By Marc Weems
Last season, the Youngstown State University football team came a half yard shy of tying Illinois State University during the final drive. Former starting quarterback Hunter Wells scrambled out of the pocket and ran toward the goal line.
After originally being called a successful two-point conversion, the call was reversed by replay, and the Penguins lost 31-29. Now the Penguins have an opportunity to redeem themselves on Saturday.
Illinois State is currently on a three-game losing streak. Head coach Bo Pelini was disappointed in the Penguins’ performance against the University of South Dakota. Pelini said the team will need to play better if the Penguins want to leave with a win on Saturday.
“It all depends on the situation and the team you have to play. Any time you go on the road, obviously, your margin of error is going to be much smaller,” Pelini said. “That’s why we just have to keep getting better and better. We have to become more efficient and consistent as the weeks go on.”
YSU didn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities during its last game against South Dakota. The Penguins settled for three Zak Kennedy field goals from inside of 30 yards. Quarterback Ricky Davis said the offense needs to improve and not make the same mistakes this week.
“We just have to capitalize when we get into the red zone,” Davis said. “I think that the final score would have been way different. We did a lot of good things on Saturday. We had three turnovers, which we can clean up. The main thing to our game is just finishing in the red zone.”
On the other side of the ball, the defense has held up so far this season. The defense has given up only 74 points through four games, giving up 38 of those points against West Virginia University.
Defensive tackle Cody Squiric said the defense has played well this season, but still has room for improvement.
“I think the [defensive] unit overall works so hard every day watching film and going out on the practice field. If I were to grade ourselves, I’d put us at a B, because you always stride for perfection, but it’s hard. It’s nice to know that you prepare so hard each week with good results.”
Pelini said the team needs to “increase our level of intensity” if the Penguins want to beat the Redbirds. He said the players and coaches are expecting Illinois State to play their best game of the season.
This will be the Penguins’ second road game of the season, the first came in the second week of the season against West Virginia University.
“This will be our first flight, which will be exciting for first-time guys. This game is no different than the West Virginia game for us,” Davis said. “We’ve got to stay composed and just play our game. It’s a tough place to play from, what I remember in my redshirt freshmen year.”
YSU’s offense is averaging 34.5 points per game this year, while gaining almost 6.7 yards per play.
Squiric said the players expect Illinois State to play a similar style as last season. He said the Redbirds had a lot of success with their system last year and doesn’t see any reason for them to change.
“I think that they believe in their system,” Squiric said. “I think they had a great system last year. I think they’re gonna be a heavy run team, because they have a great, powerful offensive line which can help them.”
Pelini said the preparation of the players falls on the coaching staff. He said the Penguins will be more prepared and learned from their performance last week.
“We’ve got to have 11 guys who are ready to play the way they need to play,” Pelini said. “We will get greater attention to detail, and we will focus on everybody doing everything well. We, as coaches, that’s what needs to be done to get wins every week.”