Penguins Take On Third Straight Ranked Foe; Visit Illinois State

Mark Pratt
Mark Pratt

     Two teams looking to bounce back from their first losses of the season will tangle on Saturday when the Youngstown State football team visits Illinois State. Kickoff at Hancock Stadium is set for 2:04 p.m. Eastern/1:04 p.m. Central time. The game will be carried on WKBN 570 AM/iHeartRadio and live on WBCB TV as produced by the MVFC.

     The eighth-ranked Penguins (4-1 overall and 1-1 in the MVFC) suffered their first setback of the season last Saturday falling 48-7 at top-ranked North Dakota State. The contest was tied at seven midway through the first quarter before the Bison took control of the contest. YSU committed a season-high three turnovers, all of which led to first-half touchdowns. The biggest blow came when Marcus Williams returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown with the Penguins trailing 14-7 midway through the second quarter.

     No. 14 Illinois State (5-1 and 2-1) is also coming off its first loss of the season. The Redbirds dropped a 17-0 decision to Southern Illinois last Saturday at Hancock Stadium. Like the Penguins, the turnover bugaboo bit the Redbirds against the Salukis. Southern Illinois returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter before four second-half interceptions doomed any ISU comeback hopes. The Illinois State defense allowed just 182 yards in the contest.

    Before last Saturday's defeats, the Penguins and Redbirds were a combined 9-0 with wins over two FBS foes (YSU at Pittsburgh, Illinois State at Eastern Michigan). Now, each will be looking to avoid their second straight league game.

     YSU took an 11-10 lead in the all-time series with a 37-24 victory at Stambaugh Stadium last September. The Penguins scored 28 first-half points and sealed the victory when Kurt Hess connected with Jelani Berassa for 35 yards on 3rd-and-8 from the 26 with 2:13 to secure the hard-fought victory.

     The last contest at Hancock Stadium was decided in the final second. YSU overcame a 35-17 third-quarter deficit to go in front 39-35 with 27 seconds remaining. However, the Redbirds moved 69 yards in three plays capped by Matt Brown's 40-yard game-winning touchdown pass.

ISU Information
• The last time YSU opened a conference season 2-1 was in 2009.
• YSU's last win at Illinois State was on Oct. 28, 2006 (27-13). That win came after a disappointing loss to UNI, which also snapped a four-game winning streak. The Penguins had a four-game winning streak stopped by North Dakota State.
• YSU has scored at least 20 points in the last 12 games against the Redbirds.
• Redshirt Freshman WR Andre Stubbs has more than 100 all-purpose yards in four of five games. He had 172 vs. NDSU.
• YSU has scored at least 27 points in 13 of its last 15 games.
• Sophomore WR Christian Bryan has caught a pass in 16 straight games. Senior TE Will Shaw and sophomore WR Kintrell Disher have caught a pass in every game this year.
• YSU has had the same starting offensive line in 15 of the last 16 games.
• Shaw has caught a touchdown pass in four of the past six games. A YSU tight end has caught a touchdown pass in four of five games this season.
• In two games vs. Illinois State, TB Jamaine Cook has rushed 73 times for 335 yards and two touchdowns while QB Kurt Hess is 50-of-67 for 543 yards and six touchdowns.

NDSU Notes
• The 48 points allowed were the most since Illinois State scored 54 in 2008.
• YSU committed a season-high three turnovers. It was the most turnovers committed in a game by the Penguins since four against Indiana State in the 2010 season finale.
• Junior TE Carson Sharbaugh caught his first touchdown pass of the season. It was the second scoring catch of his career.
• Junior QB Kurt Hess threw the 47th touchdown pass of his YSU career. He is now just four shy of the school record of 51.
• Junior P Nick Liste averaged 52.3 yards per punt and had a season-long boot of 56 yards.
• Redshirt Freshman WR Andre Stubbs had a career-high six kickoff returns for a career-best 148 yards. Stubbs finished with 170 all-purpose yards. His day was highlighted by a 46-yard return in the fourth quarter.
• The defeat was the Penguins' first in the Fargodome in three trips. YSU had won previous meetings in 2009 and 2011.
• The crowd of 19,065 was the largest in Fargodome history.
• Nine different players had a rushing attempt while eight different players caught at least one pass.
• The Penguins scored in the first 17 quarters of the season before being held scoreless the final three of the game.

NDSU Recap
    Youngstown State committed three costly turnovers and could never get back on track after a second quarter pick-six suffering a 48-7 loss in the Fargodome at top-ranked North Dakota State.
    The Penguins fumbled on the first play of the game and NDSU recovered the ball at the YSU 31-yard line. After nearly turning ball over inside the one, NDSU's John Crockett scored to put the Bison in front 7-0.
    The Penguins answered on their ensuing drive as Kurt Hess found Carson Sharbaugh for a one-yard scoring toss. NDSU struck back when Brock Jensen hit Zach Vraa on a 46-yard pass just 1:45 later, and the Bison never trailed again.
    Down 14-7, the Penguins were at the NDSU 16 when Marcus Williams intercepted a Hess pass at the two-yard line and returned it 98 yards for a score.
    The Bison scored two touchdowns within a span of 56 seconds late in the first half to put the game out of reach. After Crockett's second touchdown of the game, Hess threw his second interception of the quarter. Four plays later, Brock Jensen connected with Ryan Smith for a 16-yard scoring strike to extend the lead to 35-7.
    NDSU kicked two field goals, and Smith returned a punt 76 yards for a score in the second half.

2011 ISU Recap | YSU 34-27
    Youngstown State scored 28 first-half points then used a solid defensive effort and a big third-down conversion late in the game to knock off Illinois State 34-27 at Stambaugh Stadium last September.
    QB Kurt Hess tied a school record with four touchdown passes and ran for another in the win. Hess completed 21-of-29 passes for a career-high 293 yards.
    YSU took a 7-0 lead when Hess connected with Christian Bryan. Leading 7-6, the Penguins scored the next two touchdowns as Hess tossed a 10-yard pass to Kevin Watts and then scored on a one-yard touchdown run.
    ISU pulled within 21-13 on a Matt Brown to Matt Younger five-yard pass, but the Penguins answered before halftime when Hess hit Andre Barboza on a 20-yard score.
    The Redbirds pulled within 28-20 on an Ashton Leggett 1-yard run before Hess hit Barboza on a 44-yard toss.
    Early in the fourth, ISU cut the deficit to 34-27. Each team punted three times before the Penguins' final possession of the game with 2:23 left.
     After two plays gained two yards, YSU faced a 3rd-and-8 from its 26 with 2:13 left. Hess completed a pass to Jelani Berassa for 35 yards to seal the six-point win.
Series History
    The series with Illinois State has always been a back-and-forth one. By virtue of their win last year, the Penguins now lead the all-time series 11-10 over the Redbirds.
    The teams have split the past 10 meetings while the home team has won the past four. YSU's last win at Hancock Stadium was in 2006, a 27-13 victory.
    Of the 21 all-time meetings, 12 have been decided by a touchdown or less, including the past two contests.
    The last trip to Hancock Stadium went from one of the most memorable comebacks in school history to one of the most forgettable in school history. YSU trailed 35-17 only to lead 39-35 with 27 seconds left. However the Redbirds scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 0.7 seconds left to pull out the win.

Out of Character
    The loss against North Dakota State was the first to an FCS opponent by double digits since dropping a 30-20 decision to South Dakota State in 2010. YSU had not lost to an FCS opponent by more than 11 points since Coach Eric Wolford took over the program in 2010.
    In fact, the Penguins' previous seven FCS losses came 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 the final MVFC game of the 2009 season at North Dakota State, 14 of YSU's last 19 league games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Tough Road Still Ahead
    The October grind for the Penguins continues this Saturday. YSU visits 5-1 Illinois State after playing unbeaten North Dakota State. On Oct. 20, the Penguins play host to Southern Illinois, which just beat Illinois State in Normal. The final tilt of the month is at South Dakota State, which is off to a 4-1 start and traditionally starts playing its best football at this point in the season. Last year, YSU dropped a home contest against South Dakota State to start its October slate before winning three straight games.

Hess in Top Ten
    Junior QB Kurt Hess dropped to eighth in the FCS in passing efficiency after the loss to North Dakota State. Entering the contest Hess ranked first with a rating of 175.49. He is now at 160.96 and ranks second in the MVFC.
    Hess has completed 66-of-103 passes for 882 yards. He has thrown nine touchdown passes and two interceptions.
    In his last 16 games, Hess has thrown 35 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions.
Tight Ends Find Paydirt
    Junior Carson Sharbaugh's first touchdown catch at North Dakota State gives all three YSU tight ends a touchdown catch for the year. Senior Will Shaw has caught four touchdown passes while sophomore Nate Adams has caught one. Tight ends have caught touchdown passes in four of the five YSU games so far this year. Sharbaugh made his first start this year against NDSU. All three tight ends caught a pass in the game.

Stubbs All-Around Player
    Redshirt freshman Andre Stubbs, who was named to the Jerry Rice Watch List earlier in the week, had his fourth 100-plus all-purpose yard game of the season at North Dakota State. Stubbs had 170 yards against the Bison, including a career-high 148 yards on kickoff returns. Stubbs had 172 at Pittsburgh, 155 against UNI and 124 versus Albany.
    Stubbs has been Kurt Hess' go-to receiver on third-down situations. Of his 11 receptions, seven have been for first downs on a third-down situation. Of his other three receptions, one was a 27-yard catch at Pittsburgh, another was on a third down and one was a short gain. He had a 21-yard catch at NDSU.

Experienced Offense
    For the first time this season, the Penguins had a different starting offensive unit. TE Carson Sharbaugh started in place of WR Andre Stubbs against NDSU. YSU had the same starting lineup in the first four games. The numbers for that group shows why they have scored 27-plus points in 13 of the last 15 games.
    The five offensive linemen have started a combined 110 games in their careers, including a combined streak of 91 straight contests. OT Andrew Radakovich leads the way with 36 total (31 straight). He is joined by D.J. Main (22/8), Chris Elkins (20/20) and Lamar Mady and Mark Pratt (16/16 each).
    QB Kurt Hess has started 27 straight games, TB Jamaine Cook has started 26 of the past 27 and WR Christian Bryan has logged 16 consecutive starts as well.
    TE Will Shaw and WR Kintrell Disher have started the first five games. Shaw has nine straight starts at the tight-end position while Disher has seven each in his career. It was the eighth career start for Sharbaugh.

Providing Protection
    In 27 games under Head Coach Eric Wolford, YSU has allowed just 27 sacks. Conversely, junior quarterback Kurt Hess has started all of those contests. Of those 27 sacks, five came in two games against Indiana State (two in 2010 and three in 2011). Through five games, YSU has allowed only three sacks this season.
    The YSU offensive line has surrendered just 12 sacks in the last 16 games overall. The Penguins have started the same offensive line in 15 of those 16 games.
    Only five times in the 27 games have the Guins allowed more than one sack and four of those came in 2010. In the contests against Pittsburgh, Michigan State and Penn State, the Penguins allowed a total of one sack (PSU).

Poll Position
    Youngstown State dropped five spots to No. 8 in this week's The Sports Network Top 25.  The Penguins were a solid third prior to their loss at North Dakota State.
    To open the 2012 preseason, the Guins were ranked 13th after being unranked at the end of the 2011 campaign. After defeating Pittsburgh, YSU moved up to sixth and received seven first-place votes.
    The Guins fell six spots from third to ninth in the Coaches Top 25 Poll with 441 points. ISU dropped from 9th to 14th in the Sports Network and 11th to 16th in the Coaches poll.

Brown Keeps Delivering
    Senior PK David Brown has made all 23 PATs to start the campaign and all three of his field-goal attempts. He made 35 straight PAT kicks at one point during the 2011 campaign and for the season was 53-of-56. The 53 makes tied for second most in school history while the 56 attempts are also second.
    In his career, Brown has made was 6-of-7 field-goal attempts, including his last six. After not making a field goal in his first eight games, Brown has six in the past eight contests.
    He has made his last 25 extra-point tries dating back to last year's finale against Missouri State.

Top of the Liste
    Junior punter Nick Liste continues to be a key contributor as punter and kickoff specialist. Handling kickoff duties, he already has 10 touchbacks this season after having just three a year ago. He is averaging 42.2 yards per punt this season. At North Dakota State he averaged 52.3 yards on three kicks, with a long of 56.
    As a sophomore, he averaged 39.8 yards per punt while 16 kicks were inside the opposition's 20. He averaged 41.1 yards per kick in 2010. He has 103 career punts for an average of 40.7 per boot. He has 16 kicks of 50 yards or longer in his three seasons as punter.

Cook Finding His Stride
    Senior TB Jamaine Cook will be looking to bounce back against Illinois State. Cook had only nine carries for 43 yards against North Dakota State. It was his lowest rushing total since a 39-yard performance against NDSU in 2010.
    Cook had a 146-yard, 32-carry performance in the win over UNI. A game earlier he had 161 yards on a season-high 33 carries and scored three touchdowns in a win over Albany. The 33 carries tied for the second most in his YSU career.

Shaw Grows into Role
    Senior TE Will Shaw caught a career-high five passes for a personal-best 95 yards in the win over UNI. Shaw had two big fourth-down receptions in the second half. The first came with YSU facing a fourth-and-two at the UNI 43 in the third quarter. QB Kurt Hess found a wide open Shaw, who rumbled 43 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 28.
    In the fourth quarter, YSU trailed 35-28 while facing a fourth-and-four at the UNI 29. Hess managed to slip through the grasp of a would-be tackler and found Shaw, who took the ball down to the Panthers' three.
    Shaw has 10 catches for 149 yards in the past three contests. In his last seven games, Shaw has 22 receptions, including six for touchdowns. He had two touchdown catches in the victory at Pitt to go along with scoring receptions against Valparaiso and UNI.

Picking Up The Pace
    Junior TB Torrian Pace has provided a spark for the Penguins this year. Pace has rushed for 230 yards on 37 carries this season. Entering the year, Pace had 203 yards on 38 carries.
    This year he has scored two key fourth-quarter touchdowns. Against Albany, Pace scored on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line with 2:48 left. That touchdown increased YSU's lead from three to 10 points. Against UNI, he scored the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter with 7:07 left.
    Earlier this year, Pace rushed for a career-high 146 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns against Valparaiso.

Hess Continues to Impress
    Junior QB Kurt Hess became the first player in school history to throw four touchdown passes or more in four games. Hess and Keith Snoddy each had four touchdown passes in three games. Hess threw touchdown passes to four different players against UNI.
    In his last 16 games, Hess has thrown 35 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions.
    In his 27-game career, he has thrown for more than 200 yards on 14 occasions, a school record. He has thrown 47 career touchdown passes, just four shy of the school's all-time career record.
    At Pitt, he engineered the first victory over a BCS program in school history.

Bryan Is Mr. Dependable
    Sophomore WR Christian Bryan has caught a pass in every game of his YSU career while hauling in a touchdown pass in half of them.
    In 16 career games played, Bryan has caught a touchdown pass in eight of them. He has started every game as well.
    This season he has 12 receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 26-yard touchdown reception, which proved to be the game winner against UNI.
    Last season, 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.

Now We're Cooking
    Senior TB Jamaine Cook will be looking to become just the second player in school history to rush for more than 100 yards in 17 games.
    His performance against UNI marked the 16th time in his career that he eclipsed the 100-yard mark. He is now tied with Adrian Brown for second in school history for 100-yard games in a career. Tamron Smith has the record at 22.
    Cook has rushed for 213 yards and 122 yards in his two career games against Illinois State.
    He is just one carry shy of moving into fourth place in career rushing attempts, 25 yards shy of moving up to second for all-purpose yards and is 253 yards from moving into fourth place all time in career rushing yardage.

Preaching Red-Zone Success
    Head Coach Eric Wolford continues to stress Red Zone play in his third campaign.
    The Penguins are 18-of-21 inside the red-zone this season (95.7 percent). YSU went 1-of-3 at NDSU, was 2-of-2 vs. UNI, 5-of-5 against Albany, 7-of-8 vs. Valparaiso and 3-of-3 at Pittsburgh. The Guins have scored 14 touchdowns and made three field goals in those trips.
    In his 27 games as coach, the Penguins are 101-for-113 (89.3 percent) inside the red zone.
    In 47 visits last year, the Penguins scored 39 touchdowns and kicked three field goals. YSU scored a total of 280 points on 42 of those 47 visits (89.4 percent). During Wolford's first campaign in 2010, YSU was 41-of-45 in the red zone for a conversion percentage of 91.1 percent.

Winning Streak Is Key
    YSU won four straight games for the first time since 2006 to open the season. In 2006, the Penguins won five straight, including two in the postseason, and four straight during the year.
    Since 1987, YSU has made the playoffs in each year it has posted a winning streak of at least four games. The 2006 campaign was the last time YSU reached the postseason.

Offense Has Been Impressive
    The Penguins are averaging 34.0 points per game so far this season despite being held to a season-low seven at North Dakota State.
    Through five games, the Penguins have rushed nearly twice as many times as they have thrown the football. YSU has 220 rushing attempts and 116 passing in the four games.
    The offense has scored 22 touchdowns (12 rushing and 10 passing) while converting three field goals for a total of 170 points.
    Already 12 different players have caught a pass (only two seniors Jamaine Cook and Will Shaw have caught passes) while eight have rushing attempts (with Cook the lone senior).
    In three seasons under Coach Eric Wolford, YSU has scored more than 30 points on 17 occasions, eclipsed the 40-point mark six times and is averaging 33.8 points a game during his tenure.

Secondary Stability
    The Penguins had seven different starting secondaries last season. So far this year they have had the same four starters in every game. The group of CBs Dale Peterman and Julius Childs, FS Donald D'Alesio and SS Jeremey Edwards have started the first five games together.
    Entering the season, D'Alesio and Jamarious Boatwright were the only two players on the roster with YSU starts at cornerback. Now, D'Alesio is playing safety while Boatwright's three starts came in 2010.

Spreading the Wealth
    The Penguins have five players on the defense with 23-or-more tackles. Senior SS Jeremey Edwards leads the team after being credited with 26 total tackles. Sophomore CB Julius Childs has been credited with 25 tackles this year. Sophomore LB Travis Williams has 24 while junior CB Dale Peterman and sophomore LB Teven Williams each have 23.
    Edwards has the Guins' lone interception while six different plays have at least one sack. Travis Williams leads the team with 4.5 TFLs.

Three is Still Important
    In the past 27 games, YSU is a combined 18-of-22 on field-goal attempts. While Coach Eric Wolford is not a fan, the Penguins are on a hot streak having converted their last six tries.
    This season, PK David Brown has converted from 27 (Valparaiso) and 25 (Pittsburgh, Albany) yards. He is now 6-of-8 in his career.
    In 2011, 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 Brown in the third quarter at North Dakota State turned out to be the difference in the game.
    YSU was 12-of-14 in 2010.

Cheaib's Block Party
    Junior LB Ali Cheaib has blocked two punts in just five games this season. Cheaib blocked a punt in the first half against Valparaiso and added his second block of the year in the fourth quarter against Albany. Both blocks helped lead to YSU touchdowns.
    Cheaib is the first player since Jarritt Goode in 1996 to block two punts in the same season.

Williams Times Six
    The Penguins have six players on the roster with the last name Williams. On offense Andrew Williams and Antuan Williams are wide receivers. On defense YSU has linebackers Teven Williams and Travis Williams, while Deionte Williams is a safety and freshman Terrell Williams is a defensive end.

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.

49ers Were Back
    Timing is everything sometimes, and for the second consecutive year while the Penguins had a bye week, the San Francisco 49ers were in town on a week-long road trip. The 49ers stayed in Youngstown between games against Minnesota and the New York Jets.
    It paid off against the Jets with an impressive 34-0. YSU and Youngstown received coverage on ESPN's Countdown to Kickoff Show on Sunday and Erin Andrews did a piece that aired on Fox's Sunday Pregame Show.

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.
    YSU has lost two fumbles after five games.
    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).

Another FBS Win
    Despite not having one since 2000, the Penguins picked up their 20th win against an FBS foe by knocking off Pittsburgh, 31-17, in the season opener at Heinz Field.
    This one was probably the most impressive. In seven previous games against BCS teams, YSU had never scored more than 14 points while the closest margin of defeat was 22 at Michigan State last year.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 105-23 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 14-50.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 133-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 109-11 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 130-20 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 67-7-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 157-10 when leading entering the fourth.
• 69-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next: Southern Illinois
    YSU plays its first home game in almost a month when Southern Illinois visits Stambaugh Stadium on Oct. 20. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. The Penguins have won two straight against the Salukis, who are at UNI this Saturday.