The 16th-ranked Youngstown
State University football team (5-2, 2-1) will travel to South Dakota State University to play the 13th-ranked Jackrabbits (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday.
Last week’s win against Southern Illinois University gave the team confidence after dropping a winnable game against Western Illinois University.
“The win last week … it showed we can get it done. When we’re clicking on all cylinders we’re a tough team. We’re confident going into every week. It didn’t have too much of a difference,” defensive end Terrell Williams said.
The Penguin defense will have to focus on the SDSU running back Zach Zenner — who is second in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing. Zenner has rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games.
“You got to find a way to keep him in tight spaces,” head coach Eric Wolford said. “Next thing you know he’ll pop one on you or break a tackle and rip one off and he’s got the top end speed to take it to the house at any time. So you got to be a sure tackler and try to keep him contained and you have to do all those things in your system tough and not let them throw the ball over your head. You got to be sound and pick and choose your battles.”
The defense will have to stop Zenner and the Jackrabbits run game or SDSU will take control of the game. SDSU is third in the FCS for time of possession. At first glance, the Penguins’ defense looks like they have struggled against the run, but statistics say otherwise. YSU enters this weekend ranked 28th in the FCS in rush defense, allowing opposing running backs to rush for over 100 yards only twice this season.
The Penguins will try to be more physical against the Jackrabbits. They haven’t won a game against SDSU since 2007. The Jackrabbits have a reputation for out-muscling their opponents.
“They’re a physical group and we gotta have to match their physicalness upfront when we make tackles and everything else,” Wolford said. “When we get tackled we have to be physical, when we run routes we’re gonna have to be physical. … No matter what we do we’re going to have to be physical the way we play the game. If you’re on the field you better plan on being physical.”
Wolford is confident freshman quarterback Hunter Wells will not be affected by the SDSU fans during his first conference road game.
“He’s just calm and cool — just kind of goes with the flow. It doesn’t seem like anything really fazes him as far as just what goes on,” he said. “That’s kind of what makes him so unique; just back there in the pocket everything he does. When something goes wrong or something goes bad he can tell you exactly what happened, he can see the whole field.”
The Penguins will look to avenge a 42-13 loss during the season finale last year. The loss to the Jackrabbits eliminated the Penguins from the playoffs.
“They have just had more want than us, and that’s something we’re really preaching this week,” wide receiver Christian Bryan said. “It’s not about talent and everything else. That stuff gets thrown out the window. This is big boy football, this is old school football — we’re coming to hit each other and we’re coming to play physical football. How much do you want it? What type of effort are you going to play with? What type of heart and desire are you going to play with? This is that type of game, and this is the type of game you want to play in.”