By Brian Yauger
After a speed bump on the road in Iowa, Youngstown State University football faces its toughest opponent yet Saturday when it hosts third-ranked South Dakota State University.
In the opening week of conference play, the Penguins, who are 4-1 overall and 0-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, had their first loss of the season to the University of Northern Iowa at 21-14. Defensive tackle Antoine Cook sees a silver lining in the loss.
“Maybe we needed that,” Cook said. “Maybe we needed to lose. Maybe we needed to get hit in the mouth and learn from it and go into this next big game and hit them in the mouth. This is a must win. I’m very confident in my brothers, and it’s going to be a great game.”
Missed opportunities plagued YSU. As Penguins coach Bo Pelini has said in almost every press conference since taking the head coach position, “the team that makes the least mistakes wins the game.”
“We felt like we let one get away,” Pelini said. “We made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball and it hurt us. We weren’t able to overcome it. We had our opportunities and it didn’t happen.”
Like in the prior games this season, the Penguins haven’t made many big mistakes, but it’s the little mistakes adding up that sunk them against Northern Iowa.
“It’s always the little things,” Pelini said. “You have to keep buttoning down the attention to detail. The mental lapses … You have to be able to take the game plan and the adjustments to the game.”
Cook echoed the sentiments of his coach, remarking that once they fix the little things, they’ll be in much better shape.
“Everything coach preaches,” Cook said. “It was the little things, details. When we hit the film, you could see the little things are getting us hurt, stuff like that. That’s all we’ve got to work on — fixing the details — and we’ll be good.”
The Jackrabbits bring with them the second-best rushing attack in the Missouri Valley Conference, averaging 253 yards per game. YSU now sits behind them at 248 per game.
South Dakota State University graduated All-American quarterback Taryn Christion and now have redshirt freshman J’Bore Gibbs as the starter. Gibbs has thrown for 504 yards and six touchdowns.
“The offense is very similar, but maybe they’re featuring different aspects of it,” Pelini said. “They’re probably limited a little bit to help the young quarterback, but they have certain things that they do, that they believe in, that they execute well, and they feature that. How they choose to do it against us, I’m not sure, but we’ll be ready.
Quarterback Nathan Mays is being marked as day-to-day after an injury he suffered against the Panthers. Late in the game, he was caught between two defenders and was on crutches on the sidelines.
Joe Craycraft has been handling the No. 2 quarterback role this season and would be the expected starter if Mays is unable. Mark Waid would be backing him up. Both quarterbacks have seen playing time this season.
If Mays returns, he is coming off one of his strongest performances as a Penguin. Against Northern Iowa, Mays went 17-23 with 239 passing yards and two touchdowns.
“He fought his butt off,” Pelini said after the game.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.