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YSU football set to move forward

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU senior Jaleel McLaughlin bursts ahead for a 35-yard touchdown during the first half in a 38-35 loss to Western Illinois.

YOUNGSTOWN — Breaking down the film from Youngstown State’s 38-35 loss to Western Illinois was no pleasure for the Penguins.

Just ask senior offensive lineman Dan Becker.

“We always watch film the day after. Obviously, after a loss, it’s tough to watch film,” he said. “The coaches get after you, but the day after, you just have to refocus on the next opponent. Everybody has their own way (to process tough losses). I just try to not think about it, learn from what I did wrong and move forward.”

And so the Penguins have. YSU is back in action Saturday at No. 15 Northern Iowa (2-1), whose sole loss was a 16-10 decision to the Big 12’s Iowa State.

Historically, the Panthers have YSU’s number. Northern Iowa leads the all-time series 24-9 and has won nine straight against the Penguins in Cedar Falls. Youngstown State’s last win at UNI came in 1999.

As such, head coach Doug Phillips expects the environment in the UNI-Dome to be tough.

“You have to expect chaos. You need to adapt to it, and then you need to be able to execute in it,” he said, adding, “We have to do a great job in our preparation this week to have an understanding that it’s going to be very chaotic. They probably will have a packed house of 16,000 people, and it’s very loud.”

In addition, the Panthers play on astroturf, which is akin to a carpet-like surface.

So far, Phillips says the Penguins’ preparation has been good.

“You can’t look back; you have to prepare for this week. I think our young men did that,” he said. “We had a great practice (Monday) to get (the loss) off your back, and then went out (Tuesday) and backed it up with two solid practices.”

The Penguins can expect much of the usual from UNI on Saturday. Namely, the Panthers once again feature one of the FCS’ top defenses.

Northern Iowa’s ranks 23rd in total yards among FCS defenses, third in turnover margin, sixth in scoring, 13th in rushing yards allowed and fifth in third-down percentage.

“They’re big and strong,” Phillips said of the Panther defense. “When you look at them, they have big defensive linemen. Usually defensive ends in the FCS are 240 to 250 pounds. Now, you’re going against 265-pound defensive ends with anchor tackles that are 300 pounds and probably ex-wrestlers that play with great leverage.”

Phillips added that the size and strength extends to both the linebacking corps and secondary as well.

“They have a recruiting plan they’ve executed for the last 20 years bringing in players they believe will be successful to keep winning games there,” Phillips said. “If there’s a blueprint of how you recruit, how you develop and how you retain, they definitely demonstrate that (blueprint) year in and year out.”

That will be tough sledding for a YSU offense that was held scoreless in the second half against WIU and so far hasn’t shown much ability to throw the ball downfield. While YSU ranks fifth in the FCS in rushing yards per game with 272, the Penguin passing game (108.3 yards per game) sits at 113th out of 123 teams.

The Penguin defense figures to have its hands full, too. After sluggish performances against Iowa State and in the first half of UNI’s game at Sacramento State, the Panthers inserted Theo Day at quarterback in place of Will McElvain. The results have proven that decision to be correct, as Day has the offense humming.

“I think they saw themselves down 9-7 (against Sacramento State) at half, went with a change and when they went with the change, (Day) hit some passes downfield and really got the offense going for them,” Phillips said.

YSU defensive back Troy Jakubec said of Day, “He’s a bigger body back there and is coming from a bigger school. (He has) more experience, (and is) a better thrower of the ball.”

Jakubec added that the Panthers have big-play capability, so making tackles and keeping UNI’s weapons bottled up will be of the utmost importance.

Phillips said the Panthers also feature size along the offensive front and like to run the ball, and so the Penguins have their work cut out for them.

“You just have to get ready to go play against a very good football team. For us, we have to look forward to that great challenge,” Phillips said.

Becker added, “We’re excited to get back to it. We had a good day of practice (Tuesday), and we’re ready to get the sour taste out of our mouth.”

Kickoff in Cedar Falls is set for 5 p.m. A full position-by-position breakdown will be available Thursday.

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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