by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
The #7 Youngstown State football team will face their biggest challenge of the year this Saturday when they host #4 Illinois State. Kickoff for this top 10 matchup is slated for 7pm at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins are coming off an impressive 31-3 win at South Dakota, the Redbirds defeated #10 Northern Iowa 21-13 at home last week.
Through four games, the YSU defense leads the FCS in total defense, allowing just 243.75 yards per game. The unit has not allowed a touchdown in each of their last two games. They will now face a much higher level of competition against two of the best offensive players in the nation. Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich is one of the best in Missouri Valley Football Conference history, currently ranking 15th on the all-time rushing list. He has 3,737 career rushing yards, which is a career record at Illinois State. This season he leads the MVFC in rushing yards (509), yards per game (127.2) and rushing touchdowns (7).
QB Tre Roberson is a legitimate dual threat who transferred from Indiana after suffering a gruesome leg injury. In 2014, he collected over 3,000 passing yards, more than 1,000 rushing yards and totaled 41 touchdowns. He guided the Redbirds to the FCS National Championship Game where they fell short to North Dakota State. Last week against UNI, Roberson did not take many snaps because of a possible injury. When healthy, he and Coprich create a read option attack that is scary for any defense at the FCS level.
It will be interesting to see how Bo Pelini’s defense fares against one of the best teams in the country. His group has played very well at times, but has seen nothing like what they will face on Saturday. Led by an improved secondary, the YSU defense leads the FCS in passing defense at 69.5 yards per game. Pelini reminded us again this week that his team is still a work in progress, saying “We haven't even scratched the surface of what this team’s potential is yet.” This will be a great litmus test for the Penguins defense early in the conference schedule.
The Youngstown State offense has been starting to hit its stride over the last two contests. QB Hunter Wells had two touchdown passes last week, including a 51 yard strike to WR Andrew Williams. All-conference running back Martin Ruiz rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns. They will face a stout Redbird defense which did lose key pieces in the secondary after last season. Up front they feature electric DE’s Teddy Corwin and David Perkins. At linebacker they are as good as anyone with all-conference performer, Pat Meehan, leading the way.
Illinois State Head Coach Brock Spack has taken his program to new heights, but has not yet won a game at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins defeated the Redbirds 59-21 at home in 2013 but lost 35-21 last season at Hancock Stadium in Normal, IL. The home team has won each game of the series dating back to 2008.
The top 10 showcase is expected to draw a large crowd at the Ice Castle, but attendance has been disappointing in recent games dating back to last season. When asked about the attendance issues this week, Coach Pelini said, “It’s been a little disappointing up until now. My job is to hopefully give them a reason to want to come.” Starting cornerback David Rivers III added, “We would like to get a full stadium. Whether people believe it or not, having that home field advantage really does something to the offense and to the defense.”
A victory over a highly touted team like ISU would go a long way towards creating more excitement within a fan base that hasn't seen a playoff appearance since 2006.
Former YSU Head Coach Jim Tressel will be honored between the first and second quarters in an on field ceremony for his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame. He will be officially inducted on Dec. 8th in New York City.
Fans can watch the game live on ESPN3.com or listen on 570 WKBN.