The Penguins can take another step toward the postseason today with a road win over one of the surprise teams in the conference.
Youngstown State (7-1, 4-0 Missouri Valley Conference), ranked No. 10 in the FCS Coaches Poll, squares off against an upstart South Dakota squad. The Coyotes (4-4, 3-2) were picked to finish last in the MVC but have wins over Missouri State, Indiana State and a double-overtime victory on the road against Northern Iowa.
A win against South Dakota, which is 3-0 at the DakotaDome, won't come easy as the Coyotes possess the fifth-ranked defense in the FCS. It'll be an intriguing matchup as the Penguins boast the conference's highest scoring offense.
YSU -It's been a while since Kurt Hess has had to respond to a poor performance, but he'll need to that against South Dakota. Hess endured a miserable game (albeit on a cold, rainy and windy night) against Western Illinois). He finished 7 of 18 for 47 yards. He did toss two touchdowns, but he threw his first pick since Week 1. The Coyotes own the league's best secondary, so Hess has his work cut out for him. He'll also have to get accustomed to playing in a dome, which YSU hasn't done yet this year.
USD - It's been quite a beginning to sophomore Kevin Earl's career. He led three fourth-quarter comebacks in his first three games and threw for 370 yards and five touchdowns in an overtime road win at Northern Iowa. He has thrown six interceptions, including two last week in a 28-14 loss to Illinois State, Earl's first as a starter. He's completed 91 of 164 passes (55.5 percent) for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns since taking over for Josh Vander Maten four games ago. The 6-foot-6 Earl possesses a strong arm and also is a threat to run the ball.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The backfield is as close to full strength as it's been all year after the return of senior tailback Adaris Bellamy. Bellamy began the year as the starter and ran for more than 200 yards in the opener, but he hasn't played since because of "personal issues."?True freshman Martin Ruiz emerged as an elite back during his absence, leading YSU with 775 yards and 12 touchdowns. The run game could be leaned on because of a strong Coyotes' secondary.
USD - A pair of true freshmen lead the Coyotes' rushing attack. Trevor Bouma, 5-11, 210 pounds, has a team-high 543 yards on 117 carries (4.6 average), but he has just two touchdowns. Fellow freshmen Jordan Roberts (5-11, 215) has 376 yards on 88 attempts. He also has two touchdowns. USD has 11 as a team, led by Vander Maten, its former QB, who has three. Both Bouma and Roberts are bruising backs. The Coyotes don't have a breakaway threat (their longest run of the year is 25 yards).
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The receiving corps also is as healthy as it has been in a while. Sophomore Michael Wheary is back from a hamstring injury, but he lost his starting spot. Sophomore Andrew Williams (6-4, 185) has become one of YSU's most dynamic receivers, with 18 receptions for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He and fellow sophomore Marcel Caver (6-3, 185) are downfield threats and create matchup problems because of their size. Andre Stubbs leads YSU with 20 catches.
USD - True freshman Riley Donovan has been on a tear lately. The 6-1, 180-pound Donovan, who had his redshirt removed five games ago, caught nine passes for 178 yards against Northern Iowa and made seven grabs for 109 yards last week. He leads USD with 337 yards receiving. Junior Terrance Terry (5-9, 185) has a team-high 32 catches, and tight end Tyler Wilhelm is a threat as well, with 14 catches for 234 yards (a 16.7 average).
EDGE - Even
YSU - Youngstown's State's line has been as good or better than any part of the team. The men up front have allowed a league-low eight sacks. YSU also is second in the conference in rushing yards per game (224), just six yards behind North Dakota State. Four seniors (Andrew Sinko, Chris Elkins, Fred Herdman and Kyle Bryant) lead the way, and freshman Brock Eisenhuth has been steady at right guard.
USD - Three of the Coyotes' five linemen are two-year starters, but they've had their problems protecting the quarterback, allowing 17 sacks. They're also second worst in the conference with a 3.4 yards-per-carry average.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The defensive line has rounded into shape after a feeling-out process through the first few games. Senior Kyle Sirl, the only returning starter from 2012, is the leader of this group and has become one of the best players on an improving defense. Terrell Williams has solidified his spot as the other defensive end, and Emmanuel Kromah and Steve Zaborsky are entrenched at the tackle spots. Depth has been a big reason for the success up front.
USD - The 3-4 defensive scheme run by South Dakota is designed for the linebackers to make most of the plays, so the numbers aren't great for the Coyotes' linemen. The starters have combined to make five sacks, led by Emilious Davis, who has 2.5. He's joined by two up-and-coming sophomores in Nick Jacobs and Drew Iddings. Both saw significant time last year as freshmen.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The loss of senior co-captain Dom Rich has been felt just as much from a leadership standpoint as it has from his play on the field. Rich, battling a hip injury, could play 10-15 plays, according to coach Eric Wolford, as the Penguins try to ease him back into the rotation. Middle linebacker Teven Williams leads YSU with 54 tackles. He and WLB Travis Williams (41 stops)?have been consistent all season.
USD - Senior Tyler Starr (6-5, 250) is one of the best outside linebackers in the MVC. He leads the conference in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (13). He was a preseason All-MVC honoree and could be picked in April's NFL?Draft. Inside linebacker Auston Johnson is second on the Coyotes in tackles (48) and sacks (4). Sophomore Keyen Lage has seven TFLs.
EDGE - USD
YSU - The defensive backs are still allowing a lot of yards (second most in the MVC), but a lot of those came when YSU had a big lead late in games. Senior Dale Peterman spoke highly of South Dakota's receivers and said the Coyotes' quarterback has one of the strongest arms of any team YSU has faced. Several times he said it will be vital for the Penguins to "compete for the ball" on long passes down the field.
USD - The Coyotes possess one of the top secondaries in the nation. They've allowed 125 yards per game through the air (second best in the nation) and haven't allowed a completed pass in the fourth quarter of the last two games. All four starters are seniors, led by Devin Taverna, who has a team-best 53 tackles. Corner Dyllon Knox has made three picks (second in the conference), and his counterpart, Jarrid Bryant, has two.
EDGE - USD
YSU - Senior punter Nick Liste was named MVC?Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this year after another strong performance against Western Illinois (he twice landed punts at WIU's 1-yard line). Joey Cejudo remains perfect on field goals (4 for 4). YSU leads the MVC in kickoff coverage and is second in kickoff return yardage.
USD - Miles Bergner has struggled at times in the kick games, making 6 of 14 field goals. USD has allowed one punt return for a TD, but its coverage units are mostly solid. The Coyotes haven't returned a punt or kickoff for a TD.
EDGE - YSU
South Dakota isn't the pushover people thought they might be, and the Coyotes are especially tough at home. The Penguins need to make sure USD's young quarterback doesn't find an early rhythm because they have some receivers who can make plays. YSU needs to establish the run and wear down the Coyotes and set up the play-action pass.