The Youngstown State football team opens the 2012 campaign with a visit to Pittsburgh to tangle with the Panthers at Heinz Field. Kickoff for the contest is set for 6:05 p.m. and will be carried on ESPN3/Watch ESPN/WKBN 570 AM/iHeartRadio/SiriusXM Channel 132.
The Penguins will be making their third visit to Pittsburgh since the series started in 2005. YSU's last trip to Heinz Field was back in 2009, a 38-3 defeat.
Headlining the Penguins entering the 72nd season opener in school history are senior-laden offensive and defensive lines along with some playmakers in junior quarterback Kurt Hess and senior tailback Jamaine Cook. Both Penguins are on the preseason Watch List for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the top FCS player each year.
Hess is coming off a season in which he passed for 2,460 yards and a school-record 26 touchdowns. Cook followed up a sensational sophomore campaign (1,276 yards and 11 TDs) with 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.
The offense as a group averaged 458.6 yards of total offense a contest while scoring 36.2 points each game. Of the 11 projected starters at Pitt, nine of the 11 started the 2011 season opener at Michigan State. On defense, five players are set to make their first career start while linebacker Dom Rich will be starting for the first time since 2010.
Under third-year Head Coach Eric Wolford, the team is gaining some attention following an improved 2011 season. YSU was 6-5 last year with the four FCS losses coming in Missouri Valley Football Conference play by a total of 17 points. Highlighting the campaign a year ago was a November victory (27-24) at North Dakota State. The Bison were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time and went on to win the FCS National Championship two months later.
The Penguins are picked to finish third in the MVFC, and enter the season ranked 13th in The Sports Network poll and 18th in the FCS Coaches Poll.
After the contest at Pittsburgh, YSU plays its next three contests at Stambaugh Stadium. The home opener is set for Sept. 8 against Valparaiso. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.
• YSU makes its third visit to Heinz Field with the previous trips coming in 2005 and 2009. The Penguins lost 38-3 in 2009 and 41-0 in 2005.
• This will be the 72nd season of Youngstown State football, which debuted back in 1938. The Guins have dropped five straight openers since defeating Slippery Rock to open the 2006 campaign.
• Despite losing five consecutive openers, YSU is 39-30-2 all-time.
• The Penguins' last win in the Keystone State was a 28-21 victory at Villanova in 1999.
• YSU plays two games against Panthers in the month of September. The Guins open at Pittsburgh before playing host to UNI later in September.
• YSU was the only FCS team last year to rush and pass for more than 2,500 yards in the regular season.
• Junior QB Kurt Hess is coming off one of the best single-season performances in school history. Hess was recognized as a first-team All-MVFC player at quarterback for his accomplishments.
• The Penguins have scored touchdowns in all 22 games under Coach Eric Wolford. In fact, the last time the Guins did not score a touchdown was vs. South Dakota State in 2009 (25 games).
• YSU sits 13th in The Sports Network preseason poll while ranking 18th in the Coaches Poll.
• Hess threw a touchdown pass in all 11 games last year. In his 22 career starts, he has thrown for a score in 17 contests.
• Sophomore WR Christian Bryan has caught a pass in 11 straight games.
• YSU has 15 players on the active roster who hail from Pennsylvania.
• YSU played 21 freshmen or redshirt freshmen at some point during the 2011 campaign.
• Hess, Cook, DT Aronde Stanton and LB Dom Rich have been named team captains.
• YSU had the same starting offensive line in 10 of 11 games. Of 121 offensive starts, 104 of those return in 2012.
• YSU returns 40 letterwinners from last year's team while 23 do not return. Of the 40 who return, 23 are on offense, 14 are on defense and three are on special teams.
YSU has 15 Keystone State natives on its roster. The current group of Penn Guins are Matt Bell, Christian Bryan, Dylan Colucci, Brock Eisenhuth, Mason Giacomelli, Khlique Harris, Donte Harvey, Lawrence Hughes, Dante Nania, Carson Sharbaugh, Anthony Szymcak, Terrell Williams, Christian Wilson and Justin Yuran.
• The Penguins had 27 passing touchdowns, which set a school record breaking the previous mark of 22 set in 1994.
• The 13 turnovers (eight interceptions, five lost fumbles) were the second fewest in school history. YSU committed just 12 turnovers in 15 games during the 1999 campaign. The five lost fumbles tied for the lowest in school history matching the mark set in 1996.
• The 5,045 yards of total offense marked the eighth time in school history the Penguins eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark. YSU played at least 14 games in the seven other seasons it went over 5,000 yards.
• YSU averaged 231.1 yards rushing per game, its best average since 2001. That total ranks seventh in school history.
• The 2,503 yards passing was the second most in school history behind 2,722 set in 15 games in 1999.
• YSU averaged 227.5 yards passing per game, its best average since 1972. That is the only season to rank ahead of last year's per game average.
• For the first time since 1979 (and just the second time in school history) YSU had a quarterback pass for four touchdowns in a game (Kurt Hess) and a player run for four scores in a game (Jamaine Cook).
• The Penguins had a passing touchdown in every game. YSU had a rushing touchdown in the final 10 games. The Guins scored 27-or-more points in nine games. YSU ran for more than 200 yards in six games and passed for more than 200 in eight. YSU had more total offense than its opponents in nine games as well.
• YSU scored 28-or-more points in seven consecutive games during the season. The last time the Penguins scored that many points in consecutive games was a seven-contest stretch during the 1989 season.
In the Openers
The Penguins had won 11 consecutive season openers before dropping their last five contests to BCS programs. YSU lost at Michigan State last season after previously dropping games at Penn State (2010), at Pittsburgh (2009) and at Ohio State (2008 and 2007).
Despite dropping their last five openers, YSU is 39-30-2 all-time in season openers. In season openers played on the road, YSU owns a 10-22 mark. The last time YSU won a season opener on the road was at Western Michigan in 1993.
Opener Highs and Lows
Most Points: 51 vs. Slippery Rock, 2006
Fewest Points: 0, 6 times (m.r. at Ohio State, 2008)
Most Points Allowed: 47 by Central Michigan, 1972
Fewest Points Allowed: 0, 9 times (m.r. Wofford, 1996)
Margin of Victory: 44 | 50-6 vs. Clarion, 1998
Margin of Defeat: 43 | 43-0 at Ohio State, 2008
Panthers Now Penguins
Two members of the YSU coaching staff have ties to the Pittsburgh program. Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Tom Sims is a 1990 graduate of Pittsburgh and was a player for the Panthers in 1988 and 1989. Tight Ends Coach Mauro Monz held the title of Assistant Recruiting Coordinator for the Panthers in 2004. Assistant coaches Carmen Bricillo (Shelocta) and Andre Coleman (Hermitage) are Pennsylvania natives.
Last Meeting Recap
The Penguins trailed 7-3 in the second quarter before Pitt scored the final 31 points to hand the Penguins a 38-3 setback in the season opener at Heinz Field on Sept. 5, 2009.
Trailing 7-0, YSU marched 50 yards in 16 plays and took 8:27 off the clock as Stephen Blose kicked a career-long 48-yard field goal to get the Guins within four.
However, Pitt answered just over two-and-a-half minutes later and never looked back. Dion Lewis scored from one-yard out at the 11:23 mark and caught a three-yard swing pass from Bill Stull just 65 seconds before halftime.
In the second half, Pitt scored 10 points in the final four minutes of the third quarter and added a touchdown with 12:05 remaining for the final margin.
For the game, the Panthers had 390 yards of total offense while the Guins had 159. The Penguins had 113 yards passing and 46 rushing. YSU had a lead in time of possession by a 32:56 to 27:04 margin.
The Penguins have been outscored 79-3 in their two visits to Heinz Field. The Panthers led the 2005 contest 16-0 at halftime before adding 25 more in the second half for a 41-0 victory. In 2009, YSU trailed 7-3 before two second-quarter touchdowns by Pitt extended the lead to 21-3. The Panthers added 17 second-half points en route to the win.
New Faces on Defense
The Penguins will be counting on two new coaches and some new players this fall. Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Joe Tresey and Cornerbacks Coach Glenn Davis joined the YSU program in the spring.
The defense features a junior-college flavor. All four members of the starting front are junior college transfers. In the middle, YSU is slated to start sophomores Teven Williams and Dubem Nwadigobu and junior Dom Rich while 11-game starter from 2011 Travis Williams is currently a backup.
The secondary has a junior-college flair with three of the four starters coming from those ranks. Donald D'Alesio has moved to free safety from corner in the current lineup.
Offense Keeps Improving
Following the 2010 campaign where YSU set a school-record 412 yards of total offense and averaged 31.2 points per game, it was going to be tough to duplicate that in 2011. The Penguins were able to do that and more in 2011 averaging a school record 458.6 yards and 36.2 points per contest. The Penguins were one of the FCS's top units ranking in the top 15 in 13 categories, including the top 10 in 11.
In the two years under Head Coach Eric Wolford, YSU has averaged 435.3 yards and 33.7 yards per game. In the 22 games played, YSU has scored more than 24 points 18 times and at least 30 on 13 occasions.
2012 Senior Class
The Penguins' 2012 senior class has been heavily impacted by the junior-college ranks. In fact, of the 14 seniors on the roster, 10 played at a junior college. D.J. Main is the only fifth-year senior on the squad while Jamaine Cook and Andrew Radakovich have both been with the program four seasons. Senior DE Chuck Lengyel has been with YSU three seasons after transferring from Mount Union. Lengyel had to sit out in 2010 after transferring up from the NCAA Division III school in Alliance, Ohio.
Preaching Red-Zone Success
Head Coach Eric Wolford continues to stress Red Zone play in his third campaign. In 47 trips last year, the Penguins scored 39 touchdowns and kicked three field goals. YSU scored a total of 280 points on 42 of 47 visits (89.4 percent) a year ago.
In his 22 games as coach, the Penguins are 83-for-92 (90.2 percent) inside the red zone.
During Wolford's first campaign, YSU was 41-of-45 in the red zone for a conversion percentage of 91.1 percent.
Wolf vs. Chryst Round III
Saturday's contest between YSU and Pittsburgh will feature head coaches who have clashed before as assistants. Both coached in the Big Ten and are first-time head coaches. YSU Head Coach Eric Wolford and Pittsburgh Coach Paul Chryst previously matched up when Illinois and Wisconsin played in 2007 and 2008. The Illini knocked off the fifth-ranked Badgers 31-26 in 2007 while Wisconsin handed Illinois a 27-17 defeat in 2008.
Line of Protection
The YSU offensive line surrendered just nine sacks in 11 games last season. A combination of solid blocking and some smart decisions by quarterback Kurt Hess kept that number in single digits. YSU started the same offensive line in 10 of the 11 games last season.
Shaw Grows into Role
Senior TE Will Shaw will play a big role for the Penguins this year in his first full season of playing the position.
Last year in fall camp Shaw was moved from defense to offense. By the end of the season proved to be a big asset for a high-octane offensive unit.
He finished the year with eight receptions, seven of which came in the final three games. Shaw had his first career touchdown reception at UNI and ended the year with a two-touchdown game versus Missouri State.
Cook Remains Dependable
Junior TB Jamaine Cook rushed for 90 yards or more in 10 straight games to end last year. In 2011, Cook rushed for more than 100 yards on eight occasions and has gone over the century mark 14 times in his career. He played in just six games during his freshman season in 2009 and had a total of 20 carries, including one in his collegiate debut at Pittsburgh.
He scored a rushing touchdown in six of the final seven games of the campaign.
For the year, he rushed for a career high in yards (1,386), carries (271) and touchdowns (13). In 2010, he rushed for 1,276 yards on 241 attempts. Cook ranked seventh in the FCS and second the MVFC in rushing averaging 126.0 yards per game.
Bryan Sets Frosh Standards
Sophomore WR Christian Bryan set YSU freshman records for season yards and receptions as well as game receptions and yards.
Bryan had a team-leading 46 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 65.6 yards per game and 15.7 per catch.
He set a freshman record for most receptions in a game with seven at Indiana State and set the mark for receiving yards with a 131-yard performance at Southern Illinois.
His 46 receptions topped the previous freshman standard of 25 set by Renauld Ray while his 722 yards bettered Ray's 507.
Bryan caught a touchdown pass in five of the last seven games a year ago.
Hess Continues to Impress
Junior QB Kurt Hess finished the 2011 season on a personal-best note with a season-best 298 yards and a school-record five touchdowns in the loss to Missouri State.
For the season he amassed 2,460 yards and threw a school-best 26 touchdown passes.
Hess joins Mark Brungard (1994 and 1995) and Trenton Lykes (1986 and 1987) as the only quarterbacks in school history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
Hess threw for 2,117 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
Thirteen times in his 22 career games, Hess has thrown for more than 200 yards.
He is one of two quarterbacks in school history to throw for at least 200 yards in 13 different games. Hess shares the school mark with signal-caller Tom Zetts, who accomplished the feat in 47 career starts.
Turning Up the Pressure
In 2011, YSU had 23 sacks and 56 tackles for loss. The 23 sacks were the most since the Penguins registered 28 in 2007.
The Penguins had a total of 12 in 2010.
Eight different players registered at least one sack last year. Former Penguin Andrew Johnson's 6.5 sacks led the way. Of the 23 sacks, defensive lineman accounted for all but four sacks on the season.
Aronde Staton is the top returner after picking up two sacks last season. DE Nick DeKraker, LB Teven Williams and SS Jeremey Edwards each had one a year ago.
YSU was credited with a sack in 10 contests last year.
Top Tacklers Return
YSU returns its top three tacklers and four of its top five from 2011. Sophomore LB Teven Williams led the way with 67, sophomore LB Travis Williams had 59, senior SS Jeremey Edwards was third with 54 and junior FS Josh Garner was fifth with 47. Senior DT Aronde Stanton finished with 32 tackles last season. He was the only player last year with an interception and a fumble recovery.
Changes in Secondary
The Penguins had seven different starting secondaries last season. Before the season started, two cornerbacks were lost to injury and against Illinois State, corner Donald D'Alesio also was shelved for the season.
D'Alesio and Jamarious Boatwright are the only two on the roster with YSU starts at the cornerback position. Now, D'Alesio is playing safety while Boatwright's three starts came in 2010.
In 2011, eight different players started at some point during the season.
Newcomers Dale Peterman and Julius Childs have stepped into starting roles at both cornerback spots. Peterman did not play college football last fall while Childs is a junior college transfer. Boatwright, who did play in 11 games in 2010, is healthy and will see playing time while USF transfer Ricardo Dixon, who is recovering from a knee injury of his own, joined the program this fall.
At safety, Jeremey Edwards and Josh Garner combined to start 16 games last year.
Three is Still Important
YSU, which was 12-of-14 on field goals in 2010, made three field goals in 2011. The Guins ended the year on a streak of three consecutive makes after missing their first two tries.
The Penguins did not make a field goal in the first eight games before converting a 28-yard kick at UNI and two (33 and 30) at North Dakota State. The 30-yard kick by David Brown in the third quarter at North Dakota State turned out to be the difference in the game.
YSU was the last FCS team to make a field goal in 2011. The Penguins also did not convert a field goal outdoors for the season.
More Close Ones
The Penguins' last seven FCS losses have come by a total of 29 points. The final three defeats of the 2010 campaign were by a total of 12 points while all four last season were by a combined 17. Last year, YSU lost to Indiana State by two, UNI by four, Missouri State by four and South Dakota State by seven.
Dating back to November 2009, 13 of YSU's last 17 league games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Victory Over No. 1
YSU knocked off the nation's top-ranked team for the first time since 1997 with the 27-24 win at North Dakota State in November. The Penguins' previous wins over No. 1 were: 1997 at Villanova (37-34), 1993 vs. Georgia Southern (34-14) and 1991 at Nevada (30-28). All three of those wins came in the playoffs. Last year was the first time the Guins knocked off the top-ranked squad in the regular season.
Single Digits in Fumbles
The Guins lost five fumbles (two on non offensive plays) for the entire campaign in 2011. It marked the eighth straight year of losing single digits in fumbles.
In 2010, the Penguins lost nine fumbles. In 2009, YSU lost just three fumbles. In 2008, YSU lost nine 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).
The Penguins had four players named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's preseason all-league squad. All four of the players came on offense and were headlined by 2011 first-team all-conference selections in quarterback Kurt Hess and tailback Jermaine Cook. Senior center Mark Pratt, a second-team pick in 2011, and junior guard Chris Elkins, an honorable-mention selection last year, were also preseason first-team picks.
Hess and Cook are also among the top 20 FCS players in the country who have been tabbed to the preseason Watch List for the Walter Payton Award honoring the division's top player.
Offense High In FCS Ranks
In the final NCAA statistical categories, YSU was one of only five FCS teams to average more than 200 yards passing and rushing during the 2011 campaign. Overall the Penguins were 10th in rushing (231.09 yards per game) and 43rd in passing (227.55 yards per game).
In the other categories the Guins were second in touchdowns per game (5.09), third in passing efficiency (159.93), third in fewest turnovers lost (13), fourth in first downs per game (24.00), fifth in total offense yards per game (458.64), sixth in scoring offense (36.18 points), tied for fourth in fumbles lost (five), sixth in red-zone offense (89 percent), seventh in time of possession (33:10), seventh in tackles for loss allowed (4.09), 10th in fourth-down conversion percentage (66.67), 11th in sacks allowed (0.82) and 14th in third-down conversion percentage (44.83).
Top of the Liste
Junior punter Nick Liste was a key contributor as both punter and kickoff specialist last season and that should continue this year.
Liste averaged 39.8 yards per punt while 16 of his 53 attempts were inside the opposition's 20-yard line. He averaged 41.1 yards per kick as a redshirt freshman in 2010. He has 94 career punts for an average of 40.5 per boot. He has 14 kicks of 50 yards or longer in his two seasons as punter.
Brown Nearly Automatic
Senior PK David Brown made 35 straight PAT kicks at one point during the 2011 campaign. He made 53-of-56 PAT attempts on the season. The 53 makes tied for second most in school history while the 56 attempts are also second.
Brown was 3-of-4 on a limited number of field-goal attempts. He made a school-record 11 PAT kicks against Valparaiso.
Impressive First Halves
The Penguins scored 277 of their 398 points (69.6 percent) in the first half last year. YSU scored 132 points in the first quarter and 145 in the second quarter.
The Penguins scored a touchdown in every second quarter last year and all but four first quarters (SIU, Michigan State, UNI and NDSU). In 12 of the 24 periods, YSU scored at least two touchdowns. The Penguins scored 39 first-half touchdowns. Three times YSU did not punt in the first half - Illinois State, Valparaiso and Saint Francis.
TB Jamaine Cook has eclipsed the 2,500-yard mark for rushing yards (2,773). TB Adaris Bellamy is 110 yards shy of 1,000. QB Kurt Hess is within reach of the 5,000-yard mark for career passing yards as he enters the season with 4,585. He is also two touchdown passes shy of 40 for his career. Junior P Nick Liste is six attempts shy of 100 punts for his career.
TB Jamaine Cook ranks sixth in rushing yardage (2,773) and is eighth in attempts He is also 10th in all-purpose yards (3,797). QB Kurt Hess is fifth in completions (366). Hess is fifth in touchdown passes (38), two shy of third, and seventh in passing yardage (4,577).
For the first time since 1979, YSU had a quarterback throw four touchdown passes and a player score four rushing TDs in the same campaign. Jamaine Cook had four rushing touchdowns against Saint Francis (Pa.) while Kurt Hess threw five touchdown passes against Missouri State and had four scoring passes against Illinois State and Western Illinois. In 1979, the Penguins' Keith Snoddy had four touchdown passes twice while Robby Robson had four TD rushes three times. In 1978, Snoddy tossed four TDs while Marschell Brumfield ran for four.
Four-Takeaway Win Streak
YSU has won 18 straight games when it forces at least four turnovers. The last loss was against UNI in 2006. Since 2006, the Guins are 20-1 when they have at least four takeaways in a game. They were 1-0 with a win over Western Illinois last year.
Stambaugh at 30
The first-ever on-campus home of the Penguins, Stambaugh Stadium, will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2012. The beautiful facility opened in September 1982 when the Penguins played host to Akron. YSU has six home games this season. All-time in the facility, the Penguins own a record of 144-52-1. More than 2.5 million fans have attended a YSU game in the Ice Castle. The 200th Youngstown State contest will be against UNI on Sept. 22.
2011 Opener Recap
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.
Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 102-23 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 13-49.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 131-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 106-11 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 126-20 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 66-7-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 154-10 when leading entering the fourth.
• 68-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
Up Next: Valparaiso
YSU plays its home opener on Sept. 8 against Valparaiso. The Penguins defeated the Crusaders 77-13 in last year's home opener. Kickoff for the contest at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 4 p.m. For ticket information contact the Athletic Ticket Office at (330) 941-1978.