Penguins Get Good Test Opening Slate Against Duquesne

TB Jody Webb
TB Jody Webb

    The Youngstown State football team opens the 2016 campaign with a home contest against Duquesne on Thursday, Sept. 1. Kickoff at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, ESPN3 and the WatchESPN App.
    YSU is coming off a 5-6 campaign and is in its second year under Head Coach Bo Pelini. The Penguins had plenty of close defeats last year with five of the six losses coming by a combined 23 points, including three by three points of fewer.
    YSU has a veteran unit led by 17 seniors. On offense the seniors are OG Brock Eisenhuth, OT Dylan Colucci, TE Jacob Wood and TBs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb. The defensive seniors are DEs Derek Rivers, Avery Moss and Joshmere Dawson, DT Ricky Hagood, LBs Jamar Pinnock and Jaylin Kelly and secondary members Kenny Bishop, Eric Thompson, LeRoy Alexander, Nate Dortch, Derek Rivers and Jameel Smith.
    Duquesne posted an 8-4 record in 2015 while advancing to the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history. The Dukes won the Northeast Conference title posting a 5-1 league mark. In the postseason, DU lost a 52-49 shootout at William & Mary in the first round.
    This is the third all-time meeting between the programs. YSU has won both contests, the most recent coming in 2014. The Penguins earned a hard-fought 34-23 win over the Dukes. YSU won the first contest handily, winning by a score of 59-17 in 2013.
    In home openers, the Guins have been very successful over the years. The Penguins have won 20 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 campaign when it lost to Stephen F. Austin. In the 20 games since then, YSU has outscored its opponents by an impressive 758-224 margin. The Guins have scored at least 21 points in each of those games and gone over 30 on 14 occasions. Since moving to Stambaugh Stadium in 1982, YSU is 27-6-1 in the first home game of the season.
    YSU is next in action on Saturday, Sept. 10, when it visits West Virginia for the second time in school history. It's the Penguins' first trip to Morgantown since their first season of football in 1938.


Preseason Notes

• YSU opens its 76th season of football on Thursday against Duquesne. It's the first time YSU has played the Dukes in a season opener, but the second time it has played them in the home opener (2014).
• This is the first season opener at home since YSU beat Dayton 24-10 in 2013. The Guins opened the past two seasons at Illinois and at Pittsburgh.
• YSU has 17 seniors on the roster with the bulk of them on defense. Only five members of the offense are seniors. The Guins have that many seniors in their secondary.
• Senior DE Derek Rivers has been tabbed a first-team preseason All-American, senior FS LeRoy Alexander a second-team All-American and sophomore PK Zak Kennedy a third-team All-American by STATS, Inc.
• Senior TB Jody Webb had rushing touchdowns in each of the final four games in 2015.
• Eight of Darien Townsend's 10 catches last year came in the final five games.
• Senior TE Jacob Wood caught six of his eight passes last year in the final six games.
• Senior DE Derek Rivers had sacks in seven of 11 games a year ago.
• Kennedy has made a field goal in nine straight games.
• Senior SS Jameel Smith has the most career punt returns on the roster with two.
• Three offensive lineman who started last year's season opener - Brock Eisenhuth, Justin Spencer and Dylan Colucci - are slated to start against Duquesne.
• QB Ricky Davis had five carries for 22 yards in the first five games. In the final six he had 38 for 173 yards.
• Five of six Penguin losses in 2015 came by a combined 23 points.

Last Time Against Duquesne
    YSU built a 31-7 halftime lead before fending off a Duquesne come-from-behind bid for a 34-23 win in the home opener at Stambaugh Stadium in 2014.
    The Penguins jumped out to a 28-0 lead as Martin Ruiz scored on two runs and Dante Nania fired the first two touchdown passes of his career.
    YSU scored three touchdowns in the first quarter as Ruiz opened the scoring with a seven-yard score. Nania connected with Andrew Williams on a 54-yard touchdown pass before Ruiz tip-toed down the sidelines on a 46-yard scoring run.
    In the second quarter, Nania connected with Nate Adams on a 31-yard pass to put the Guins on top 28-0. YSU went into the half leading 31-7 and led 34-10 in the third quarter. Duquesne scored two straight touchdowns to pull within 11 points with 2:48 remaining, but YSU milked the clock to preserve the win.
Non-Conference Home Success
  YSU has won 26 of its last 27 non-conference regular-season home games since September 2004. The lone loss was a final-play 31-28 setback to Liberty in 2008.
    Since falling to the Flames on Sept. 27, 2008, the Penguins have won 15 straight at home against non-conference foes. All 15 wins have come against FCS programs.
    In the 15 games, the Guins have outscored the opposition 661-228 (an average of 43.7-16.1).

September Home Win Streak
      The Penguins have won 16 straight home games in the month of September dating back to the start of the 2009 season.
    Since losing to Florida International in overtime on Sept. 11, 2004, YSU is 26-1 in September at Stambaugh Stadium. The lone loss was a final-play defeat to Liberty in 2008 (31-28). The Penguins own MVFC victories over UNI (2012), Illinois State (2011), Southern Illinois (2010) and Missouri State (2007) during that stretch.

Pennsylvania Visitors
    The Penguins have had a tremendous amount of success against visitors from the Keystone State.
    The last time YSU lost a home game to a team from Pennsylvania was to Villanova on Oct. 28, 1978 (22-17).
    Since that time, the Guins have won 32 straight home games against teams from Pennsylvania.
    Most of those contests have come against members of the Division II PSAC. YSU has a pair of wins against Villanova and Duquesne and three over Saint Francis. YSU beat Robert Morris in the first meeting between the schools last season.

Season Openers
    The Penguins are 41-32-2 all-time in season openers. In eight of the previous nine openers, the Guins started the year on the road against a Power Five conference foe.
    The season-opening wins since 2007, when YSU opened against a Power Five school (Ohio State) for the first time in school history, were at Pittsburgh in 2012 and at home against Dayton in 2014.

Home Opener Win Streak
    The Penguins have won 20 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 campaign when it lost to Stephen F. Austin. In the 20 games since then, YSU has outscored its opponents by an impressive 748-221 margin.
    Since then the Penguins have posted three shutouts while the most points allowed was 23 by Duquesne in 2014. On offense, the Guins have scored at least 21 points in each of those games and gone over 30 on 14 occasions, including a high of 77 versus Valparaiso in 2011.

More on Home Openers
    YSU is 51-22-2 all-time in home openers dating back to the program's beginning in 1938.
    Since moving to Stambaugh Stadium in 1982, YSU is 27-6-1 in the first home game of the season. Since 1989, YSU is an impressive 23-1-1 in home openers.

All-Time Home Opener Notes
Most Points: 77 vs. Valparaiso, 2011
Fewest Points: 0 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 1995 (3 times)
Opp. Most Points: 43 by Southern Illinois, 1969
Opp. Fewest Points: 0 by Valparaiso, 2012 (10 times)
Margin of Victory: 64 | 77-13 vs. Valparaiso, 2011

Home Opener Win Streak
    2015 • YSU 21, Robert Morris 14 (OT)
    2014 • YSU 34, Duquesne 23
    2013 • YSU 28, Dayton 10
    2012 • YSU 59, Valparaiso 0
    2011 • YSU 77, Valparaiso 13
    2010 • YSU 31, Butler 7
    2009 • YSU 38, Austin Peay 21
    2008 • YSU 38, Central State 0
    2007 • YSU 23, South Dakota State 17
    2006 • YSU 51, Slippery Rock 21
    2005 • YSU 44, Slippery Rock 14
    2004 • YSU 35, Slippery Rock 13
    2003 • YSU 35, Edinboro 11
    2002 • YSU 27, Clarion 14
    2001 • YSU 38, Lock Haven 7
    2000 • YSU 24, Slippery Rock 10
    1999 • YSU 44, Slippery Rock 14
    1998 • YSU 50, Clarion 6
    1997 • YSU 33, Slippery Rock 9
    1996 • YSU 28, Wofford 0
Rivers Garnering Accolades
    Senior DE Derek Rivers has been named to numerous preseason All-America teams at the outset of the 2016 campaign.
    Rivers, a two-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honoree, has been named to the preseason All-America first teams by STATS Inc., and HERO Sports. He was also tabbed a preseason first-team All-MVFC selection. He is one of 22 players on the STATS Top Defensive Player Watch List. Rivers was in the running for the award as well in 2015.
    Rivers owns the school record with 26 career sacks entering his final campaign.
Expierenced Tailback Duo
    The Penguins boast one of the most experienced backfield tandems in the FCS in seniors Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb.
    Ruiz has played in 35 games and has rushed for 3,153 yards on 645 carries and scored 29 touchdowns. Webb has played in 33 contests, rushing for 1,917 yards on 273 attempts while scoring 24 touchdowns.
    Entering the campaign, Ruiz ranks sixth in school history in career rushing yards. Webb has averaged an impressive 7.0 yards per carry, which is the best in school history. The pair has combined for 68 receptions for 1,048 yards.

Kennedy Set FG Mark
    Sophomore PK Zak Kennedy set the school record with 19 field goals in 2015. Kennedy was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honoree in his first year. He became the first freshman placekicker since UNI's Scott Obermeier in 1992 to be tabbed first-team all-league.
    He made field goals in 10 games and attempted kicks in all 11 contests last year. He made his last eight attempts at home after missing his first two tries.
     Kennedy was just the fifth kicker in school history to make at least 17 field goals in the same season joining Mark Griffith, Jeff Wilkins (twice), Robert Fozkos and Paul McFadden.
    Also, the 19 field goals were a team record for a season, eclipsing the mark of 18 set in 2007.

New Faces At Wideout
    The active career leader on the squad in receptions is TB Martin Ruiz with 57 while the second is TB Jody Webb. Combined, the current wide receivers on the YSU roster have 35 receptions (I'tavious Harvin - 23, Darien Townsend - 11, Robert Byrd - 2 and Isiah Scott -1).
    So the Penguins will have plenty of new faces at wide receiver this year.
    In 2015, YSU redshirted Darius Shackleford, Jermiah Braswell, Donovan McWilson, Zack Torbert, Lasander Washington, Tre'Von Williams and Ryan Emans while Scott Good did not see action. Since last year, YSU added Alvin Bailey (Florida transfer), Steffan Derrick (juco transfer), Damoun Patterson (juco transfer) and Samuel St. Surin (freshman). Patterson played at Utah State as a freshman in 2014.

Deep Secondary
    After a stellar campaign last year, the YSU secondary returns the bulk of its difference makers this year.
    Returning are 11-game starter LeRoy Alexander, 10-game starter Jameel Smith, eight-game starter Eric Thompson, six-game starter David Rivers and five-game starter Nate Dortch.
    The lone multi-game starting member of the group to not return is CB Kenneth Durden, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders.
    Avery Larkin also started one game for the Guins in 2015. Additional returners include Chrispin Lee, Solomon Warfield, D.J. Thomas and Jalyn Powell. Billy Nicoe Hurst is a junior-college addition while Darius Hall is the lone freshman of the group.

Pass Defense was Stout
    YSU's pass defense was one of the best in the FCS throughout the entire 2015 season.
    Throughout the entire season, the Guins ranked first or second nationally in fewest passing yards allowed before finishing first with 116.7 per contest. That total was the least allowed by the program in a season since 1975.
    In the FCS, the Penguins finished first in fewest passing yards allowed and tied for first in fewest first downs allowed. YSU was fifth in pass-efficiency defense, seventh in total defense and ninth in third-down conversion stops.
    Also of note for the secondary in 2015: the 41.1 completion percentage by the opposition was the lowest by an opponent since 1980 (40.6); the eight passing touchdowns were the fewest allowed since 1996 (five); the 83 pass completions allowed were the fewest since 1976 (79); the 145 first downs allowed were the fewest since 1975 (129); the Guins allowed just 7.5 receptions per contest and YSU's defense allowed just 288.7 yards per contest, the fewest since 2002 (278.5).
    Only one time did YSU allow more than 176 yards passing in a game and on four occasions it held an opponent to 64 or less.

Dellovade was Key Stopper
    Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade will look to pick up where he left off in 2016 following an outstanding freshman season last year.
    Dellovade came on strong as a true freshman finishing with 54 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. The honorable-mention all-league recipient started nine games and was fourth on the team in tackles.
    His 54 tackles were the most by a true freshman since Teven Williams had a team-high 67 stops in 2011. He also had four sacks in 2015, the most by a YSU freshman since OLB Mike Stanec had four in 1995.

18 Guins Hail from Florida
    The Penguins once again have a solid number of Florida natives on their roster. YSU boasts 18 players who hail from the Sunshine State on the 2016 team.
    The list of players from Florida include: Alvin Bailey, Kenny Bishop, Robert Byrd, Nate Dortch, I'Tavious Harvin, Chrispin Lee, Johnson Louigene, Donald Mesier, Damoun Patterson, Nathan Pittman, Jonathan Pollock, David Rivers, Martin Ruiz, Jamal Smith, Jameel Smith, Samuel St. Surin, Eric Thompson and Lasander Washington.

Webb is Big-Play Scorer
    Senior TB Jody Webb had four multi-touchdown performances in 2015.
    In the season finale at Indiana State, which was played in a snowstorm, he returned a pair of kickoffs 93 yards for touchdowns and had a 26-yard scoring run in the slippery conditions.
    Webb had two rushing scores against North Dakota State, Saint Francis and Pittsburgh.
    He scored on runs of 77 and 45 against North Dakota State, scored on runs of 22 and 20 yards in the win against Saint Francis and had touchdown runs of 75 and 27 yards at Pittsburgh in the season opener.
    In his career, Webb has been a big-play touchdown scorer. Of his 24 career rushing touchdowns, 14 have been of more than 20 yards.

Rivers Owns YSU Sack Mark
    Senior DE Derek Rivers is the school's all-time sack leader with 26.
    On Oct. 17, 2015, following a two-sack performance against South Dakota State, Rivers eclipsed the school mark of 22 which had been held by Jermaine Hopkins since 1995. Hopkins played for the Penguins from 1992-95, and his career sack totals include postseason contests.
    Impressively, it took Rivers just 28 games to break the 20-year-old record.
    Last season, Rivers had nine sacks after registering 14 sacks in 2014. During his first campaign in 2013 he had three.

Alexander The Great
    Senior FS LeRoy Alexander had an outstanding first year with the Penguins in 2015 and was named first-team All-MVFC in his first year with the program after transferring from Nebraska.
    Alexander was second on the team a year ago with 67 total tackles, 38 of which were solo stops.
    He showed his versatility in the YSU defensive scheme registering a pair of sacks to go along with a team-high four interceptions. He was also credited with 3.5 TFLs.
    Against Illinois State he had a career-high 11 tackles, including seven solo stops.

Offensive Line Shuffle
    The Penguins will hope for more stability up front this year after not getting a good chance to get in a rhythm in 2015.
    Only one player started every game, which was junior Justin Spencer. He started 10 times at right tackle and once at left tackle.
    In 2015, YSU started three different centers - Matt Bell, Charles Zaborsky and Cole Newsome. Bell and Zaborsky are no longer with the program while Newsome is a reserve guard.
    For the year, eight different players started at least one game.
    This year's opening night line should feature three players who started last year's opener - Spencer, Brock Eisenhuth and Dylan Colucci. Sophomore RG Gavin Wiggins started the final four contests in 2015 while newcomer Vitas Hrynkiwicz will make his YSU debut.

Ruiz Model of Consistency
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz has rushed for at least 74 yards in a game on 27 occasions in 35 career games played.
    On 14 occasions he has rushed for more than 100 yards, including a career-high eight times as a sophomore in 2014. Last year he rushed for more than 100 yards twice.
    Additionally he has scored a touchdown in 22 games, with eight multi-TD performances. In two games vs. Duquesne he has five touchdowns.

Kuhn Coming Off Big Year
    Junior TE Shane Kuhn was a second-team All-MVFC selection last year as a fullback. Kuhn played both tight end and fullback during the campaign for the Guins.
    He had 24 rushes for 80 yards and four touchdowns. His four touchdowns tied for the second most on the squad.
    Kuhn caught six passes on the campaign for 90 yards. Two of his grabs went for scores.

Rivers Solid Past Two Years
    Senior DE Derek Rivers has had a solid last two years at YSU.
    In his career, Rivers has 115 total tackles, 75 of which are solos. He has an impressive 37 TFLs.
    As a junior, he had 52 tackles, including an impressive 37 solo stops. He had 15.5 TFLs and nine sacks on the campaign as well. As a sophomore, Rivers was credited with 50 total tackles, including 17 TFLs and 14 sacks. So in the last 22 games, he has 102 total tackles, 32.5 TFLs and 23 sacks. He is averaging five stops, 1.6 TFLs and over one sack a game.

Ruiz High On Lists
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz ranks sixth in school history with 3,153 yards rushing and sixth with 645 career attempts. He is one of seven players in school history to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career.
    With 29 rushing touchdowns, he is tied for eighth with Paris Wicks (1979-82) and Darnell Clark (1990-93). Ruiz ranks 10th in all-purpose yards with 3,956 while senior TB Jody Webb is 18th with 2,968.

Wells Ranks in Top 12
    Junior QB Hunter Wells ranks in the top 12 in YSU history in completions, yards and touchdown passes after two years with the program.
    Wells is tied for 10th with 280 completions, ranks 11th with 27 touchdown passes and sits 12th with 3,747 yards. He has accumulated all his near top-10 totals with just 21 games played to his resume.
    He has thrown a touchdown pass in 14 of his last 18 games. At Southern Illinois in 2015, he threw for a career-high 324 yards. His career high in touchdowns was four vs. Butler in 2014 while his best outing in terms of most completions was 21 which came in 2014 and 2015 against Southern Illinois.

Offense Keeps Balance
    Last season the Penguins averaged 199.8 yards rushing and 192.5 yards passing keeping a balanced philosophy.
    YSU had 2,198 yards rushing last season and 2,117 yards passing for nearly a 50/50 split.
    Five times last season YSU amassed more than 400 yards of total offense, highlighted by a 644-yard outburst against Missouri State.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 122-31 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 21-60.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 149-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 122-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 145-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 76-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 176-15 when leading entering the fourth.
• 78-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
More recently:
• YSU has scored points in 91 straight games.

Up Next: West Virginia
    The Penguins play their first road game and only contest against an FBS foe when they visit West Virginia on Sept. 10. Kickoff at Milan Puskar Stadium is set for 2 p.m.