13th-Ranked YSU Begins Key Stretch At Illinois State on Saturday

Jameel Smith
Jameel Smith

    The No. 13 Youngstown State football team begins a challenging stretch with a road contest at 23rd-ranked Illinois State on Saturday afternoon at Hancock Stadium. Kickoff for the contest is set for 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central time. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio, WBCB TV Youngstown and ESPN3/WatchESPN App.
    YSU (3-1 overall and 1-0 in the MVFC) won its eighth straight conference opener with a 30-20 victory over South Dakota last Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins scored on their opening possession and never led by less than double digits after Martin Ruiz's second rushing touchdown of the game 49 seconds into the second quarter. PK Zak Kennedy kicked three field goals in the win while Jalyn Powell's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown helped seal the victory. YSU held South Dakota to just two field goals in the first 54:36 before the Coyotes had two touchdown passes late in the contest. QB Ricky Davis threw for a career-high 281 yards completing 15-of-23 passes in the game.
    Illinois State (2-3, 0-2) is coming off a 31-10 defeat at North Dakota State last Saturday. The Redbirds, who have dropped three straight after winning at Big Ten member Northwestern, led 10-7 before the Bison scored the final 24 points of the contest. QB Jake Kolbe threw for 285 yards in the contest completing 23-of-35 attempts. Kolbe's 18-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fowler gave ISU a short-lived 10-7 lead with 13:06 left in the second quarter. The Bison answered 18 seconds later with the go-ahead score as Easton Stick connected on a 65-yard scoring pass to RJ Urzendowski.
    Last season's contest between two top-10 teams at Stambaugh Stadium came down to the wire. The Penguins came up just short losing 31-29 in a back-and-forth contest. The teams combined for 31 points in the fourth quarter. YSU trailed 31-23 in the final minute when QB Hunter Wells found TB Martin Ruiz on a 13-yard scoring toss with 32 seconds left. On the ensuing two-point conversion try, Wells dove into the end zone to apparently tie the game. But a replay review overturned the call and the Guins came up short by two points.
    ISU has won the past four games in Normal with YSU's last win at Hancock Stadium coming on Oct. 28, 2006. The Redbirds lead the all-time series by a slim 13-12 margin.


Quick Notes
• Youngstown State (eight) and North Dakota State (six) have the longest active win streaks in MVFC season-opening games.
• YSU last started a conference slate 2-0 in 2013. That season the Penguins began the conference portion of their season 5-0.
• YSU and UNI are the only two FCS teams which have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
• TB Martin Ruiz has scored six rushing touchdowns this season. Ruiz scored just four a year ago. He has also scored in each of the four games so far this year.
• YSU had four more sacks against South Dakota and has been credited with 13 in four games. The Guins' defense has also produced 22 QB hurries.
• The Guins have had more than 400 yards of total offense in each of the first four games. The last time YSU opened a season with four straight 400-yard performances was in 1983 - 413 vs. EKU, 455 vs. TTU, 500 vs. WIU and 441 vs. WIU.
• PK Zak Kennedy has made a field goal in 14 of his 15 career contests. In four games he has made three, including last time out against South Dakota.
• In his career, Ruiz scored seven rushing touchdowns in four contests against USD while DE Derek Rivers had seven sacks in three games vs. the Coyotes.
• Against Illinois State, Ruiz has two touchdown receptions and a TD rush, Shane Kuhn scored twice last year and Jody Webb has a pair of scoring runs in his career. Kennedy kicked three field goals in last year's game.
• Rivers has had at least one sack in 14 of his last 20 games. He had two sacks against South Dakota and now has 30 for his career. He has two career sacks vs. ISU.
• Ruiz now has 4,363 all-purpose yards in his career. He is just 14 shy of Robby Robson for third place in YSU history.

Last Time Out: YSU 30, USD 20
    YSU opened MVFC play with a 30-20 victory over South Dakota last Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.
    The Penguins scored on their opening possession and never led by fewer than double digits after Martin Ruiz's second rushing touchdown of the game 49 seconds into the second quarter.
    PK Zak Kennedy kicked three field goals in the win while Jalyn Powell's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown helped seal the victory.
    YSU held South Dakota to just two field goals in the first 54:36 before the Coyotes had two touchdown passes late in the contest. QB Ricky Davis threw for a career-high 281 yards completing 15-of-23 passes in the game.

Last Meeting: ISU 31, YSU 29
    No. 7 YSU came up just short in a tough 31-29 loss to fourth-ranked Illinois State at Stambaugh Stadium last October.
    The Penguins trailed 31-23 late before pulling within 31-29 with 32 seconds remaining after Hunter Wells threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Martin Ruiz. On the two-point conversion try, Wells found an opening and dove into the end zone for a would-be tying score. However, replay determined that Wells' knee was down before he crossed the goal line and the score was wiped out.
    In the fourth quarter the teams combined for 31 points after 29 in the first three quarters.
    YSU trailed 17-12 early in the fourth before taking its first lead of the game at 20-17 on a one-yard run by Shane Kuhn and two-point conversion pass from Wells to Jacob Wood.
    But three plays later, Illinois State regained the lead 24-20 on 39-yard pass from Tre Roberson to Anthony Warrum. YSU trailed 24-23 following a 49-yard Zak Kennedy field goal, but ISU pushed its lead to eight on a 19-yard run by Marshaun Coprich with 4:18 left.

Series History
    YSU and Illinois State have been familiar foes playing for the 21st straight season. While some of the 25 all-time meetings have been one-sided, 14 have been decided by a touchdown or less, including last year's contest.
    In Normal, YSU's last win was a 27-13 triumph on Oct. 28, 2006. The last four meetings have gone in favor of the Redbirds by scores of 54-44 (2008), 41-39 (2010), 35-28 (2012) and 35-21 (2014). YSU led 21-14 in 2014, 28-7 in 2012, 39-35 in the final second in 2010 and 21-10 in 2008 but could not come away victorious.
    YSU is 11-2 in games when it holds the Redbirds under 30 points. However the Penguins are 1-11 when allowing Illinois State to score 30-plus points.

Offensive Output
    For the first time since 1983, the Penguins have eclipsed the 400-yard mark in total offense in each of the first four games. YSU opened the year with a 610-yard performance against Duquesne, totaled 405 yards at West Virginia, had 431 against Robert Morris and finished with 450 last Saturday against South Dakota.
    Last year YSU went over 400 yards on five occasions in 11 games.
    Under Offensive Coordinator Shane Montgomery the Penguins have amassed more than 400 yards in 39 contests since the start of the 2010 season.
    That 610 yards against Duquesne were the seventh most in a game in school history. YSU has gone over 600 yards of total offense nine times in school history, and five of those have come since 2011.

Penguins' Sack Attack
    The Penguins have registered 11 sacks in the past two contests. YSU had four in the win over South Dakota after being credited with seven, the most in a game since 2005, vs. Robert Morris.
    Against South Dakota, DE Derek Rivers had two sacks while DE Avery Moss and DT Savon Smith each had strip sacks. Moss's forced fumble set up the Penguins' first touchdown of the game.
    Seven players were credited with sacks against Robert Morris as Armand Dellovade, Smith, Rivers, Cody Squiric, Donald Mesier, Moss and Curtis Parks all had one.
    The Penguins have 22 QB hurries this year and 13 sacks as a team.

No Rushing TDs Allowed
    The Penguins have not allowed a rushing touchdown through four games. YSU and fellow MVFC member UNI are the only two FCS programs which have not allowed a rushing score as of yet.
    YSU allowed 20 rushing touchdowns, including 14 in the conference portion of the schedule, last year.

Moss Off To Great Start
    DE Avery Moss is off to a strong start to his senior season with 17 total tackles, including 13 solo stops, on the campaign.
    He had a career-best seven tackles in the victory over South Dakota. Moss was credited with four solos and had three assists in the contest. Earlier in the season he tied his career high with six tackles in a strong outing at West Virginia.
    He also has sacks in three of the four games this year.
    Last year Moss had 25 total tackles and 14 solo stops for the season. He had three sacks for the entire 2015 campaign.

Davis Strong as Starter
    Junior QB Ricky Davis returned to the lineup against South Dakota and promptly threw for a career-high 281 yards. Davis completed 15-of-23 passes in the contest, but he did throw two second-half interceptions, his first two of the season. He did not play against Robert Morris.
    Davis had a hot-hand in the first half completing 10-of-12 passes for 232 yards. He also had a career-high 21 rushes against the Coyotes.
    In three games this season, Davis has completed 38-of-65 passes (58.5 percent) for 657 yards and four touchdowns. He is averaging 219.0 yards passing for game. He passed for 189 yards at West Virginia after throwing for 187 yards in his starting debut vs. Duquesne.
    Davis had eight completions for 142 yards and one touchdown in his career before taking the reigns of the offense in the opener.

Ruiz Moves Into Fourth
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz ranks fourth in school history in all-purpose yards. Ruiz has accumulated 4,363 yards in his career and is just 14 shy of Robby Robson for third place. Jamaine Cook and  Tamron Smith rank as the top two as both tailbacks eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark at YSU.
    Ruiz has 3,520 rushing yards, 608 receiving yards and 235 kickoff return yards in 39 career games played. He has scored 41 touchdowns in his career - 35 rushing and six receiving.

Kennedy Earns League Honor
    PK Zak Kennedy was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference's Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against South Dakota.
    Kennedy made field goals of 26, 28 and 24 yards in the Penguins' 30-20 win. It was the fourth time in his career that he made three field goals in a contest. He also added three extra points and had four touchbacks on six kickoffs.
    In his career, Kennedy has made 24-of-29 field-goal attempts and is 5-of-6 this season with the lone miss coming from 50 yards on the final play of the first half against Robert Morris. In MVFC games, Kennedy is 17-of-19 in field goal attempts. Three of his five career misses have come against Robert Morris.

Dellovade a Key Stopper
    Sophomore LB Armand Dellovade has continued to be a key figure in the Penguins' defense.
    He ranks tied for second on the squad through four games with 21 tackles. He had seven tackles in the win over South Dakota, with four solos and three assists. Dellovade also had seven stops at West Virginia.
    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 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. He has one sack in 2016.

YSU Rankings High in FCS
    Both the YSU offense and defense are among the top units in the FCS in various categories.
    The offense is third in time of possession (34:57), ninth in rushing offense (262.8 yards), 12th in total offense (474.0 yards) and 17th in third-down conversions.
    The defense is ninth in first-downs defense (62 total), 10th in rushing defense (92.3 yards), 11th in total defense (300.8) and 24th in third-down percentage defense (32.2 percent). YSU stopped USD on 13 of 17 third downs.
Ruiz Increases TD Production
    Martin Ruiz has scored six rushing touchdowns in four games. That number is two more than his total from the 2015 season in which he had four rushing scores.
    Ruiz caught two touchdown passes in 2015 giving him six scores. He has two TD receptions this year giving him eight scores already.

Challenge Lies Ahead
    The Penguins play three straight ranked opponents starting this Saturday when they visit 23rd-rated Illinois State. The Redbirds are 20-2 at home since the start of the 2013 season and have won four straight in Normal over the Guins. YSU returns home to face UNI on Oct. 15. The Penguins have beaten the currently ranked No. 11 Panthers one time since 2001, but that came in the last meeting at YSU in 2012. The Guins then head back out on the road to face No. 12 South Dakota State. YSU has won one of the last eight meetings in that series, a 30-27 victory in Brookings in 2014.

First TD Receptions
    This season TE Kevin Rader and WRs Darien Townsend, Alvin Bailey and Stefan Derrick have all caught the first touchdowns of their YSU careers.
    Townsend had two touchdowns and Derrick had his first in the opener against Duquesne. Bailey scored on a 74-yard grab at West Virginia. Against Robert Morris, Rader hauled in the first touchdown of his YSU career, a 27-yarder on a 4th-and-3 play.

O-Line Off to Solid Start
    A veteran offensive line has helped pave the way to four straight 400-yard plus offensive performances.
    The Penguins are averaging 263 yards rushing and 474 yards of total offense per game. YSU ranks third in time of possession, ninth in rushing, 12th in total offense and 17th in third-down conversions in the FCS.
    The starting group the first three games has been Justin Spencer, Gavin Wiggins, Vitas Hrynkiwicz, Cameron Fraser and Dylan Colucci. Senior Brock Eisenhuth started in place of Fraser against South Dakota.

Rivers The Past 27 Games
    Senior DE Derek Rivers has had an impressive YSU career, but since the start of the 2014 season, Rivers has been one of the top defensive players in the FCS.
    Overall in his career, Rivers has 127 total tackles, 87 of which are solos. He has an impressive 42 TFLs. This year he has 12 tackles, all solos, with five TFLs and four sacks.
    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. In his last 27 games, he has 114 total tackles, 37.5 TFLs and 27 sacks. He is averaging 4.2 stops, 1.4 TFLs and one sack a game.

Schuler Shows Big Leg
    Redshirt freshman P Mark Schuler has had  a strong start to his career. Schuler leads all freshman FCS punters averaging 39.5 yards per kick. He has five punts of 50 yards or longer and placed eight inside the 20-yard line.
    He has placed six of his last 17 punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line.
    Against Robert Morris he punted seven times and placed two at the 10-yard line and another at the 11. Schuler punted eight times for an average of 44.5 yards a kick at West Virginia. Schuler had kicks of 51, 59, 50, 47, 44, 41 and 32 (twice) in the game. He had a pair of punts downed at the 14-yard line and one at one-yard line. He had a 54-yard punt vs. South Dakota.

Expericenced 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 39 games and has rushed for 3,520 yards on 708 carries and scored 35 touchdowns. Webb has played in 35 contests, rushing for 2,048 yards on 295 attempts while scoring 24 touchdowns. Both runners rank in the top 11 in the FCS in active career yardage.

Call 9-11
    The Penguins' defensive-end combo of Avery Moss (No. 9) and Derek Rivers (No. 11) is one of the top ones in the nation.
    WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen was quoted as saying following the contest "These two cats that we played against from Youngstown State were as good of pass rushers as I've seen" (h/t @mitchsherman).
    Through four games, Rivers has four sacks and nine quarterback hurries while Moss has three sacks and four QB hurries. Moss has 17 total tackles, 13 of which are solos, while Rivers has 12 tackles on the year, all of which are solos.

Rivers Owns Sack Mark
    Senior DE Derek Rivers is the school's all-time sack leader with 30.
    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.
    He has four sacks in four games this year to go along with nine QB hurries.

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.
    In his career, he has made field goals in 14 games and attempted kicks in 14 of 15 contests.
     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.

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.

Alexander The Great
    Senior FS LeRoy Alexander is off to a strong start to the season after an outstanding 2015 in which he was named first-team All-MVFC in his first year with the program after transferring from Nebraska.
    In 2016, Alexander has 13 total tackles, including 12 solo stops.
    He 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 in 2015 he had a career-high 11 tackles, including seven solo stops.

Ruiz Model of Consistency
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz has rushed for at least 74 yards in a game on 29 occasions in 39 career games played.
    On 15 occasions he has rushed for more than 100 yards, including a career-high eight times as a sophomore in 2014. He had 165 yards in the win over RMU. That total was his third-highest rushing performance as a Penguin and most in a game since Nov. 1, 2014.
    Additionally he has scored a touchdown in 24 games, with 10 multi-TD performances.

Ruiz High On Lists
    Senior TB Martin Ruiz ranks fifth in school history with 708 carries and 3,520 yards rushing.
    He is one of seven players in school history to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career.
    With 35 rushing touchdowns, he is now in sixth place all-time at YSU. Ruiz sits just four scores back of Jamaine Cook from also entering the top five in that category. He ranks fourth in program history in all-purpose yards with 4,363.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 124-32 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 22-60.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 152-19-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 124-16 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 148-25 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 78-9-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 179-15 when leading entering the fourth.
• 80-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
More recently:
• YSU has scored points in 95 straight games.

Up Next: UNI
    The Penguins play host to UNI for the first time since 2012 next Saturday. Kickoff for the contest is set for 7 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.