One Last Test Before Conference Play

Coach Wolford leads the Penguins onto the field against Butler last week. The Penguins will take two wins with them into their final non-conference game against St. Francis on Saturday. Photo by Dustin Livesay/The Jambar.

The Youngstown State University football team is coming off of an impressive 44-13 home victory against Butler University last Saturday and is looking to close out a three-game home stand with a victory this weekend against St. Francis University.

The Penguins defense came out slow last weekend, allowing 153 first quarter yards, which resulted in a 10-3 lead for Butler at the end of the first quarter. The defense stiffened up after that though, only allowing 193 yards for the rest of the game.

Senior safety Donald D’Alesio was pleased with how well the team responded after a shaky start.

“They kind of did some things that caught us off guard from the start,” D’Alesio said. “We just dialed in and were able to focus.”

Head coach Eric Wolford thought the defense had too many “eye violations” last weekend against Butler.

“We have a tendency to sometimes look into the backfield as opposed to your assignment. It takes just a quick second to have a breakdown there,” Wolford said. “The game of football is played with your eyes. It sounds like a really simple thing, but you got to have great eyes and you have to have great discipline with your eyes.”

On the offensive side of the ball, freshman quarterback Hunter Wells made his first career start in relief of Dante Nania, who sat out with an ankle injury. Wells completed 16 of 22 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns.

“I actually think Hunter did very well for his first time playing a collegiate game. It’s always nerve-wracking your first game,” sophomore guard Brock Eisenhuth said. “We have five big guys up front. We told him before the game, ‘don’t be nervous — we got you up front.’”

Although Wells played well last weekend, coach Wolford expects Nania to start against St. Francis barring any setbacks during practice this week. Nania practiced individually on Monday and returned to team activates on Tuesday.

St. Francis is coming off a 38-22 loss against James Madison University. The Red Flash were up 15-7 late in third quarter, but were unable to hold on in large part due to turnovers.

The Penguins’ defense must be sound this weekend as the Red Flash has one of the top running backs in the FCS in Khairi Dickson. Dickson leads the FCS in rushing yards per game this season averaging 202.7 yards per game and had 216 yards on 39 carries against James Madison.

“He’s got quick feet. He’s got great vision, runs with good pad level. He understands their scheme and the thing is, not very often is he tackled by the first guy, which is obviously the trait of a good running back,” Wolford said.

This will be the Penguins’ last non-conference game and is a crucial preparation game, as they get ready to battle the Missouri Valley Conference. The MVFC has six teams ranked in the top 25 this week, with five of those teams being top 15. YSU comes in at 15 in the coach’s poll.

“I think the conference is probably definitely as strong as it’s ever been,” Wolford said. “There are good football teams in our league top to bottom.”

Kickoff against St. Francis this Saturday is set for 7 p.m.