By Nathanael Hawthorne
After a monstrous 59-14 win over Western Illinois University, the Youngstown State University football team faces its toughest opponent yet — No. 1 ranked North Dakota State University.
The win over Western Illinois snapped the Penguins’ three-game losing streak and gave the team some much-needed confidence.
“It gave us that boost we needed to show what we’re capable of,” senior linebacker Cash Mitchell said.
Going into the Oct. 26 contest against Western Illinois, the team hadn’t won a Missouri Valley Football Conference game. Their wins only came from nonconference games.
This week, however, the Penguins face one of the strongest teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“We’re gonna play a good football team Saturday. … [They’re] gonna execute at a high level, [so] we’re going to execute at a high level,” Penguins coach Bo Pelini said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. You’ve got to go beat this football team.”
Playing against a team of this caliber can be a daunting task, even more so when North Dakota State has a 29-game winning streak. However, the team’s attitude is strong. Mitchell said he knows anyone is beatable.
“We know what we have to do to beat these guys,” Mitchell said. “They’re beatable, so you just gotta have a good week of practice and preparation. … It’s the little things.”
The past games between these two teams haven’t fared well for the Penguins. North Dakota State has a 9-4 record against the Penguins, with YSU dropping the last seven consecutive games against the Bison.
“I think if we stick to our game plan, we’ll be all right,” senior center Matt Jones said. “I have confidence in [the coaches]. … I have confidence that they’re going to lead us in the right direction and help us to victory.”
One of the biggest factors of the game is going to be the Penguin defense. The defensive unit has had 16 turnovers so far this season, with three of them coming in last week’s contest. Those 16 turnovers are a far cry from the nine the team had all last season.
The offense is also averaging 414.8 yards per game. Statistically speaking, the offensive output for both passing and rushing are almost equal at 207.9 yards and 206.9 yards, respectively.
Pelini said the coaches played an instrumental role in the huge win last week. He said he believes if the team sticks to a similar game plan and executes the way it did against Western Illinois, it will be successful.
Pelini also said the game is going to come down to one simple element: fundamentals.
“I think the plan’s coming together and it’s gonna come down to blocking and tackling and who’s going to fundamentally play better. … That’s what it comes down to in a game like this,” Pelini said.
Kickoff against the Bison is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.