Youngstown State picked up one of its biggest wins since coach Eric Wolford took over four years ago as the Penguins won their Missouri Valley Conference opener against Southern Illinois.
YSU (4-1, 1-0 MVC) overcame a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit on the road to beat SIU, 28-27. Wolford emphasized how important it was to enjoy the win but quickly move on from it.
That's because YSU can't afford a letdown as it moves on to face Indiana State (1-3) and star running back Shakir Bell. A victory would mark the first time YSU has won back-to-back road games under Wolford.
YSU - Kurt Hess played one of the best games of his career against SIU. Aside from going 25 of 37 (68 percent) for 258 yards and four touchdowns, he engineered a game-winning, 83-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Hess hasn't thrown an interception since Week 1 and is only six yards shy of setting a school record for career passing yards.
ISU - Junior Mike Perish has shown a lot of improvement in his second year as a starter. He's thrown 10 touchdowns - matching his 2012 total - five interceptions (three last week) and he's completing more than 60 percent of his passes. He isn't much of a running threat, which bodes well for a YSU team that struggles against dual-threat quarterbacks.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The Penguins keep putting Torrian Pace as the No. 1 back on the depth chart, but true freshman Martin Ruiz is cemented as YSU's top ball carrier. He quickly eclipsed Pace after a preseason injury to Demond Hymes, who underwent an MRI on his ankle earlier this week. Ruiz has 350 yards and seven touchdowns on 65 carries. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has seven catches for 107 yards with one touchdown. Ruiz doesn't wow you with speed, power or agility, but he has a nice combination of all three.
ISU - Bell (5-8, 185) is arguably the best running back in the FCS. He missed two-and-a-half games because of a shoulder injury, but he still has 314 yards and is averaging 7.3 yards per carry. He can run by you, around you or through you, and he's a threat out of the backfield (seven catches, 75 yards, one TD). He's eclipsed 4,000 yards for his career and is a Walter Payton Award candidate. All that said, YSU shut him down in 2012 (18 carries, 54 yards) and kept the Sycamores out of the playoffs.
EDGE - ISU
YSU - Youngstown State lost one of its fastest receivers for at least this week when Michael Wheary pulled a hamstring against ISU. This could open the door for sophomore Marcel Caver.?He has good size (6-3) and top-end speed. Or, with plenty of depth at wide receiver, YSU could turn to seniors Jelani Berassa (a year removed from a torn ACL) or Kevin?Watts, a very athletic and versatile option. Andre Stubbs leads the Penguins with 14 catches and is one of five players with at least 10 receptions.
ISU - Tanner Riley, who leads Indiana State with 17 receptions, is a solid possession receiver. Demory Lawshe (6-1, 200) is a downfield threat, averaging 21.3 yards per catch. He has three TDs, including a season-long 78-yard grab. Sampson Levington also has good size (6-1, 200) and is dangerous in the red zone (three TDs). Kiyani Harris is a decent option in the slot (15 catches, 164 yards).
EDGE - YSU
YSU - Left tackle Kyle Bryant, one YSU's best lineman and a possible All-American, didn't play last week because of an undisclosed injury. He could return this week, which is great news because the O-line has been very steady thus far. They allowed just one sack to Southern Illinois, which came in with a league-leading 13. They also paved the way for a respectable 132 yards rushing, including 41 on the final game-winning drive, against the leagues best rush defense.
ISU - The Sycamores are huge up front, averaging 6-5, 300 pounds, but they have some faults. They've allowed nine sacks in four games (YSU has given up five), and ISU?has just four rushing touchdowns. Granted, much of that can be a result of Bell being out for most of the season. Center FN Lutz (yes, that's his first name) was a preseason All-MVC selection.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The line has probably been the biggest weakness on the defense, but it did show improvement during the second half last week. After generating very little pressure in the first two quarters, the Penguins were able to bring in different personnel to rattle the SIU offense. The line's focus will change to stopping the run against Bell, something its done well.
ISU - This is the veteran group of a very young defense, which plays a 3-4 base scheme. Nose tackle Russell Jones (6-1, 28) and end Tyler Boyd (6-2, 270) are both seniors and returning starters. Sophomore Conrrad Nicholls leads the linemen and is second on ISU with five tackles for loss and two sacks.
EDGE - ISU
YSU - The Penguins did a solid job stopping the run against SIU, and they're fourth in the MVC in rush defense, giving up 126 yards per game (3.8 per carry). They'll really be put to the test this week. Bell is the full package at running back, and it will be critical to keep him from breaking long runs. The athleticism of Teven and Travis Williams along with Dom Rich should help their cause, but one missed assignment can equal a touchdown against Bell.
ISU - Sophomore Connor Underwood (6-3, 230) is emerging as a star for the Sycamores. He leads the team with four sacks. He also picked off a pass against Indiana and returned it for a touchdown. Underwood is one of three sophomores, and the other starter is a freshman. Inside linebacker Kendall Walker leads ISU with 28 tackles, while OLB Jameer Thurman is next with 27. The Sycamores are struggling to stop the run, allowing 165.8 yards per game.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - Most of the 348 yards YSU?gave up last week came in the first half as did all four touchdowns. The Penguins cleaned it up in the second half and played well, especially junior safety Donald D'Alesio, who was named MVC defensive player of the week. He made 14 tackles and forced a fumble on SIU's final drive. Tre' Moore had a solid game against the Salukis and may take over for Jameel Smith at free safety.
ISU - Senior Calvin Burnett was a preseason all-conference honoree. He made four picks last year but is still looking for his first in 2013. The Sycamores are yielding just 191.5 yards passing per game (fifth best in the MVC). They're young in the secondary, with two sophomores starting, but they're talented.
EDGE - ISU
YSU - Punter Nick Liste leads the MVC and is sixth in the country with a 45.3-yard average. Place kicker Joey Cejudo remained perfect on field goals and PATs, which was important considering YSU won by one point.
ISU - All five of Eric Heidorn's field goal attempts came last week. He converted from 24, 31 and 42 yards, but he missed from 20 and 40 yards. ISU lost by one. Punter Jordo Stangler is averaging 38 yards per punt and has placed four inside the 20-yard line. The Sycamores haven't returned any punts or kicks for touchdowns.
EDGE - YSU
Indiana State will be fired up after YSU knocked them out of the playoff hunt last year on the final day of the regular season. Bell is the real deal and can have a huge day at any time. That said, YSU understands the importance every MVC?contest, so the Penguins will be ready.