YSU hopes Ice Castle lives up to name

Tribune Chronicle file / R. Michael Semple YSU tight end Kevin Rader, shown here making a move on South Dakota’s Jacob Warner, is part of a massive offensive line for the Penguins.

YOUNGSTOWN — Unlike most people in the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown State linebacker Armand Dellovade is ready for winter.

In fact, if he had it his way, the burly sophomore with a beard that rivals Santa Claus would like Old Man Winter to show up at Stambaugh Stadium this week, preferably Saturday afternoon, say 5 o’clock, just in time for the Penguins’ first-round matchup with Samford in the FCS playoffs.

“(The weather) is the same for us,” said Dellovade, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native who’s as used to freezing temperatures as anyone from this area. “I actually hope it’s really cold so it’s hard for them to pass and catch the ball.”

Ah yes, the Bulldogs of Samford aren’t exactly accustomed to the frigid ways of the north, where swirling winds and sleet can quickly have the Ice Castle, as Stambaugh Stadium is often called, living up to its name.

The Bulldogs (7-4) play in the Southern Conference, and most of their games are played under the sunny skies of Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. For instance, Birmingham, Ala., where Samford is located, is calling for partly sunny skies with temperatures in the 70s this Saturday. Youngstown? Well, look for something in the mid 30s with a chance of rain, snow or sleet and winds nearing 15 miles per hour. In other words, typical November weather.

That rather extensive forecast could actually play a key role in Saturday’s showdown, mainly because Samford has passed the ball 495 times this season, a mark exceeded by only one team in the FCS (Stephen F. Austin). The Bulldogs also run a fast-paced, no-huddle offense that’s averaging nearly 500 yards per game. YSU (8-3) hopes to keep them huddling on the sidelines, clamoring for hand-warmers.

“It could definitely help,” YSU tight end Shane Kuhn said of the weather. “I don’t know that it will win or lose us the game, so we need to make sure we prepare well. It’s definitely a good advantage to have — them coming from the south and not used to this weather. I know they like to spread the ball out on offense. That doesn’t have a lot to do with me, but our defense is ready for anyone in the whole country.”

The Penguins’ offense should be right at home.

While Samford has thrown the ball nearly 500 times (compared to 238 for YSU), Youngstown State is in the top 10 in the country in rushing attempts (538).

Running backs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb have combined for 1,719 yards, which is more than the Bulldogs’ entire team (1,137). The Penguins’ offensive line averages 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds and has routinely wore out opposing teams. No gusts of wind will affect them Saturday, which is good news for an offense that set school records for total yards (747) and rushing yards (572) just last week.

“It’s huge because our defense has been pretty consistent all year,” Kuhn said. “Our offense has struggled at times, but the last couple weeks we’ve really been ramping it up and doing pretty well, so it’s exciting.”

Add in to the situation that YSU is 14-1 all time in home playoff games (winning 14 straight after losing in its initial appearance), and the advantages appear to weigh heavily in the Penguins’ favor. YSU coach Bo Pelini isn’t convinced.

The longtime coach knows the Bulldogs could just as easily come in and immediately adapt to the climate — and any other obstacles thrown their way.

“You’ve got to be able to adapt. How they adapt, I don’t really care,” Pelini said of Samford. “We’ve got to be prepared to play their offense. … You’ve got to be able to execute no matter what the weather brings. There will probably be 20 different forecasts between now and Saturday.”

That, too, is typical Ohio weather.