The Youngstown State football team plays its first home game of the season against Valparaiso on Saturday afternoon at Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff for the contest is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be carried live on 570 WKBN and televised on tape delay by MyYTV.
This is the first meeting between the programs on the gridiron. The schools are familiar with one another as they are both members of the Horizon League for all other sports. Valpo is a member of the Pioneer Football League.
The Penguins (0-1) are coming off a solid performance at Michigan State on Sept. 2. YSU lost 28-6 to the 17th-ranked Spartans in what was the program's best showing against a BCS foe in seven tries. The Guins trailed just 7-6 in the second quarter and were behind 14-6 with five minutes left in the third period. The Penguins had 20 first downs and controlled the ball for 31:09 in the contest.
Valparaiso (0-1) comes to Youngstown following a 49-35 loss to Franklin College in its home opener last Saturday. The Crusaders jumped out to a 28-14 lead with under five minutes left before halftime. However, the Grizzlies scored 35 of the final 42 points of the game to earn the victory. QB Eric Hoffman threw for 394 yards, completing 27-of-42 passes. However, Franklin had 669 yards of total offense, including 448 through the air.
YSU has won 15 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 season. In those 15 contests, the Penguins have won by an average score of 35.9 to 10.9. YSU has scored more than 30 points on 11 occasions, including last year's 31-7 victory over Butler, which, like Valpo, is a member of the Pioneer League.
All-time in home opening games, the Penguins are 46-22-2 since the program's origin in 1938. Since moving to Stambaugh Stadium in 1982, YSU is 22-6-1 in the first home game of the season. Since 1989, YSU is 18-1-1 in home openers.
YSU remains at home to start Missouri Valley Football Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 17 against Illinois State. Kickoff for the contest at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 4 p.m. It will be the 21st meeting between the schools in a series that's tied at 10 wins each.
MSU Game Notes
• The Penguins had more offensive plays (69-58), more passing attempts (35-23), fewer penalties (4-8), more third-down conversions (8-3) and more time of possession (31:09-28:51) than the Spartans.
• YSU dropped its fifth straight season opener and is 39-30-2 all-time in openers.
• The Penguins never led in the game and it marked the first time in Coach Eric Wolford's 12 games that YSU never scored in double figures.
• The defense held the Spartans to 28 points. It snapped a seven-game streak in which the Penguins had allowed an opponent to score 30-or-more points.
• YSU forced the Spartans to go three-and-out on their first possession of the game and first possession of the second half.
• The Penguins held MSU below 400 total offensive yards, making it the second straight season they held a Big Ten opponent under 400 yards in a game.
• First-time starters on offense were freshman WR Christian Bryan, freshman WR Andre Stubbs, junior offensive guard Lamar Mady and junior center Mark Pratt.
• First-time starters on defense were junior NT Aronde Stanton, freshmen LBs Davion Rogers and Travis Williams, sophomore FS Josh Garner, junior SS Jeremey Edwards and freshman CB Devont'a Davis.
• For the second straight year, the Penguins were able to score a touchdown against a BCS team when QB Kurt Hess tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Jelani Berassa.
• Berassa's second-quarter touchdown reception was the first of his career. Bryan, Stubbs and Kintrell Disher all had their first career receptions in the game.
MSU Recap: MSU 28, YSU 6
YSU put up a solid effort against 17th-ranked Michigan State but could never get control of the game away from the Spartans, falling 28-6 in the season opener in front of a crowd of 75,910 at Spartan Stadium.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Michigan State took a 7-0 lead on six-yard run by Larry Caper. The Penguins answered back when Kurt Hess connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jelani Berassa, but they still trailed 7-6 after the extra-point kick was blocked.
MSU followed the YSU score when Le'Veon Bell scampered home from three yards, giving the Spartans a 14-6 lead at halftime.
In the third, Kirk Cousins tossed an 18-yard scoring strike to B.J. Cunningham, extending the MSU advantage to 21-6 at the 4:52 mark. The Spartans turned YSU's lone turnover of the game into a quick score to put the game away. Bell scooted in from three yards out with 7:09 remaining for the final margin.
Valparaiso Scouting Report
Valparaiso comes to Youngstown following a season-opening 49-35 loss to NCAA Division III member Franklin last Saturday. The Crusaders have now lost 21 straight games dating back to a 20-17 win over Concordia, Wis., on Sept. 12, 2009.
Valpo jumped out to a 28-14 lead with under five minutes left before halftime. However, the Grizzlies scored 35 of the final 42 points of the game to earn the victory.
QB Eric Hoffman threw for 394 yards, completing 27-of-42 passes. However, Franklin had 669 yards of total offense, including 448 through the air.
Head Coach Dale Carlson is in his second season with the program.
Home Opener Win Streak
The Penguins have won 15 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 campaign when it lost to Stephen F. Austin. In the 15 games since then, YSU has outscored its opponents by an impressive 539-164.
Since then the Penguins have pitched two shutouts while the most points allowed was 21 by Slippery Rock in 2006 and Austin Peay in 2009. On offense, the Guins have scored at least 23 points in each of those games and gone over 30 on 11 occasions, including a high of 51 versus the Rock in 2006. YSU beat Butler 31-7 last year in the first home game.
More on Home Openers
YSU is 46-22-2 all-time in home openers dating back to the program's beginning in 1938. Since moving to Stambaugh Stadium in 1982, YSU is 22-6-1 in the first home game of the season. Since 1989, YSU is 18-1-1 in home openers. It has also won 15 straight since 1996.
All-Time Home Opener Notes
Most Points: 51 vs. Slippery Rock, 2006
Fewest Points: 0 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 1995 (3 times)
Opp. Most Points: 43 by Southern Illinois, 1969
Opp. Fewest Points: 0 by Central State, 2008 (9 times)
Margin of Victory: 44 | 50-6 vs. Clarion, 1998
The Penguins have shown signs of improvement against BCS teams under Head Coach Eric Wolford.
In the two games he has led the Guins against BCS foes - Penn State (2010) and Michigan State (2011) - YSU has scored 20 points with three touchdowns, has 518 total offensive yards, 315 passing yards, 203 yards rushing and 34 first downs.
In the previous five games, YSU had 12 points, no touchdowns, 745 yards total offense, 469 yards passing, 276 yards rushing and 50 first downs.
Distributing the Ball
YSU quarterback Kurt Hess connected with nine different receivers in the Penguins' season-opening loss at Michigan State.
Leading the way was freshman Christian Bryan, who had six catches in his YSU debut. Freshman Kintrell Disher caught the first two passes of his career while freshman Andre Stubbs also caught a pass and had three rushing attempts. Five wide receivers, three running backs and a tight end had receptions.
New Line = No Sacks
Against one of the top defensive lines in the FBS, the new-look YSU offensive line held its own pretty well. It was the first time LT Andrew Radakovich, LG Lamar Mady, C Mark Pratt, RG Chris Elkins and RT D.J. Main started together.
The Penguins did not surrender a sack and QB Kurt Hess attempted 35 passes. On only six plays were the Spartans credited with a TFL, and, of the 15 yards lost, five came on a bad snap covered by Hess. Three were on a kneel down just before halftime.
Cook Opens Some Eyes
Junior tailback Jamaine Cook opened some eyes with a strong performance at Michigan State. Cook had 76 yards on 17 carries against the Spartans.
In the seven games YSU has played against a BCS opponent, it was the best rushing total by any YSU player. The previous best was 64 yards by Marcus Mason at Pittsburgh in 2005. Cook had 31 yards on 10 carries last year at Penn State.
His last carry came on YSU's final possession of the third quarter, and he did not play in the fourth period.
Berassa Scores First TD
Sophomore WR Jelani Berassa scored the first touchdown of his career in the second quarter at Michigan State. Berassa caught a Kurt Hess pass at the five-yard line and fought his way into the end zone for a score.
It was his fifth career reception but first since a seven-yard catch at UNI on Nov. 7, 2009. He had two catches versus MSU.
He missed the 2010 campaign after suffering a season-ending knee injury in fall camp.
Berassa played 54 snaps against the Spartans in his first live action since playing in the season finale at North Dakota State in 2009.
Bryan With Six in Debut
Freshman WR Christian Bryan had one of the best debuts by a freshman in school history. Bryan had six catches for 45 yards against Michigan State. He played a position-high 63 snaps against the Spartans.
The last freshman to catch six passes in a game was TB Jake Andreadis, who did it three times during his freshman campaign in 1995.
However, Bryan is the first freshman wide receiver in YSU's FCS era to have six receptions in a contest.
Stubbs All-Around Player
Freshman WR Andre Stubbs had three rushing attempts for 14 yards, caught a four-yard pass and returned four kickoffs for 82 yards against the Spartans. He had a team-high 100 all-purpose yards in the game. He had a long rush of eight yards and a long kickoff return of 30. He played 39 snaps at MSU.
The Penguins' starting safeties combined to make 21 tackles against Michigan State. Newcomer SS Jeremey Edwards had a total of 11 tackles - five solos - while first-time starter FS Josh Garner had 10, including a team-high seven solos. YSU cornerbacks combined for 11 total tackles.
Sasson Sets High Mark
Senior LB John Sasson had a career-high 11 total tackles against Michigan State. Sasson was credited with 11 total tackles against the Spartans, including four solo stops. On two occasions last year, Sasson had 10 tackles (SDSU and Butler).
In his career, Sasson now has 190 total tackles, making him the active team leader in that category.
Last year he had 89 tackles after combining for 90 in his first two years with the program.
FCS vs. BCS Ranked Week 1
In the opening week of the season, two members of the MVFC and two from the SoCon took on ranked FBS programs. YSU and Missouri State along with Appalachian State and Chattanooga all tussled with nationally-ranked foes. The Penguins had the closest final score among the four schools. Here are the results of the other three games: No. 10 Nebraska 40, UTC 7; No. 13 Virginia Tech 66, ASU 13; No. 15 Arkansas 51, MSU 7.
Kudos to Sacramento State, who won at Oregon State in overtime (29-28), and Richmond which knocked off Duke (23-21). Defending national champion Eastern Washington lost 30-27 at Washington while UNI lost 20-19 at Iowa State. Eastern Kentucky put a scare into Kansas State losing 10-7.
Defense on the Rebound
The Penguins admit they had a rough year defensively last season. Now, they are looking for a rebound campaign in 2011.
For the most part, they held their own in the season opener against Michigan State. MSU had just two plays of more than 20 yards. Edwin Baker had a 23-yard run while Kirk Cousins threw a 55-yard pass to B.J. Cunningham.
In five road games last year, the fewest points allowed by the Guins was 30 at South Dakota State.
Only one of the four touchdowns came via the air. In 2010, YSU allowed 26 passing touchdowns by the opposition.
The 28 points was the fewest surrendered in a game against a BCS opponent.
Possession is the Law
YSU held the ball for 31:09 of the game at Michigan State. The Penguins dominated the first quarter, holding the ball for 11:13 before adding 8:23 to their total in the second quarter.
Last year, YSU had more time of possession than its opponents on seven occasions. In three of those games, the Penguins held onto the ball for more than 10 minutes then their opponents.
The Penguins converted 8-of-15 third-down conversions against Michigan State. It marks the fifth consecutive game YSU has converted at least eight third-down situations.
The first seven conversions against the Spartans came on Kurt Hess pass completions. The final one, a third-and-12 in the fourth quarter was converted when Hess ran 13 yards for a first down.
Stewart the Sack Man
Senior DE Daniel Stewart picked up his thirdcareer sack against Michigan State. Stewart threw QB Kirk Cousins for a six-yard loss on a third-and-seven play on the Spartans' opening drive of the second half.
Last season, Stewart had sacks against Central Connecticut State and Illinois State. He is the active team leader in that category ahead of Deonta Tate (1.5), Obinna Ekweremuba (1.0), Andrew Johnson (1.0) and John Sasson (0.5).
Hess Starts Career Strong
Sophomore quarterback Kurt Hess has thrown three of his 13 career touchdown passes against Big Ten teams (two at Penn State and one at Michigan State). He is the only YSU quarterback to throw a touchdown pass against a BCS school.
In the opener, Hess completed 17-of-35 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. It was the 10th time in his career he has passed for more than 100 yards in 12 games.
He had a strong first season in 2010, starting all 11 games and being named the MVFC Freshman of the Year.
He threw for 2,117 yards, completed 179-of-304 passes and had 12 scores. He averaged 192.5 yards per contest through the air.
Only two quarterbacks have thrown for more than 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons in school history. Mark Brungard in 1994 and 1995 and Trenton Lykes in 1986 and 1987 accomplished the feat in consecutive seasons.
Now We're Cooking
Junior tailback Jamaine Cook, who is on the preseason Watch List for the Walter Payton Award, opened the year with a solid performance finishing with 76 yards on 17 attempts versus Michigan State. It was the highest rushing yardage total by a Penguin against a BCS foe. Last season he had 10 carries for 31 yards in his starting debut at Penn State. The previous highest output was 64.
For his career, Cook has rushed for 1,463 yards on 279 carries with 11 touchdowns.
Last season, Cook rushed for more than 100 yards on six occasions, highlighted by a career-best 43-carry, 213-yard effort at Illinois State. He scored three touchdows in the game. His 43 carries tied with Monquantae Gibson (2006) for the second most in a game in school history.
A second-team all-league pick, he was 13th nationally and second in the MVFC averaging 116 yards a contest.
Wolford in Second Year
Head Coach Eric Wolford is in his second season looking to build on last year's three-win campaign.
Historically, the second years of head coaches have gone either way.
Here is a look at the previous five coaches and how they fared their first two years: Coach Dwight Beede won four games in each of his first two seasons; Rey Dempsey improved from four to eight; Bill Narduzzi went from five to four, Jim Tressel went from two to eight and Jon Heacock went from eight to seven.
Preaching Red-Zone Success
Coach Eric Wolford continues to stress Red Zone play in his second campaign. At Michigan State, YSU was 1-of-2 with a touchdown and a missed field goal.
Last year, the Guins had one of the most successful red-zone conversion rates in school history.
YSU was 41-of-45 in the red zone for a conversion percentage of 91.1 percent. That ranked third in the country behind Furman and Indiana State. The Guins could have been first, but, ironically, the Sycamores stopped them twice inside the red zone in the final six minutes of the final quarter of the last game in 2010.
The two other times YSU did not score in the red zone were drives that ended inside the one-yard line (WIU and NDSU).
New Faces in All Places
The Penguins have 48 players on the full roster who were not with the program last year.
That does not include a group of eight individuals who redshirted and three others who were part of the team but did not letter - including one who did not see action at all.
So of the 94 players on the roster, 57 did not see the field for the Penguins last year.
YSU returns 37 letterwinners (17 on offense, 18 on defense and two on special teams) from the 2010 team, but three have already been designated to redshirt this year because of injuries. The Guins lost 30 letterwinners from the 2010 team.
Go-To Receiver Needed
Last year, QB Kurt Hess found Dominique Barnes as his go-to receiver. Now, the Penguins will be looking for a new dependable target.
In the opener, Hess connected with freshman Christian Bryan six times and twice with Kevin Watts, Kintrell Disher and Jelani Berassa. Wide receiver Andre Stubbs also finished with a reception. Watts and receiver Pat White left the Michigan State game with injuries while Andre Barboza and Ely Ducatel did not have a catch.
In last year's opener at Penn State, Barnes tied the school record with 11 receptions.
No Seniors on the Line
The Penguins have no seniors on the offensive line this year. The last time no seniors started on the line was in 1998.
Since at least 1978, this is the first time no seniors at all were part of the offensive line.
Obinna Wreaks Havoc
Senior defensive end Obinna Ekweremuba will look to have a bigger impact in his second season of seeing playing time for the Penguins.
Ekweremuba made his first career start versus North Dakota State last year and remained in the starting lineup the rest of the season. He had seen 10 snaps of action in the first five games before starting the last six.
He had one of his best performances against conference champion UNI. Ekweremuba had eight tackles, including seven solos. He had 2.5 TFLs with a sack for a seven-yard loss. The sack was the first of his career.
He finished the year with 24 total stops, including 17 solo tackles.
Against Michigan State, had one tackle for a four-yard loss.
Top of the Liste
Sophomore punter Nick Liste placed two punts inside the Michigan State 10-yard line - at the 10 and five-yard lines - in the second half.
For the game, he averaged 34.6 yards on five punts.
Of his 41 kicks last season, 25 went at least 40 yards while 15 placed the opposition inside its own 20-yard line. He also had six 50-yard plus boots in 2010, including a career-long 69-yarder at Missouri State. He averaged 41.4 yards per kick in 2010.
Only Three with INTs
Only three Penguins on the current roster have an interception. Those players are LB Deonta Tate, SS Scott Sentner and TE Will Shaw. Shaw played safety last year and returned an interception 87 yards versus UNI. Tate's pick came in the third quarter of the Guins' win over Southern Illinois.
Sentner's INT came on the final game of the 2009 campaign in the come-from-behind win at North Dakota State.
Eight is Enough
The last three times the Penguins dropped eight games in one campaign, they rebounded strong the next year.
YSU enters the 2011 campaign following a hard-luck 3-8 season last year. Most recently, the Guins lost eight times in 1995 and rebounded to win eight in 1996.
In 1986 (Coach Jim Tressel's first season), YSU suffered nine defeats but regrouped to win eight games and reach the postseason in 1987. In 1980, YSU was 2-8-1 and rebounded with a 7-4 mark the following year.
The only time YSU did not win at least seven games in the immediate year following an eight or nine-loss season was following the lone winless campaign in school history (0-9 in 1970). The Guins won twice in 1971.
WATTS New at YSU
Visitors to Youngstown for this week's home opener will see plenty of changes.
Most visually will be the WATTS, the Watson and Tressel Training Site, an indoor practice facility east of the Stadium. The project was ongoing during last year's football campaign and should be totally completed in the near future. The building is open for football and sports team practices.
YSU also had a new turf surface installed over the summer. The Sports Construction Group of Brecksville, Ohio, installed Shaw Sportexe's PowerBlade HP+ in Stambaugh Stadium for use by the football and soccer programs.
And the uniforms will undergo a minor tweak. The Penguins will wear black pants at home once again. YSU wore white pants both home and away in 2010 in its first year with Under Armour. Now, the traditional black pants make a return with the red uniform tops.
Forcing Four Turnovers
The Penguins have won 17 straight games when forcing at least four turnovers in a contest, including a win over Southern Illinois last season. The last loss was at UNI in 2001 when YSU had five giveaways to the Panthers' four. The Guins are 18-1 when forcing at least four turnovers since 2001.
Single Digits in Fumbles
The Guins lost nine fumbles last season to mark the seventh straight season they have lost single digits in fumbles.
In 2009, YSU lost just three fumbles. In 2008, YSU lost nine fumbles in 12 games. YSU had nine fumbles lost in 2007, five in 2006, eight in 2005 and eight in 2004. Prior to the current seven-year streak, the Guins had committed single digits in fumbles lost in consecutive years just twice in school history (1986-87 and 1958-59).
And Your Captains Are:
The Penguins announced their 2011 captains on Saturday, Aug. 27. Those selected were sophomore quarterback Kurt Hess, junior tailback Jamaine Cook, senior linebacker John Sasson and senior defensive tackle Andrew Johnson. Hess, who started every game at quarterback last year, is believed to be the first sophomore to be named a team captain in school history.
Building a Turnaround
Coach Eric Wolford is working to turn the Penguins' fortunes around quickly.
YSU has 15 junior-college transfers, eight Division I transfers and three lower-division transfers on the current roster.
The FBS transfers are QB Adam Charles (Akron), CB Devonta' Davis (Miami, Fla.), WR Juilian Harrell (Miami, Ohio), DT Andrew Johnson (Bowling Green), OT Andrew Radakovich (Penn State), Anthony Stryffeler (Ball State) and LB Travis Williams (Miami, Fla.).
Davis, Johnson, Williams and Radakovich started against Michigan State.
Fresh Faces in 2010 too
Coach Wolford gave his youngsters plenty of opportunities in 2010 as well. Overall, a total of 13 freshman saw the field last year. Of those, five made an appearance in the starting lineup.
Of the nine that are true sophomores in 2011, five are on offense and four are on defense. Those who saw action on offense were Adaris Bellamy, Jordan Thompson, Andrew Sinko, Chris Elkins and Kevin Watts. On defense, Ali Cheaib, Donald D'Alesio, Josh Garner and Thomas Sprague saw playing time.
This year, Jamarious Boatwright and Zach Larson will redshirt because of injuries while two are no longer with the program.
Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 96-22 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 13-46.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 129-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 101-10 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 121-17 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 65-6-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 148-8 when leading entering the fourth.
• 68-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
Up Next: Illinois State
YSU begins Missouri Valley Football Conference action when it plays host to Illinois State on Sept. 17 at Stambaugh Stadium.
Last year, the Redbirds handed the Penguins probably their toughest loss of the campaign. YSU stormed back from a 35-17 third-quarter deficit to take the lead, 39-35, with 26.9 seconds left. However, Illinois State had just enough time to score a touchdown with 0.7 seconds left for a 41-39 win.
This is just the third September matchup between the two programs in what will be the 21st meeting in the series.
In September MVFC games, YSU is 10-3.