been a serious running threat, totaling 340 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns in the past three games. He is complimented by talented junior RB King Frazier, who has amassed 649 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the season.
As a team, the Bison are averaging an impressive 232 rushing yards per contest. Over the previous three weeks, they have exploded for 971 rushing yards which is an average of 324 per game. The Penguins know they must control the line of scrimmage to be competitive against a physical NDSU offensive line.
Senior defensive tackle Steve Zaborsky said, “We have to be strong at the line of scrimmage, we have seen them manhandle a few teams on tape. This will be the toughest test we’ve had to date, they are the most physical offensive line.”
North Dakota State also features a talented group of experienced wide receivers led by senior Zach Vraa and sophomore RJ Urzendowski. Vraa tied the school record for career touchdown catches last week with his 26th as a Bison. He also broke the school records for career receiving yards and receptions earlier in the season.
YSU will hope to contain the run game and force a young, inexperienced quarterback into obvious passing situations. The Penguins have been stout against the pass all season long, allowing just 116.3 yards per contest. Forcing NDSU to throw would also give talented YSU pass rushers like Derek Rivers, Terrell Williams and Avery Moss the opportunity to apply pressure.
Youngstown State will need to be strong in the trenches on offense as well. It will be important to have success running the ball with Jody Webb and Martin Ruiz to be more efficient and stay in manageable down and distance. Getting behind the chains and into obvious passing situations will spell trouble for the Penguins against an always-tough Bison defense.
Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “We’re going to have to run the football to manage the clock and be efficient offensively.” Making that task much more difficult is the absence of starting guard Brock Eisenhuth. He will miss his fifth consecutive game because of continuing concussion symptoms. YSU has been forced to shuffle positions and has fielded multiple starting lineups on the offensive line since he went out.
The Penguins will also need to play mistake free football if they want to beat one of the nation’s best teams. Last season, the Bison forced four YSU turnovers which led directly to 28 points and an easy victory. The margin of error against a great team like NDSU is so small that turning the ball over can make beating them next to impossible.
Fans can watch the game live on ESPN3 or the Watch ESPN App. The game will also be available locally in Youngstown on tape delay on MyYTV at 10pm Saturday night. Fans can also listen live on 570 WKBN and iHeartRadio.com