By Drae Smith
YSU Football Reporter for Rookery Radio
YSU Football Sideline Reporter for 570 WKBN / iHeartRadio
The 16th-ranked Youngstown State football team will begin their Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule this Saturday at home against South Dakota. Both teams are coming off a bye week with the Penguins at 2-1 and the Coyotes at 1-2. YSU won last year’s meeting in Vermillion by a score of 31-3, dominating the game from start to finish. Tailback Martin Ruiz ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns in that contest while linebacker Armand Dellovade led the way defensively for the Penguins with seven total tackles and a sack. YSU has won four straight games against South Dakota and has been victorious in seven consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference openers.
The Coyotes were a much-improved team last season and have plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. USD finished 2015 with a record of 5-6 after winning just seven games from 2012-2014. They were also able to do what few teams have done in recent years…beat five-time defending national champion, North Dakota State. The Coyotes went to Fargo and ended the Bison's 26-game home winning streak in MVFC play. The team is now led by first-year head coach Bob Nielson who takes over for the retired Joe Glenn after spending the last three seasons as head coach at Western Illinois. Nielson led the Leathernecks to an FCS Playoff appearance in 2015 and was named the MVFC Coach of the Year.
The USD offense is led by junior quarterback Chris Streveler who is in his first season with the program after transferring from Minnesota. The dual threat signal caller has thrown nine touchdown passes while also leading the team in rushing with 115.7 yards per game and four scores. The 6’2, 220-pound junior earned the starting job by beating out last year’s starter, senior Ryan Saeger, in fall camp. During his weekly press conference this week, YSU Head Coach Bo Pelini said of Streveler, “He’s tough, he can run, this is a guy you have to give attention to so our guys will be fully aware of that.” He also added, “He’s a big guy so you have to be ready to tackle him. He’s not like your normal quarterback, he's going to run the ball like a tailback.”
The Coyotes also return a couple of talented running backs in senior Trevor Bouma and sophomore Michael Frederick. Bouma, a team captain, is a powerful runner who started the first six games of 2015 before breaking his arm at North Dakota State. Frederick took over after Bouma’s injury, finishing the season as the team’s leading rusher with 622 yards and was named to the MVFC All-Newcomer team. The receiving corps includes 6’4 senior Brandt Van Roekel who led the team last year with 518 yards and six touchdowns as well as junior Riley Donovan and sophomore Shamar Jackson. So far in 2016, Jackson leads the Coyotes with 10 catches for 137 yards and four touchdowns while Donovan has added 9 receptions for 124 yards and two scores.
The South Dakota offense has been very productive in three games, averaging 406.7 yards of total offense and scoring over 40 points in their last two contests. However, the USD defense has had serious struggles, giving up at least 47 points in all three games thus far. The unit is getting gashed for 267.3 rushing yards and 192.3 passing yards per game. The Coyotes defense is led by senior safety Tyson Graham who led the team with 4 interceptions, was the second-leading tackler and earned Honorable Mention All-MVFC honors in 2015. The Coyotes suffered a huge blow in the offseason when standout defensive end Andrew Van Ginkel decided to transfer out of the program. Van Ginkel was the MVFC Freshman of the Year in 2015, leading the league in sacks and tackles for loss. He is now playing at Iowa Western Community College and will likely transfer to an FBS school next season.
The YSU offense is averaging an impressive 482 yards per game this season and should be able to continue that success against a struggling South Dakota defense. The Penguins will also be back to full strength in terms of injuries for the first time since the season opener. Starting quarterback Ricky Davis missed the team’s last contest against Robert Morris after suffering a concussion at West Virginia. All-MVFC tailback Jody Webb was out the last two games with a knee injury and veteran right guard Brock Eisenhuth has yet to see action with a broken toe. Davis and Webb will both be back in the lineup this week and there is a chance Eisenhuth could make his first start as well. The YSU defense, which has shown the potential to again be one of the best in the FCS, will be tested against a talented South Dakota offense.
With a daunting MVFC schedule that includes road games at playoff-regulars Illinois State, North Dakota State and South Dakota State plus Northern Iowa at home, this game can legitimately be viewed as a must-win for Youngstown State. QB Ricky Davis told the media this week, “This is where our season begins, this is where we have to step it up, we got eight weeks to prove that we’re worthy of the playoffs.” Kickoff at Stambaugh Stadium is scheduled for 4pm, the game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard on 570 WKBN / iHeartRadio.