by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Tuesdays 7-9pm
The 10th ranked Youngstown State football team will begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play this weekend when they take on the South Dakota Coyotes. Kickoff is slated for 3pm EST at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, SD. Both teams are 2-1 and coming off a bye week.
South Dakota was 2-10 in 2014 and was 0-8 in conference play. The Coyotes were picked to finish last in the conference this season but will not be underestimated by this YSU team. Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “They have kids that understand how to play the game, they play hard, they play with tremendous effort and they executive at a very high level.”
South Dakota has allowed just 51 points so far this season, which is the fewest among Missouri Valley teams. They are one of just 15 FCS teams that have scored on all of their trips to the red zone. Last season, South Dakota held a 17-7 fourth quarter lead over the Penguins at Stambaugh Stadium before three late touchdowns sealed the win for YSU.
USD features a talented running back in junior Trevor Bouma, who is coming off two consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. He leads the Missouri Valley with five rushing touchdowns and is the second-leading rusher at 106 yards per game.
I would expect Youngstown State to stack the box with their talented front to stop the run and force the Coyotes to beat them through the air. QB Ryan Saeger has played well this season but will be making just his eighth career start.
He will be facing a YSU defense which has been steadily improving. The Penguins defense leads the FCS, allowing just 237.7 yards per game. Pelini said, “I’m seeing some better things, but I know there is another level we can get to.”
The defensive unit has been especially strong against the pass. YSU leads the FCS in both total passing yards allowed (53.0) and pass efficiency defense (60.14). In the last two games, the Penguins have allowed just three completed passes for a total of 26 yards.
I would also expect star defensive end Derek Rivers to get increased snaps at linebacker. The move allows YSU to get more talent on the field and the bye week has allowed the coaching staff to further examine their personnel packages.
Coach Pelini said, “We were able to develop a couple packages and look at some new things. I like where things are heading, I think it’s starting to settle in a little bit more.”
On offense, I would expect a heavy dose of running backs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb for the Penguins. The Coyotes return 10 starters on defense but were gashed on the ground, giving up 234.5 rush yards per game in 2014. Last year against South Dakota, Ruiz rushed for 185 yards on 28 carries.
Webb’s role has increased significantly this season; he leads the team with 319 rushing yards and 53 attempts. Entering this season, Webb had carried the ball more than 13 times in a game just once in his career. He has had 13 or more carries in each game so far this season.
The game will be played in the DakotaDome, a unique indoor venue which can be loud and present challenges for visiting teams. However, Coach Pelini did not seem very concerned about the noise, saying “I don't care if we play in the backyard, as long as they don't change the size of the field we should be fine.”
With extremely difficult games on the horizon, this is virtually a must-win for Youngstown State. If they expect to compete for a playoff spot within a loaded conference, they need to beat one of the league’s least formidable teams. After South Dakota, the Penguins will return home to face #4 Illinois State and #5 South Dakota State.
YSU fans can watch the game locally on WBCB TV or stream it live on ESPN3.com. You can also listen to the action on 570 WKBN.
Heading into the weekend, 5 MVFC teams are ranked in the top 10 of the STATS FCS Top 25 Poll. A couple of high caliber top 10 match-ups within the conference this weekend could have big implications later in the season.
#7 Northern Iowa visits #4 Illinois State at 1pm EST while #3 North Dakota State travels to #5 South Dakota State at 7pm EST. Both games can be seen on ESPN3.