South Dakota State Preview: #4 Jackrabbits at #5 Youngstown State
When Missouri Valley Conference teams occupy half of the top ten spots in the latest FCS polls, you knew that was eventually going to create some unforgettable match-ups on the field this season.
We didn't have to wait long.
In the first full weekend of league action, we've got a battle of two top five teams, when #4 South Dakota State plays at #5 Youngstown State, Saturday night.
The Jackrabbits (3-0) and Penguins (2-1) are both coming off bye weeks and each brings a high powered offense into this game.
SDSU is eighth in scoring in the nation, averaging 44 points a game so far in 2017. YSU is ninth in FCS running the ball (281 yards per game) and tenth in overall offensive production (492 yards per game).
Both teams have been especially good on third down this season, converting 58 percent of the time. That's fourth best in the country.
The Penguins running attack is keyed by a veteran offensive line and a pair of running backs sharing the load. Junior Tevin McCaster and freshman Christian Turner are combining for 160 yards a game.
The Youngstown quarterback position has been a bit of a carousel with four different starters over the last 17 games. Senior Hunter Wells began the year as the number one, but he separated his shoulder three weeks ago. Sophomore Nathan Mays has come on in his place and hasn't thrown it a lot, but when he does, he's completing 72 percent of his passes.
Wells is the projected starter Saturday.
As good as Youngstown is on offense, the strength of any Bo Pelini coached team is the defense. The Penguins are ninth in the nation in total defense and have allowed just 16 points in the last ten quarters.
The key is the pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks. YSU is tied for tenth in FCS with ten sacks in three games. University of Florida transfer Justus Reed has four to his credit. That's fifth best in the nation.
Fazson Chapman and Wesley Thompson have three sacks each.
That pressure is the key to a Penguins attack that allows only 111 yards a game through the air, the third lowest total in FCS.
Kickoff is 6:00 PM Central time in Youngstown, Saturday night.
SDSU has won the last four meetings with YSU in Ohio.
I talked with Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier about the match-up with the Penguins: