‘Nothing to Lose’

By Daniel Hiner

Offensive tackle Trevor Strickland prepared to engage a Missouri State University linebacker. Strickland and the offensive line are prepared for a physical game this week against the University of South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.

The 11th-ranked Youngstown State University football team (6-2, 3-1) will host the unranked University of South Dakota (2-6, 0-4) on Saturday. The Penguins enter the game after earning a hard-fought road win against South Dakota State University 30-27.

The Coyotes are winless in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They have only won two games all season, but USD can’t be overlooked. One of USD’s two wins came against Northern Arizona — currently 22nd-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision.

The Penguins have only played the Coyotes twice in program history and have won both appearances. USD joined the Missouri Valley Conference in 2012. YSU won the first meeting 13-10 at home and won the second meeting 38-34 in Vermillion, South Dakota.

“I think the first time we played them we had a game where we just needed to grind the ball out and get a win, and last year we played in a hostile environment,” Head Coach Eric Wolford said. “They got a great home crowd, loud, a neat place to play. They have an outstanding home record … a very difficult place to play. So, that’s a game that could have gone either way.”

According to Trevor Strickland, Penguins offensive tackle, the opponents that are in the middle of a losing season are the most dangerous teams to play.

“It was one of the more physical games I played in … even to this day. It was a real good game,” he said. “I know they’re going to be physical, I know that for a fact. It’s scary playing these teams who probably don’t have a chance at making the playoffs because they’re not going to do the normal things that you think that any other team is going to do because they don’t have anything to lose. So they’ll bring blitzes when they usually weren’t during the season.”

YSU has four games remaining on the schedule; the final three games are against ranked opponents. The Penguins are trying not to overlook USD this week. Penguins center Stephen Page said the Coyotes are an underrated team, and the Penguins are focused on the upcoming game.

“They’re a good defensive team; they run after the ball and they play very hard,” Page said. “Their record doesn’t really show that. So we can’t really focus on the record. We just have to focus on the game plan, watch film and be as prepared as possible for them.”

Statistically, the Coyotes are not considered a good defense, but the Penguins offense knows the USD defense tries to catch the opposing offense off guard, which makes things difficult for opposing offenses.

“They run an odd defense, and it’s kind of hard to get everyone on the same page with the o-line, the quarterback and the running backs. So, they do a lot of stuff to try and confuse you. I think that is one of my biggest jobs — to get the quarterback on the same page so they know what the protection is so we can get the ball off,” Page said.

Wolford knows the USD defense is significantly better than the numbers the players have accumulated to this point of the season.

“Defensively, they’ve got 31 tackles for a loss so far this year,” Wolford said. “They have two sacks, so the rest of those are against the run. They like to load the box and stop the run, and they play tight coverage in the passing game.”

Kickoff begins scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Nov. 1.