By Marc Weems
The Youngstown State University football team had a promising season developing last year, but after the start of conference play, the Penguins started to slip in the standings. Following last week’s bye, the Penguins are looking to get out to a strong start against the University of South Dakota.
Last season, the Penguins won their game against South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota, 31-3. YSU’s win over the Coyotes came after the Penguins’ bye week last season. Head coach Bo Pelini talked about the preparation that comes with conference play along with the bye week.
“I think that everyone thinks every game is important, and that every win is important,” Pelini said. “To me, it is all a process to get everyone to be consistent. I said last night that we are going into eight weeks of a grind. There are going to be days that they wake up and get on the practice field where they won’t feel like doing anything that day.”
The Penguins entered last season with a 2-1 record, but YSU struggled against the Missouri Valley Football Conference — going 3-5 in conference play. Starting quarterback Ricky Davis said the Penguins will need to prepare for the intensity of conference play.
“This is where our season begins. We are 2-1 right now while they are 1-2, but we can’t judge them based off their record,” Davis said. “I’ve seen them [South Dakota] play. They are well coached, and they really fly to the football defensively.”
South Dakota lost its first game of the season against the University of New Mexico 48-21. Since then, the Coyotes schedule has gotten tougher. South Dakota played in double-overtime games in back-to-back weeks against Weber State University and the University of North Dakota. The Coyotes went 1-1 in their overtime games.
Left tackle Justin Spencer said the team can’t take a game off during the rest of the season due to the strength of the conference.
“It’s a lot more important,” Spencer said. “Our conference is a really tough conference to play in, and there are really no bad teams to play. We have to focus on that game, and you have to try to play a perfect game, because the talent level is so good.”
Davis was one of a number of players that missed time during the Penguins’ 38-6 win against Robert Morris University. Davis said the bye week allowed the team to rest and gave the players added time to prepare.
“It lined up perfectly. The bye week gave me two weeks off since I missed the Robert Morris game. It was very nice,” Davis said. “These games are where we have to step it up. It’s now pedal to the medal with eight weeks to prove that we are worthy of the playoffs.”
South Dakota quarterback Chris Streveler will get the most attention from the YSU defense. Streveler leads the Coyotes with 507 passing yards, nine touchdown passes, 399 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.
“They have a nice quarterback, who is a guy that really likes to run,” YSU safety Jameel Smith said. “They are going to take their shots when they can, but we have to defend those deep balls when they come.”
Smith also talked about what Streveler does to their defense as a dual threat quarterback.
“We emphasize plastering, which is a term we use which means that you stick to the closest guy when the quarterback is scrambling,” Smith said. “We don’t come off until the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage. We practice each week just like there was a game. That was something that was a positive from practice during an off week.”
YSU play South Dakota at home at 4 p.m. on Oct. 1.