YOUNGSTOWN – South Dakota State flexed its muscles and showed Youngstown State why it’s the No. 1 team in the FCS, the defending national champion and 24-game winning streak.
With a stout defense leading the way, the Jackrabbits shut out the Penguins 34-0 on Saturday afternoon, limiting YSU to just 207 yards.
It was the first time the Penguins had been held scoreless since last season at Kentucky, and the first time they had been held scoreless at home since Oct. 2017 vs Illinois State.
“They beat us in every area and it starts with coaching,” head coach Doug Phillips said. “If you want to point fingers, you can point at me. But he beats us in every area, whether it’s coaching, special teams, defense, offense – that’s why he has a 24-game winning streak. That’s what it looks like. We haven’t had a problem like that for a few years now, so it cuts you down. You realize that’s what it looks like, and we’re going to start working tomorrow and continue to work and build to make it look like that. “
Even when YSU got going on offense and put together small plays and first downs, they couldn’t finish or advance their drives against the Jackrabbits’ defensive defense.
The Penguins moved the ball into the red zone three times, each time coming up empty. On the offensive end, SDSU was 4-for-4 in the red zone. The Jackrabbits came in leading the nation in red zone efficiency at 97.1 percent.
On the first drive, YSU drove 63 yards in 13 plays before punting and settling for a 29-yard field goal. But the Jackrabbits blocked the field goal and returned it near midfield. SDSU then turned the score into an own goal late in the half.
YSU’s second drive into the red zone came shortly after the Jackrabbits opened the second quarter with a 56-yard pass from Mark Gronowski to Jadon Janke. The Penguins drove 70 yards in 11 plays, stopping at the SDSU 11-yard line and turning the ball over on downs.
On YSU’s third time in the red zone, the Penguins turned the ball over on a 82-yard drive.
“Defensively, they are big up front, (and) hard to move,” Phillips said. “They’ve really squeezed the gaps and they’ve got linebackers moving. Their secondary, they’ve got 15 tackles in 10 games now. So they do a good job — well-coached, well-rounded. Again, I appreciate them and I respect them. They’ve been building this over time. That’s the defensive end. country, and there is a reason. It shows us that there are other areas where we need to improve.”
Normally, YSU leans on its running game, trying to set up a ground attack to help the offense get on the road, but the Jackrabbits were able to pull that off – holding the Penguins to 47 rushing yards on 25 carries.
YSU’s offense struggled, as quarterback Mitch Davidson was 18-for-30 for 160 yards and a touchdown.
“We didn’t just come to play as an offense,” Davidson said. “We have to finish the ball when it is given to us. To be able to run the ball, we have to establish a running game – we must not make mistakes and we were not today. We knew all week that we have to take care of the ball or they will benefit from it, and they did.”
On a drive that ended in restricted territory late in the half, the Penguins thought they had a 40-yard touchdown at the start of the series, but the play was blown by the officials just before the end of the play to review a missed call. play.
“I was in the middle of the game throwing the ball, and I heard the whistle. But this is in my hands as a player,” Davidson said. “For me, the next play is the most important, and for us, we didn’t get down and we didn’t finish the drive. If we score there, it’s a football game. But at the end of the day, it’s already over and it doesn’t matter. … It was a call from (the officials) and they made that call, and there was no what we can do with it.”
Now, the Penguins are in the same situation as they were last season in terms of the FCS playoff bubble. YSU is currently 6-4 with one game remaining in the regular season next week at Murray State.
Win that, and the Penguins match last season’s record at 7-4. The difference this year, though, is that YSU will have a victory on the resume — a 31-3 win over Southern Illinois back on Oct. 7.
“The (Murray State) game will be a very important game,” Phillips said. “I always say that’s how it ends, and we’ll find a way for this team to come back and finish strong.” We have to finish on the practice field and we have to finish our meetings. Traveling the Missouri Valley road is not easy, but I will worry about it (Sunday). Today, I am humble. If you kick your ass like we did and we’ll learn something and we’ll be fine. “