by Drae Smith
Host of "The Drae Smith Show" Thursdays 8am-10am
The 16th ranked Youngstown State football team will be back in action this Saturday when they face St. Francis (Pa.). This will be the final non-conference game of the season for the Penguins; kickoff is slated for 4pm at Stambaugh Stadium.
YSU is coming off a less than impressive performance against Robert Morris in their home opener last week. The Guins won the game 21-14 in overtime but know they must improve their play significantly this week. Running back Jody Webb said, “We cant approach the game the way we did this past week, we cant overlook any opponent.”
The Penguins defeated St. Francis 52-23 in last year’s matchup at Stambaugh Stadium. The Red Flash will lean heavily on last year’s FCS leader in rushing, Khairi Dickson. He ran for over 1,700 yards in 2014 including 151 yards against YSU. He is one of the top players in the nation and is on the FCS Offensive Awards Watch List.
This will be an interesting test for a Youngstown State defense which has struggled against the run so far. In two games, the Penguins have allowed 477 yards on the ground. During his weekly press conference, Head Coach Bo Pelini said, “The biggest concern to me as far as stopping the run, is the yardage after contact. We put a huge emphasis on tackling, we need to tackle better.”
Pelini even mentioned that his staff is looking at some possible lineup changes to sure things up on the defensive side. He said, “We’re looking at a couple tweaks personnel wise that we’re going to explore during the week in practice. I’m learning a lot about this football team, every week is kind of an evaluation.”
The Penguin defense should have an advantage in the trenches against a very inexperienced St. Francis offensive line. The Red Flash will feature four first-year starters who will face an imposing YSU defensive line. “I think all our guys up front on defense are playing well, that defensive front is doing some good things,” Pelini said.
Defensive tackle Steve Zaborksy is coming off a career-high 6 tackles against Robert Morris. Defensive end Derek Rivers had another dominating performance, collecting a career-high 9 tackles and the game-saving sack.
Coach Pelini stated there are no long term injury issues and that RB Martin Ruiz should have a full week of practice. Ruiz missed some practice last week because of a thigh bruise he suffered in week 1 against Pittsburgh. He also suffered an ankle injury against Robert Morris but returned to gain crucial yardage for the Penguins in overtime.
Against St. Francis, fans will be eagerly awaiting the dominant performance most expected to see this past weekend. The Penguins will need it in order to build confidence heading into a rigorous conference slate.
When asked about his biggest concern, Coach Pelini said, “Fundamentals everywhere and finishing plays is a concern for me. That is an attitude, I don't know if we have that attitude yet.”
This will be the final tune up before Missouri Valley Football Conference play begins October 3rd when the Penguins travel to South Dakota. YSU has a bye week next Saturday, Sept. 26th.
Fans can listen to the game on 570 WKBN or watch live on ESPN3.com