Last year while covering the Youngstown State Penguins football team, I got to see the highs and lows of the season. The highs being the season-opening win against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field and the dramatic victory at home against UNI. The low being the blowout loss to North Dakota State in Fargo.
Today in East Lansing will be the first time I have seen YSU in person since the 2012 season finale. The Penguins take on Michigan State at 2 p.m.
Having not seen the Penguins since last year, I am going to be paying close attention to things that I've heard about this year's team, as well as comparing what I see today against what I saw during the rollercoaster 2012 campaign. Here are the things to pay most attention to:
Unfortunately, his worst game of the 2012 year came the next game against NDSU when he threw two interceptions - one which was returned for a 98-yard touchdown. I have many times said that interception was the turning point of the YSU season.
Hess stumbled in the opener this season against Dayton, but turned it around last week against Morehead State. A big key for the Penguins today against a very potent Michigan State defense will be for Hess to the calm, cool and mistake-free quarterback he has known to be. YSU doesn't need Hess to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns (though it would be nice, but against the Spartan defense it is very unlikely), but they need him to play a clean game with no interceptions. If offensive mistakes can be limited, the Penguins can have a fighting chance.
Through the first two games, the defense is only allowing 290 yards of total offense and has held both opponents to less than 15 points (13 and 10).
However, Michigan State is not Dayton or Morehead State. But, the Spartans are going through a bit of an identity crisis on offense that could play to the Penguins' advantage.
The Michigan State depth chart lists four players that could start at quarterback today. The Spartans have only scored two offensive touchdowns this season. If the Penguins' defense could make a big play (or two) and give the offense field position to put up points, it could be a game changer. I know YSU coach Eric Wolford isn't a fan of field goals (because they worth less than a touchdown), but guess what - three is also better than zero.
If the defense can hold its own against a Big-Ten offense, I will be convinced that this unit is finally on its way to reaching full potential.
Earlier in the week, Wolford told me since I was making the trip, the Penguins would get the 'W.' While I appreciate Wolford's optimism, it will take more than me as their good luck charm to pull off the upset.
However, if the Penguins can play mistake-free with maybe a ball bouncing their way or two, the coach might be able to keep his promise - or at least give folks a good game to watch.