by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
The #11 Youngstown State football team will host #7 South Dakota State for their annual Homecoming Game this Saturday at 4pm. This will be the second straight week YSU will welcome a top 10 team to Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins fell short to #4 Illinois State last week by a score of 31-29, they are now 3-2 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
With the margin of error so small in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and two challenging road games on the horizon, this could be considered a must-win for YSU. Two home losses in a row would mean the Penguins could only lose one more game if they realistically expect to make the playoffs.
When asked if he considered this a must-win game, Senior DT Steve Zaborsky said, “Yes, I would.” Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “To me they’re all must-wins, it doesn't change our approach one way or the other.”
The Penguins defeated South Dakota State 30-27 last season in a closely contested game that was played in Brookings, SD. The Jackrabbits began this season with an impressive 41-38 win at Kansas. They come into this game at 4-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
YSU will be happy not to see former SDSU RB Zach Zenner who graduated after last season and is now playing in the NFL for the Detroit Lions. Zenner was the only three-time 2,000 yard rusher in Division I history.
However, they will be facing sophomore WR Jake Wieneke, who was the runner up for last year’s FCS freshman of the year award. Through five games this season, he already has 657 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. He will challenge a YSU defense which still leads the FCS in passing defense, allowing just 84.6 yards per game.
The Penguins will also be forced to prepare for two different South Dakota State quarterbacks. Junior Zach Lujan began the season as the starter but is dealing with an injury; he did not play last week in SDSU’s 24-7 win over Indiana State.
Filling in for Lujan was freshman Taryn Christion, who presents a much different challenge. Lujan is more of a drop back, pocket passer while Christion is very mobile and much more of a threat to run. Last week, Christion was 15-24 passing for 221 yards and a touchdown. He also added 99 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
When asked about the challenge of preparing for two very different QBs, Coach Pelini said, “You have to be prepared to adjust on the fly. You only have so many hours in a day, you have to prepare for a little bit more.”
The Youngstown State offense has continued to impress with an extremely balanced attack. Through five games, they are averaging 200.6 yards rushing and 190.4 yards passing per game. QB Hunter Wells has now thrown a touchdown pass in a school-record 12 straight games dating back to last year.
They will be facing a solid South Dakota State defense which returns 10 of their 11 leading tacklers from a year ago. The Jackrabbit defense is led by All-Missouri Valley LB T.J. Lally, who is a fourth-year starter. They also feature junior Cole Langer, who is one of the best defensive tackles in the conference.
The Penguins will be hoping for another great crowd at Stambaugh Stadium for Homecoming week. Last week against Illinois State, YSU had one of their best turnouts in recent memory. The energy and home-field advantage will be needed against one of the top teams in the MVFC.
When asked about the atmosphere of last week’s game, Coach Pelini said, “I appreciate the fans that came out. I thought it was a good crowd, a good step in the right direction.”
Fans can watch the game live on ESPN3.com or listen on 570 WKBN. For tickets and more information, be sure to visit YSUsports.com