The pressure on the Youngstown State University football team (4-2, 1-1) has intensified after last weekend’s 30-24 loss against Western Illinois University. The loss dropped the Penguins from 10th to 19th in the Coaches Poll and another loss would significantly hurt the Penguins’ chances of making the playoffs, if not eliminating them completely.
“Every game right now in our conference, you just treat it like it’s a must-win situation,” head coach Eric Wolford said. “I’ve never went into a game not treating it like a must win.”
Wolford says lack of communication on all sides of the ball was a key factor in last weekend’s loss.
“It cost us a game. When it costs you a game, there’s nothing more important than a football game right now at this point. When you lose a game like that it’s a wake-up call,” Wolford said. “Don’t beat yourself. If you don’t beat yourself, you win.”
YSU hopes to rebound quickly, but it will not be easy, as it takes on 17th-ranked Southern Illinois University (5-2, 2-1) this Saturday in their annual homecoming game. SIU is coming off a 38-10 loss against defending National Champion North Dakota State University.
Freshman quarterback Hunter Wells will make his second start of the season this Saturday against SIU, but will split time with junior Dante Nania. Wells relieved Nania after the first two possessions of last weekend’s game. According to Wolford, the plan last weekend was to split reps between the quarterbacks every two series, but Wells led the Penguins on two consecutive scoring drives so he made the call to stick with Wells. Wells finished last weekend completing 14-25 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.
“You have to do what is best for the team, and that’s what this is about,” Wolford said. “You just got to find the right chemistry for your team on the field because it comes down to one thing. It’s about winning.”
Both Penguin quarterbacks will have to get rid of the ball quickly, as SIU is one of the nation’s best teams at pressuring quarterbacks. The Salukis rank 8th in sacks per game — averaging 3.43 — and have at least two sacks in every game this year.
“With that odd defense, they have a lot of pressure coming up on the quarterback and that’s just an extra challenge to our offensive line this week is just to get the job done and keep your man in front of you for as long as you can,” senior tight end Nate Adams said.
Defensively YSU will have its hands full trying to stop the nation’s best tight end — possibly the best tight end prospect in all of college football at any level. SIU senior MyCole Pruitt is the active NCAA career leader among all divisions, Football Bowl Subdivision included, in receptions and receiving yards for a tight end. This season, Pruitt has 49 catches for 604 yards, seven touchdowns and has a streak of six straight games with at least five catches and 50 yards receiving. Coach Wolford thinks Pruitt is the best tight end in the conference and even thinks he could play at the next level.
“Oh yeah, by far he’s the best tight end,” Wolford said. “The thing is, you just can’t always narrow down on him because they’ll make you pay somewhere else on the other side of the field.”
Kickoff against SIU is set for Saturday at 4 p.m.