South Dakota at YSU

It wasn’t that the first three games of the season didn’t mean much to Youngstown State, it’s just that the final eight mean more.

YSU (2-1) again tries to reclaim a spot in the FCS playoffs by winning the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and that opportunity starts today against the University of South Dakota. The Penguins have won seven straight MVFC openers, the longest current streak in the league, and are 4-0 all time against USD.

To keep that going, 15th-ranked YSU must slow an offense that’s averaging 42.7 points per game and a quarterback who has been nearly unstoppable in the first three weeks.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU – Ricky Davis returns to the starting lineup after missing a Week 3 game against Robert Morris with a head injury. The junior said he’s going to try and slide more than he has in the past to help avoid another injury, but considering his running has been a big part of YSU’s offense, that seems unlikely. His passing has been solid, going 23-of-42 for 376 yards, four touchdowns and zero picks. Considering the points the Coyotes have been putting up, he better not have any rust in his return.

USD – Chris Streveler has been one of the most productive QBs in the FCS through three weeks, leading the nation in points responsible for per game (26.0). The Minnesota Gopher transfer is more of a runner than a passer, but YSU must respect both to avoid giving up big plays. There’s a good chance a linebacker will be spying Streveler everywhere he goes, as containing him will be the defense’s main objective.

EDGE – USD

RUNNING BACKS

YSU – The offense receives a big jolt with the return of tailback Jody?Webb. The senior is arguably the Penguins biggest offensive threat, but he missed the last two games with a knee injury. He and Martin Ruiz, who’s third in the MVFC with 302 rushing yards, create one of the most potent backfields in the conference. They should be called on early often against the league’s worst rushing defense.

USD – Running backs like Trevor Bouma (5-11, 220) have given YSU problems over the years. Bigger, stronger backs who can wear down a defense have done just that against past Penguin teams. The key is to keep him from getting his momentum going, so winning the battle up front and swarming to the ball is imperative for YSU.

EDGE – YSU

RECEIVERS

YSU – Receiver was a big question mark entering the season, and there are still some lingering issues. Sophomore Isiah Scott still has to show he can be a big-time receiver. He has the size and skill. There’s also not a set starting group, as players have rotated in and out in the first three games. More consistent playing time for the starters could result in better timing with the quarterback. As of now, Florida transfer Alvin Bailey leads the team with seven catches for 129 yards (74 of which came on one play).

USD – The Coyotes’ receiving corps is similar to YSU’s, with several capable players and none who stand out above the rest. Sophomore Shamar Jackson has played well in the slot, with 10 grabs for 137 yards and four TDs, but Brandt Van Roekel is probably the biggest matchup problem at 6-4, 215 pounds.

EDGE – Even

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU – Another big return comes in the form of senior guard Brock?Eisenhuth. He missed the first three games with a broken bone in his foot, but the 6-5, 350-pounder should be good to go today (at least for portions of the game). The line has been great most of the season, with both sacks given up coming last week in a dominant win over Robert Morris. It has paved the way for the leading rushing attack in the MVFC (882 yards in three games).

USD – A mix of veterans and inexperienced youngsters make up the front five for USD. The Coyotes have given up seven sacks, but they also lead the MVFC in scoring offense. They’re going to be tested today, especially the tackles, by two of the better defensive ends in the country.

EDGE – YSU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU – Stats aren’t always a great indicator of how a team is playing early in the season, but the fact the Penguins are allowing just 85.3 yards rushing per game is a good sign for YSU’s interior linemen. While Derek Rivers and Avery Moss are considered two of the best defensive ends in the FCS, defensive tackle was a concern entering the season. The rotation of Cody Squiric, Savon Smith, Lamont Ragland and Donald Meiser has done well thus far. They’ll need to help contain Streveler today.

USD – South Dakota’s line is led by senior Colin Mertlik, a playmaking defensive end who is the only returning starter up front. He has two sacks and is coming off a big junior year. Tackle Sean Bredl and DE Jake Leohr lead the defensive line with 11 tackles each. No other linemen besides Mertlik has a sack.

EDGE – YSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU – Not much is said about the linebackers for YSU, but Jaylin Kelly and Armand Dellovade are two of the most consistent players on a defense that leads the league in points allowed (18). The Penguins often use a nickel back, which removes one of the three LBs from YSU’s 4-3 defensive scheme. This may be in part due to a talented and versatile secondary that can help in the run game and also because of the loss of LB Lee Wright, who led YSU in tackles last year but is likely out for the year because of a university-imposed suspension stemming from an offseason arrest.

USD – Not a single starter returned at linebacker for USD, which is allowing 459.7 yards per game. LB?Jet Moreland is the Coyotes’ leading tackler with 25 stops. Fellow ‘backer Alex Coker paces South Dakota with three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Jim Litrenta is fourth on the team with 22 tackles. All three were special teams players in 2015.

EDGE – YSU

SECONDARY

YSU – The pressure always seems to be on the YSU secondary, which must accept a lot of responsibility in Bo Pelini’s defensive scheme. This will be a decent test for the defensive backs, who might be asked to stay in coverage longer than usual because of the scrambling ability of Streveler.

USD – Free safety Tyson Graham and strong safety Jacob Warner, both seniors, are arguably the Coyotes top two defenders. Graham is coming off a season in which he made 71 tackles and four interceptions, and Warner added 67 stops and three picks. Warner is second on the team with 24 tackles and leads in pass break-ups (2).?He’s also forced and recovered a fumble. Graham, a preseason all-MVFC honoree, has 18 stops on the year. Both corners are first-year starters.

EDGE – YSU

SPECIALISTS

YSU – Place-kicker Zak Kennedy hasn’t been asked to do much this season, going 2-of-3 on field goals with his lone miss being a 50-yarder. That will change in conference play, and so will the pressure, but Kennedy was spectacular last year as a true freshman. YSU has done better in kick and punt coverage, but consistency is the key. Webb is always a threat as a kick returner, with two TDs last year.

USD – Senior Miles Bergner serves as the team’s punter, place-kicker and kickoff man, and he’s good at all of them. His 41.7-yard average on punt in 2015 was fourth nationally. He had four makes of at least 45 yards, and he’s 4-of-4 on FG attempts this year with a long of 50 yards. His 47.9-yard average on punts this year is by far the best in the conference.

EDGE – USD

PREDICTION

Both teams are coming off a bye week, so their preparation should be sharp, but players, specifically quarterbacks, could also be rusty.

Adjustments by both coaches is another area to watch as teams often start to show new formations and schemes during conference play. The key for YSU is slowing Streveler. He’s averaging 115 yards rushing per game, and YSU hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher. If they keep him in check, YSU could run away with it, but if he gets going early, that opens up a lot for the Coyotes and the game could be very interesting.

YSU, 31-20.