By Dan Hiner
Anticipation is growing for Saturday’s football game between #7 Youngstown State University [#9 in the STATS Poll] and #4 Illinois State University, and YSU head coach Bo Pelini is calling on all fans to attend the game.
“It’s been a little disappointing until now, but we’ll see how it goes. Let’s just hope we get people to come out this Saturday,” Pelini said.
Cornerback David Rivers echoed Pelini’s statement and added the importance of fan support during home games.
“We would like to get a full stadium,” Rivers said. “We want to pack it because of the big game. We feed off the energy from the crowd. Whether people believe it or not — having the home field advantage — it does something to the offense and defense.”
Saturday’s game will be the first of many difficult teams the Penguins will encounter during their Missouri Valley Conference Football schedule.
Illinois State [3-1, 1-0 MVFC] is coming off a 21-13 win against #10 University of Northern Iowa. The Redbirds’ defense recorded a season-high six sacks in the game and held Northern Iowa, who averaged 400 per game, to 250 yards of offense.
“I know as far as their front, their linemen and their linebackers in the box, they line up in a lot of different fronts and move around a lot. They got a couple really good players,” tight end Shane Kuhn said.
YSU [3-1, 1-0 MVFC] will have to contend with one of the top running backs in the nation, and there’s a question of who will play quarterback for Illinois State.
Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich is ranked 11th in the nation and first in the conference, with 509 rushing yards. Coprich is averaging 127.2 yards per game and seven touchdowns this season.
“Good football player, really good player,” Pelini said. “I mean he’s probably up there. We’ll be hard-pressed to find a better back that we’re going to see all year. He’s a good football player. He could run inside, outside and could catch the ball — he could do a lot of different things. He’s an explosive player.”
The Redbirds’ quarterback Tre Roberson has accounted for 588 yards of total offense, 512 passing and 76 rushing, and six touchdowns. Roberson is questionable heading into the game. He was injured during Illinois State’s game against Northern Iowa, but backup quarterback Jake Kolbe threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns in relief.
“We get ready to defend their offense, and obviously our players have to be aware at who’s at quarterback, what their strengths are,” Pelini said. “Obviously, Roberson’s more of a duel-threat guy. The other gentleman is more of a pocket passer, but he could still run the football. He’s athletic enough to hurt you with his legs. We’ll have our game plan, and there is some awareness that has to come into play like any other game as to who they put in the backfield and who’s taking the ball under center.”
YSU’s offense looks to be coming together after a slow start during the first two weeks of the season. The Penguins have outscored their opponents 79-6 during the team’s wins over St. Francis University and the University of South Dakota, but YSU running back Martin Ruiz said the offense could still improve.
“Last week, we did all right. We still have a lot of stuff we have to work on and we still put up a lot of numbers on offense,” Ruiz said. “Defense played real good. On the offensive side of the ball, we got some stuff we need to take care of.”
Even though it is only the fifth game of the season, Saturday’s game could impact YSU’s playoff chances and their success heading into the second half of the season.
“It would really mean a lot,” Rivers said. “It would really build our confidence going into the rest of the season. It would really help us a lot. We would really like to get a win. We’ve been putting in a lot of time and a lot of hard work going into this game. It would mean a lot to the program too. It would be another step in the right direction.”