The Youngstown State football team is back on the road this Saturday when it visits Southern Illinois. Kickoff at Saluki Stadium is set for 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central time and will be carried live on 570 WKBN and televised on WBCB in Youngstown.
Both teams are coming off disappointing home losses from last Saturday. YSU dropped a 35-28 decision to South Dakota State while the Salukis lost at home to North Dakota State 9-3. The Penguins led their game 28-21 in the fourth quarter while SIU could not muster any points on two first-half drives inside the Bison 10-yard line.
YSU (2-3 overall and 1-2 in the MVFC) took a 7-0 lead on its initial drive of the game when Jamaine Cook scored on a seven-yard run. SDSU answered with two scores to grab a 14-7 advantage. The Penguins tied the game late in the second quarter when Kurt Hess connected with Christian Bryan on a 51-yard score. SDSU followed with a score just 16 seconds before halftime to go on top 21-14. The Penguins scored two touchdowns in a span of 53 seconds when Hess connected on a 48-yard pass to Jelani Berassa and Davion Rogers returned an interception 27 yards for a score. SDSU scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the final on a 73-yard pass from Austin Sumner to Aaron Rollin with 5:55 remaining for the game-deciding score.
SIU (2-3 and 1-2) led 3-0 at halftime and the contest was tied 3-3 midway through the fourth before the Bison broke through for the game's lone touchdown. The Salukis' first drive of the game was stopped at the NDSU one-yard line, and they missed a 23-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime. The Bison tied the game on a 36-yard field goal in the third and took the lead on a 10-yard pass from Brock Jensen to Matt Veldman with 6:51 left. SIU held NDSU to nine first downs (all in the last 20 minutes), 60 yards rushing and 210 yards of total offense.
The Penguins took an 11-10-1 lead in the all-time series with their 31-28 win last year at Stambaugh Stadium. This will be the first trip to two-year-old Saluki Stadium for YSU. The Penguins' last visit to McAndrew Stadium was a 27-8 setback in 2009. YSU's last victory in Carbondale was a 31-7 triumph on Nov. 3, 2001.
The Guins return home to face Saint Francis (Pa.) on Oct. 22.
• YSU scored 28-or-more points for the fourth consecutive game, but allowed 27-or-more for the third straight week.
• LB Davion Rogers returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put YSU in front 28-21. It was the first interception return for a touchdown by the Guins since Na'eem Outler against Indiana State in 2009.
• For the first time this season, the opposition ran more plays in a game then the Penguins (74-68). YSU has gained at least 400 yards in each of the past four games.
• YSU committed a season-high eight penalties, had a season-high three turnovers, converted a season-low three 3rd downs and had its lowest time of possession (28.42) for the year.
• Senior DT Andrew Johnson had a career-high two sacks. It is the first time a Penguin had two sacks in a game since David Rach against Southern Illinois last season.
• Senior WR Pat White had his first career reception. White caught a six-yard pass from Kurt Hess in the fourth quarter.
• Sophomore P Nick Liste had his first career field-goal attempt. Liste's 41-yard fourth quarter attempt sailed wide right, but had plenty of distance.
• Junior TB Jamaine Cook eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season and 10th time in his career. Cook had 107 yards on 18 carries.
• Sophomore WR Jelani Berassa caught a career-long 48-yard pass for a touchdown while freshman WR Christian Bryan had a career-long 51-yard catch for a score.
SDSU Recap: SDSU 35, YSU 28
Two third-quarter touchdowns put YSU up by seven, but South Dakota State answered with two fourth-quarter scores as the Penguins suffered a 35-28 setback to the Jackrabbits.
Trailing 21-14 at halftime, YSU tied the game on a 48-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Hess to Jelani Berassa with 9:40 left in the third. Under a minute later, Davion Rogers intercepted an Austin Sumner pass and returned it 27 yards for a score to put YSU in front 28-21.
Early in the fourth quarter, Sumner connected with Aaron Rollin on a five-yard pass to tie the game with 12:36 left.
After YSU pushed a go-ahead field-goal attempt wide, SDSU struck in one play when Sumner hit Rollin on a 73-yard score with 5:55 left.
The Penguins had two possessions to force overtime, but the final drive stalled at the Jackrabbit 17. The Guins moved 48 yards in six plays, but four straight incompletions ended any comeback hopes.
Salukis Scouting Report
Southern Illinois enters the contest with an identical 2-3 overall mark and 1-2 conference record. SIU's two conference losses have both come by six points - 9-3 to North Dakota State last Saturday and 27-21 at Western Illinois. The Salukis defeated Missouri State 20-18 in their league opener.
Against NDSU, Southern Illinois led 3-0 at halftime, and the contest was tied 3-3 midway through the fourth quarter before the Bison broke through for the game's lone touchdown.
The Salukis had two possessions inside the NDSU 10-yard line, and both times they came away without points.
QB Kory Faulkner completed 16-of-28 passes for 169 yards while running back Jewel Hampton had 120 yards on 23 carries.
Last Year's Recap
YSU overcame a 14-point deficit by scoring 31 unanswered points then had to hang on to earn a 31-28 victory over 13th-ranked Southern Illinois, snapping the Salukis' 14-game conference winning streak.
SIU scored two touchdowns late in the first quarter returning a blocked punt 38 yards for a score and capitalizing on a YSU turnover on an eight-yard pass from Chris Dieker to John Goode.
The second quarter belonged to the Penguins as Kurt Hess threw two touchdown passes to Kevin Watts (15 and seven yards) and connected with Carson Sharbaugh (three) on a third.
Jamaine Cook increased the lead to 28-14 in the third, and Stephen Blose's 39-yard fourth-quarter field goal gave the Guins a 31-14 lead.
SIU scored with 1:28 left and after recovering an onside kick, cut the deficit to three just 44 seconds later. The Salukis' second onside kick try went out of bounds, and the Guins ran out the clock to earn the win.
The Penguins took an 11-10-1 lead in the all-time series with their 31-28 win last year at Stambaugh Stadium. This will be the first trip to two-year-old Saluki Stadium for YSU. The Penguins' last visit to McAndrew Stadium was a 27-8 setback in 2009.
YSU's last victory in Carbondale was a 31-7 win on Nov. 3, 2001. The Salukis have won the last four, two of which have been decided by a touchdown. All-time in Carbondale, SIU leads the series 6-4-1.
The Penguins are 9-0-1 when scoring at least 21 points in the series. In 11 trips to Carbondale, YSU has scored at least 17 points on 10 occasions.
Don't Leave Early
The Penguins' last 12 Missouri Valley Football Conference games have all been decided by 10 points or fewer. Dating back to a 39-35 win over North Dakota State on Nov. 21, 2009, YSU has played 10 MVFC games decided by a touchdown or less out of those 12. The Guins' last five league games dating back to last season have been decided by a total of 28 points. Also, six of those 12 have been decided by five points or less.
This year, YSU has won by a touchdown, lost by a touchdown and lost by two points.
Cook Remains Steady
Junior TB Jamaine Cook has rushed for more than 100 yards in the past four games following the 10th 100-yard rushing performance of his career against South Dakota State.
He rushed for 107 yards in the loss to the Jackrabbits on 18 carries.
For the year, he has rushed for 608 yards on 113 carries and scored five touchdowns. In the three conference games, Cook has carried the ball 83 times for 406 yards and scored three touchdowns. In the two non-conference games he carried the ball just 32 times. In the three league games he is averaging 27.7 carries per game and 135.3 yards per game.
Berassa A Playmaker
Sophomore WR Jelani Berassa had a career-best 82 yards against South Dakota State. Highlighting his performance against the Jackrabbits was a 48-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter that tied the contest at 21.
In the three MVFC games, Berassa has 13 receptions for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging 13.2 yards per catch and 57.3 yards per game.
Against Indiana State he had a career-high six receptions. He had four against the Jackrabbits.
Hess Continues to Impress
Sophomore QB Kurt Hess is averaging 218 yards passing per game while completing 93-of-152 passes (61.2 percent) for 1,090 yards. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes in just five games.
In conference play, Hess has completed 64-of-104 passes (61.5 percent) for 760 yards. He is averaging 253.3 yards passing in league action.
Highlighting Hess' strong performances was a career-high 293-yard and four-touchdown effort in the win over Illinois State.
Against South Dakota State, Hess completed 18-of-34 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the ninth time in his 16 career games that he eclipsed the 200-yard mark.
He is now the just the fifth quarterback in school history to throw for at least 200 yards in nine different games. The school mark is 13 set by Tom Zetts during a four-year career that featured 47 starts.
In his career, he has completed 272-of-456 passes for 3,207 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Bryan Already Up to 24
Freshman WR Christian Bryan has 24 catches in his first five games as a Penguin. Bryan had a career-high seven catches at Indiana State, which set a school record for most grabs in a game by a freshman.
Against South Dakota State he caught a 51-yard pass for a touchdown.
His 24 catches are already more than YSU's top receiver had in 2001 (21) and 2002 (20).
In his other three contests, Bryan had five catches against both Illinois State and Valparaiso and six in his debut at Michigan State.
Rogers with a Pick Six
Freshman LB Davion Rogers returned his first career interception for a touchdown against South Dakota State. In the third quarter, Rogers returned an interception 27 yards for a score, which put the Penguins in front 28-21. It was the first interception return for a touchdown since Na'eem Outler's 37-yard return at Indiana State in 2009.
Junior TB Jamaine Cook needs five yards to become the 17th player in school history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a career. Sophomore QB Kurt Hess can now set his sights on throwing for more than 4,000 yards in a career. Hess is at 3,207 and has 23-touchdown passes. Senior LB John Sasson has 207 tackles in his career.
Preaching Red-Zone Success
Head Coach Eric Wolford continues to stress Red Zone play in his second campaign. In 19 trips this year, the Penguins have scored 17 touchdowns, missed a field goal (at Michigan State) and were held on downs late in the game against South Dakota State.
In his 16 games as coach, the Penguins are 58-for-64 (90.6 percent) when moving the ball inside the red zone.
Last year, YSU was 41-of-45 in the red zone, which ranked third in the FCS, for a conversion percentage of 91.1 percent.
New Line Holding up well
Through the first five games, the YSU offensive line is allowing an average of one sack per game, which ranks 17th in the FCS. The same unit has started each contest together - LT Andrew Radakovich, LG Lamar Mady, C Mark Pratt, RG Chris Elkins and RT D.J. Main.
Offense High In FCS Ranks
The Penguins rank in the top 20 in the FCS in 10 offensive categories (out of 15). YSU is first in first downs per game; fifth in fewest fumbles lost; eighth in third-down conversion pct.; ninth in scoring offense, rushing offense and time of possession; 12th in turnovers lost; 13th fourth-down conversion percentage; 17th in sacks allowed and 20th in red zone percentage.
Impressive First Halves
The Penguins have scored 132 of their 180 points in the first half this year. YSU has scored 56 points in the first quarter and 62 in the second quarter.
YSU did not punt in the first half against either Illinois State and Valparaiso. Against the Redbirds, YSU scored touchdowns on each of its four first-half scoring drives. In the Valpo game, YSU scored on its first nine possessions and took a knee to end the opening half.
The Penguins scored a season-high 14 points in the third quarter against South Dakota State.
Defense Stepping Up
YSU's defense has been strong in the second half this season. In the past four games, the Guins have allowed 38 second-half points, including a season-low three at Indiana State.
Last year, the Penguins allowed an average of 17 points in the second half. In five games this year, they are allowing just 10.1 a contest.
Distributing the Ball
YSU quarterback Kurt Hess has completed passes to 13 different players so far this season. Seven wide receivers, three running backs and three tight ends have combined for 50 receptions so far this year.
Of that group, only TE David Rogers and WRs Andre Barboza and Pat White are seniors. White caught his first career pass against SDSU. YSU's leading receiver is freshman Christian Bryan with 24 catches for 313 yards. Sophomores Jelani Berassa and Kevin Watts have combined for 25 receptions.
Barboza More Than TDs
Senior WR Andre Barboza has 13 receptions on the year, following a six-catch effort against South Dakota State. For Barboza, it was a career-high total. On the year he has 173 yards and three touchdowns. Of those 13 catches, 12 have come the past three contests.
In 2010, he had three receptions for the entire season. This year he has three touchdown catches among his 13 catches.
Johnson Has Big Day
Senior DT Andrew Johnson had a career-high two sacks against South Dakota State. He had a sack for a six-yard loss in the second quarter and four-yard loss in the third. Entering the game, Johnson had two sacks in his YSU career. He leads the squad with three sacks this season.
Now We're Cooking
Junior TB Jamaine Cook, who is on the preseason Watch List for the Walter Payton Award, is making a good candidacy for the award averaging 121.2 yards and 22.6 carries per contest. He is averaging 5.4 yards per rush. He is fifth in the FCS in yards per game average.
For his career, Cook has rushed for 1,995 yards on 374 carries and scored 16 touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He also has 35 receptions for 312 yards.
Cook, a second-team All-MVFC selection in 2010, has rushed for more than 100 yards on 10 occasions in his career.
Last season against Southern Illinois he had 111 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown. He had 28 yards on four carries at SIU in 2009.
The Penguins have converted 32-of-66 third-down situations so far this year (48 percent). YSU was 8-of-18 at Indiana State, 7-of-14 versus Illinois State, 6-of-9 against Valpo and 8-of-15 at Michigan State. The Penguins had a season-low three conversions vs. SDSU.
Last year, YSU was fourth in the FCS in third-down conversions at 47.8 percent.
Youngsters at LB
YSU has started three freshmen linebackers the last two contests. Redshirts Davion Rogers and Travis Williams along with true freshman Teven Williams were all in the starting lineup. The trio combined for 22 tackles against South Dakota State. Leading the way was Teven Williams, who had a 10-tackle effort. Rogers had seven tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown while Travis Williams had five stops.
D-Line Each With a Sack
Each member of the starting defensive line -- Daniel Stewart, Andrew Johnson, Aronde Stanton and Obinna Ekweremuba - has recorded a sack. YSU's seven-sack total is more than half way to last year's total of 12.
Stewart and Johnson each have four career sacks. Johnson had two against South Dakota State while Stewart had one. Other Penguins with sacks on the active roster include Obinna Ekweremuba (2.0) Deonta Tate (1.5), Aronde Stanton (1.0) and John Sasson (0.5).
Another QB With Four TDs
Sophomore QB Kurt Hess is the eighth quarterback in school history to throw four touchdown passes in a game. He accomplished the feat against Illinois State. Hess had scoring throws of 44, 25 20 and 10 in the game.
It was the first time a YSU quarterback threw four in a single game since Brandon Summers against Austin Peay in 2009.
In his 16-game career, he has nine multi-touchdown pass performances. He has a touchdown pass in 11 games.
YSU has had four four-touchdown passing performances since 2005. Prior to that it had seven total in school history.
Changes in Secondary
The Penguins had a new-look secondary against South Dakota State. Senior SS Scott Sentner and junior FS Sir Aaron Taylor both made their first career starts. Sentner had seven total tackles, including five solo stops, while Taylor had two solos. The Penguins started two freshman corners - Jimmy May Jr. and Devont'a Davis against the Jackrabbits.
Young or Old on Defense
Against South Dakota State, the Penguins started five freshmen, four seniors and two first-year junior-college transfers. Of the 11 starters last Saturday, none had a full year of starting experience. In fact, that entire group had started a total of 16 games prior to this season (Andrew Johnson 8, Obinna Ekweremuba 7 and Daniel Stewart 1 - all seniors). Scott Sentner was the other starting senior and he was making the first start of his career.
Fresh Faces Again
This season the Penguins have played a total of 20 redshirt, transfer or true freshmen. Of the players who have not redshirted or transferred after sitting out a year, four started (WR Christian Bryan, WR Andre Stubbs, CB Jimmy May Jr. and LB Teven Williams). Freshmen who were not with the program last year but started last week include CB Devont'a Davis, LB Travis Williams and LB Davion Rogers.
Last year, a total of 13 freshmen saw the field, including five who started.
Of the eight active players that are true sophomores, five are on offense and three are on defense. CB Donald D'Alesio, CB Jamarious Boatwright and C Zach Larson will redshirt because of injuries while two are no longer with the program.
Turnovers Hard to Come By
After five games, the Penguins have six giveaways and six takeaways. YSU had a season-high three turnovers last time out versus South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits had two in the contest, one of which was an interception return for a touchdown.
YSU has lost two fumbles - one on defense and the other on special teams. QB Kurt Hess has thrown four interceptions in 152 attempts.
The Penguins converted both turnovers by South Dakota State into touchdowns. YSU forced two turnovers against Valparaiso and one each against Michigan State and Indiana State.
LB Davion Rogers and LB Dom Rich have both of YSU's interceptions this year.
Top of the Liste
Sophomore punter Nick Liste has been a key contributor as both punter and kickoff specialist this season.
Liste is averaging 38.2 yards per punt while eight of his 20 attempts have been inside the opposition's 20-yard line. The coverage has been solid with six of his punts resulting in fair catches while the seven that have been returned have resulted in a gain of 48 yards.
He averaged 41.1 yards per kick last season, but the trade off was that 15 were returned for an average of 11.7 yards.
Liste has kicked off 27 times this season and, because of his kicks and coverages, the opposition is starting at the 24-yard line instead of the 30 like last year. Also, the net of 45.1 yards a kick eclipses the 39.8 of last season.
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. YSU starts four juniors and a sophomore.
Truly Special Teams
The Penguins have blocked three kicks - two PATs and one punt - and returned a punt for a touchdown so far this season.
The last time the Guins blocked four kicks in one campaign was 2004.
After not punting against Valparaiso, a well-rested Nick Liste had an impressive performance against Illinois State. He placed three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line.
Against Valpo, YSU returned a punt for a touchdown, while blocking a punt and an extra-point. Junior PK David Brown set a school record with 11 extra-point kicks made in a single game while Josh Lee returned his punt for a touchdown a school-record 96 yards.
Lee Sets Return Record
Senior CB Josh Lee set a school and conference record with his 96-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter against Valparaiso. It was the second straight season that a Penguin returned a punt for a touchdown in the home opener (Dominique Barnes returned one 80 yards vs. Butler).
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.
Eight is Enough
The last three times the Penguins dropped eight games in one campaign, they rebounded strong the next year.
YSU is 2-3 in 2011 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.
Single Digits in Fumbles
The Guins have lost two fumbles (one on a fumble return and other on a punt return) after five games this season.
Last year, YSU lost just nine fumbles marking the seventh straight season they have lost single digits in 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 offense has run 377 plays without a lost fumble.
And Your Captains Are:
The Penguins announced their 2011 captains on 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.).
Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 98-22 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 13-48.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 130-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 102-11 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 123-19 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 65-6-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 150-9 when leading entering the fourth.
• 68-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
Up Next: Saint Francis (Pa.)
YSU returns home to face Saint Francis (Pa.) on Oct. 22. It is the first meeting between the Penguins and Red Flash since a 1953 meeting at Rayen Stadium.
YSU leads the all-time series against Saint Francis by a 4-0 margin. The Red Flash are a member of the Northeast Conference and plays at Sacred Heart this Saturday.