By Marc Weems
With the Youngstown State University football team coming off its first playoff win since 2006, the Penguins will look to win again and advance to the Football Championship Subdivision Playoff quarterfinals.
This will be the first meeting between No. 3 Jacksonville State University and the Penguins, and will feature two of the best defenses in the country.
“They are a good football team. They are a very athletic team and are well coached,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said. “It will be a good challenge for us.”
With this being the first time YSU has been in the playoffs for a decade, the atmosphere they will be playing at Burgess-Snow Field, home of JSU football, will be unlike any other.
“Since our last game of last season, we know we need to put in the work to be in this tournament,” Jody Webb, YSU tailback, said. “All the work that we have put in is to achieve our goals of winning a national championship. No matter who’s behind us, we know we are behind each other, and we are going to do what it takes.”
Webb also said that it feels great to able to go into these games with the guys that they have.
With JSU’s defense as a focal point for this game, YSU’s offense brings some good offensive numbers.
YSU’s rushing offense gains 262.9 yards per game and the offense totals 419.6 per game. The Penguins also average 26.5 points per game.
JSU’s defense only gives up 252.6 yards per game giving up 16.3 points per game. Those numbers are second and third in the nation. The biggest number for Jacksonville State is that they only give up 78.8 yards per game on the ground. They rank third overall in that category.
“They have a good offense, and the quarterback [Eli Jenkins] is athletic and very good,” YSU safety Jameel Smith said. “We just have to come out and compete in every phase. We just need to eliminate big plays, and that’s the number one goal on defense.”
YSU has one of the better defenses in the country. The defense gives up just 17.2 points per game, which ranks eighth in the FCS. They have the eighth-ranked defense with 302.8 yards per game and have the 12th ranked rushing defense at 101.2 yards per game.
“I’m not too sure if there is an advantage,” YSU left tackle Justin Spencer said about JSU’s bye week. “At the same time, we played last week, and we are still in the football mode. We just have to keep competing and go from there.”
One of the keys to the game that goes unmentioned is JSU’s offense and what it can do.
“They have a dual-threat quarterback, and he does a lot to be featured in the offense,” Pelini said. “They have good receivers and really good running backs. They know what they want to do, and they’ll stick with it. Most things revolve around their quarterback and running back [Roc Thomas]. They are very capable of throwing the football.”
JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins, a Walter Payton award finalist, leads the team in key offensive categories. He leads both rushing and passing yards and touchdowns in both categories.
“I think that when you get to this point of the year, when you play in our conference, you’re pretty much battle tested,” Pelini said. “We’ve played a lot of good games, and the team isn’t going to be shocked by anything.”
YSU travels to Alabama for the first time in school history to take on Jacksonville State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday. The game can be seen on ESPN3.