YSU preps for home opener against Dayton

Kurt Hess
Kurt Hess

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The No. 24-ranked Youngstown State football team opens its 73rd season on Thursday, Aug. 29, playing host to Dayton at Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM/iHeartRadio and is live on MyYTV.

It is the first meeting between the Flyers and Penguins since 1977. Dayton has had the upperhand in the series winning all nine previous games, including a 27-23 win on Oct. 22, 1977, the most recent meeting between the schools.

YSU is coming off a 7-4 campaign while the Flyers were 6-5. Both teams ended the 2012 campaign on a good note. The Penguins won their final three games of the season while Dayton won five of its last six contests.

Last year YSU opened the year winning its first four games before dropping four consecutive contests. The Guins regained their winning form in November beating South Dakota, Western Illinois and Indiana State to end the year. The seven wins were the most for the Penguins since 2006.

Dayton started 1-4 which included narrow losses to Jacksonville and Butler; however, the Flyers lost just once down the stretch earning wins over Davidson, Morehead State, Valparaiso, Drake and Marist.

After opening the season on the road for the past six campaigns, the Guins are set to open up at home for the first time since 2006. YSU had opened its previous six seasons playing road games at BCS foes. Last season, YSU started the campaign with an impressive 31-17 victory over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

At Stambaugh Stadium, the Penguins have won 17 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 campaign when they lost to Stephen F. Austin. In the 17 games since then, YSU has outscored its opponents by an impressive 675-177 margin. In season-opening games, the Guins improved to 40-30-2 all-time with their win over the Panthers last year.

YSU remains at home to take on Morehead State next Saturday at 4 p.m. Tickets are available by calling (330) 941-1978.

2012 Wrapup • The Penguins were feast or famine during the campaign. They were 4-0 in September, 0-4 in October and 3-0 in November. • The 4-0 start was the best start to a year since opening the 2000 season with six straight victories. • The Penguins led by double figures in nine of 11 games during the season. YSU also had the lead at halftime eight times. • YSU scored 27-or-more points on eight occasions. • YSU played seven FCS programs that were ranked at some point in time during the season. • The Penguins had a balanced offense averaging 198.8 yards through the air and 187.3 yards on the ground. • For the third consecutive year, YSU had at least 25 rushing touchdowns. YSU had 25 in 2012. • YSU allowed just eight sacks, the fewest number allowed in a season in school history. • YSU lost only six fumbles, marking the ninth straight season of losing nine-or-fewer fumbles in a campaign. • YSU had more time of possession nine times and more first downs and total offensive yards in nine games. • The Penguins did not commit a turnover in five games. YSU was 4-1 in turnover-free games. • YSU averaged 71.6 plays per game compared to just 58 per game by their opponents. • The Penguins had 22 scoring drives that lasted 10-or-more plays. • YSU had 25 scoring drives of 70-plus yards, including eight of 80-or-more yards. • YSU tied the school record for 3rd-down conversion percentage at 51.9 percent (1989). YSU was 82-of-158 on the year. • The defense allowed just 95.5 yards rushing per game, the lowest output since 1994 and third-lowest total since 1966. YSU held five opponents under 71 yards rushing. The Penguins allowed one 100-yard rusher on the campaign (NDSU’s John Crockett had 103 yards). • YSU allowed 11 rushing touchdowns, the fewest since 10 in 2005. In 2011, YSU allowed 24. • The Penguins scored a touchdown in 10 of 11 first quarters (did not score in the finale vs. Indiana State). • In the final 14 quarters of the season, YSU outscored its opponents 92-29. The Penguins had 1,371 total offensive yards to the opposition’s 740 yards. • YSU scored 80-plus points in the fourth (80), second (94) and first (100) quarters. The Guins had just 44 in the third.

Dayton Scouting Report Dayton returns 14 starters from last season’s team that went 6-5. The Flyers started the campaign with a 1-4 mark before rallying to win five of their final six games. Offensively, quarterback Will Bardo returns after completing 152-of-306 passes for 1,687 yards and eight touchdowns. Running back Robert Washington was the Flyers’ second-leading rusher last year with 459 yards and six touchdowns. Wide receiver Branden Johnson led UD in receptions with 28 despite missing the final five games. Of the 14 starters returning, eight are on defense. Leading the defense is linebacker Colin Monnier, defensive end Pat Dowd and cornerback Kyle Sebetic. Monnier had a team-high 92 tackles, Dowd led the way with 8.5 sacks while Sebetic led the FCS in pass breakups averaging two per game (18 total – 15 breakups and three INTs).

1977 Dayton Recap The Penguins turned the ball over five times, leading to 17 Dayton points in a 27-23 loss to the Flyers at Rayen Stadium in the last meeting between the two programs on Oct. 22, 1977. Dayton jumped out to a 10-0 lead taking advantage of the first YSU turnover when Scott Terry scored on a one-yard run to cap a six-yard drive in the first quarter. YSU responded when Marschell Brumfield capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard scoring run. The Flyers went back on top by 10 points before Brumfield scored on another one-yard run. Don McCloud returned an interception 20 yards giving the Guins a 21-17 advantage in the second. However, Dayton scored 10 points in the final 3:16 of the quarter to go on top 27-21 at halftime. In the second half, YSU scored on a safety in the fourth quarter, but could not complete the comeback attempt. Dayton attempted two 50-plus yard field goals (56 and 57) in the second half to no avail.

YSU-Dayton History The Penguins will be looking to snap a nine-game losing skid in the all-time series against the Flyers that started in the program’s second year of existence. Only three of the nine previous meetings have been played in Youngstown – 1939, 1951 and 1977 (this will be the third different stadium). Of the nine contests, four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Dayton has scored 22-or-more points in six of the nine meetings while YSU has scored 20-plus points in just two games. The Guins have never scored more than 27 points in the series.

12-Game Regular Season The Penguins are playing 12 regular-season games for just the second time in school history. The only other time was during the 2003 campaign in which YSU was 5-7. However, two of those wins came against non-Division I foes (Edinboro and Slippery Rock). This is first time in school history the Penguins have played 12 Division I regular-season games. YSU has not played a non-Division I team since 2008.

August Record The Penguins are a perfect 7-0 in the month of August at Stambaugh Stadium. In the seven games, YSU has outscored its opponents by a combined 236-72. All-time, YSU is 7-1 in August with the lone blemish a defeat at Ohio State in 2008.

Non-Conference at Home YSU has won 18 of its last 19 non-conference regular-season home games since September 2004. The lone loss was a final-play 31-28 setback to Liberty in 2008. Coach Eric Wolford is 6-0 at home against non-conference foes with wins over Albany, Butler, Valparaiso (twice), Central Connecticut State and Saint Francis (Pa.). In those six games, the Guins have outscored the opposition 270-91 (an average of 54-18.2).

Season Openers The Penguins are 40-30-2 all-time in season openers. YSU started the 2012 campaign with an impressive 31-17 win at Pittsburgh. It marked the first time the Guins had won a season opener since beating Slippery Rock in 2006.

Home Opener Win Streak The Penguins have won 17 straight home openers dating back to the 1995 campaign when it lost to Stephen F. Austin. In the 17 games since then, YSU has outscored its opponents by an impressive 675-177. Since then the Penguins have pitched three shutouts while the most points allowed was 21 by Slippery Rock in 2006 and Austin Peay in 2009. On offense, the Guins have scored at least 23 points in each of those games and gone over 30 on 13 occasions, including a high of 77 versus Valparaiso in 2011.

More on Home Openers YSU is 48-22-2 all-time in home openers dating back to the program’s beginning in 1938. Since moving to Stambaugh Stadium in 1982, YSU is 24-6-1 in the first home game of the season. Since 1989, YSU is 20-1-1 in home openers. It has also won 17 straight since 1996.

All-Time Home Opener Notes Most Points: 77 vs. Valparaiso, 2011 Fewest Points: 0 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 1995 (3 times) Opp. Most Points: 43 by Southern Illinois, 1969 Opp. Fewest Points: 0 by Valparaiso, 2012 (10 times) Margin of Victory: 64 | 77-13 vs. Valparaiso, 2011

Home Opener Win Streak 2012 • YSU 59, Valparaiso 0 2011 • YSU 77, Valparaiso 13 2010 • YSU 31, Butler 7 2009 • YSU 38, Austin Peay 21 2008 • YSU 38, Central State 0 2007 • YSU 23, South Dakota State 17 2006 • YSU 51, Slippery Rock 21 2005 • YSU 44, Slippery Rock 14 2004 • YSU 35, Slippery Rock 13 2003 • YSU 35, Edinboro 11 2002 • YSU 27, Clarion 14 2001 • YSU 38, Lock Haven 7 2000 • YSU 24, Slippery Rock 10 1999 • YSU 44, Slippery Rock 14 1998 • YSU 50, Clarion 6 1997 • YSU 33, Slippery Rock 9 1996 • YSU 28, Wofford 0

Against the Buckeye State YSU is 70-60-5 against teams from within the boarders of the state of Ohio. At home, YSU is 45-22-3 in those contests. YSU has played 16 different schools from Ohio during the program’s history.

Schedule Oddity The last time the Penguins played their first two games at home was 2006. Conversely, the last time they played their first two conference games on the road was 2002. YSU opens with Dayton and Morehead State at home and plays at Southern Illinois and Indiana State in conference play this year.

Opponent Setbacks Rare YSU has never defeated Dayton in nine previous meetings. In fact, the Penguins are winless against just two other teams who they have played at least three times. The other teams are Case Western Reserve (0-3) and the Pensacola Naval Academy (0-3). In two of the defeats, Pensacola was led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach.

Five to Serve as Captains The Penguins will have five captains for the 2013 campaign. Head Coach Eric Wolford announced on Aug. 20 that quarterback Kurt Hess, wide receiver Jelani Berassa, center Chris Elkins, strong safety Donald D’Alesio and linebacker Dom Rich have been named team captains. With his selection, Hess becomes the first three-time captain in school history after serving in 2011 and 2012. Rich is a repeat pick from the 2012 campaign. D’Alesio is the lone non-senior in the group.

Returning Starters On offense, YSU returns starters Kurt Hess (QB), Kyle Bryant (OT), Chris Elkins (C), Andrew Williams (WR), Andre Stubbs (WR), Christian Bryan (WR). Bryan, Hess and Elkins started all 11 games. On defense, returning starters include Teven Williams (LB), Travis Williams (LB), Dom Rich (LB), Julius Childs (CB) and Kyle Sirl (DE) return. Dom Rich and Childs are the two returning defensive players who started all 11 games last season. Punter Nick Liste, long snapper Nathan Gibbs and holder Dante Nania all return for that unit.

Youthful Defense The Penguins have just four seniors on defense this year – DE Kyle Sirl, DT D.J. Moss, LB Dom Rich and LB Ali Cheaib. Rich has 11 career starts (eight in 2012 and three in 2010), Sirl started six games a year ago, Moss has three (two in 2012 and one in 2010) and Cheaib has two (one each in 2011 and 2012). So in total, the four seniors on defense have started 22 games in their careers.

Lefty’s Few & Far Between  Preseason All-American senior C Chris Elkins is set to make his first start at the position versus Dayton. Elkins has started the past 26 games, including each game the last two years at right guard. Elkins is just one of two FCS centers who are left-handed. The other is Wagner’s David Fredrickson who has started 24 straight games. Note courtesy of Wagner’s John Beisser.

Clamped Down on the Run YSU ranked fifth nationally in the FCS against the run in 2012, holding opponents to 95 yards per contest. The only four teams to finish in front of the Penguins were Harvard, Montana, North Carolina A&T and North Dakota State. The last time the Penguins had allowed fewer than 100 yards on average in a season was 1994 (85.7 per contest).

New Chef in the Kitchen The go-to running back of the past three seasons Jamaine Cook is gone and so are 4,052 yards and 811 carries of experience; however, YSU does have some players who can emerge in the backfield. Senior Adaris Bellamy has 1,018 yards on 200 carries, senior Torrian Pace has 523 yards on 100 rushes and sophomore Demond Hymes had 93 yards on 17 attempts last year. Bellamy had 545 yards on 110 attempts during his freshman campaign in 2010. QB Kurt Hess has rushed for 427 yards on 157 attempts in his career.

Providing Protection In 33 games under Head Coach Eric Wolford, YSU has allowed just 32 sacks. Conversely, senior quarterback Kurt Hess has started all of those contests. Last season, YSU allowed a school-record low eight sacks. The Guins ranked seventh in the FCS in fewest sacks allowed per game (0.73). The YSU offensive line has surrendered just 19 sacks in the last 23 games as well. Only seven times in the 33 games under Wolford and assistant coach Carmen Bricillo have the Guins allowed more than one sack, and four of those came in 2010. In the contests against Pittsburgh, Michigan State and Penn State, the Penguins allowed a total of one sack (PSU).

Red-Zone Success YSU has converted at a high success rate in the red zone under Head Coach Eric Wolford. The Penguins are 35-of-43 inside the red-zone last season (81.7 percent). The Guins scored 31 touchdowns and made four field goals in those trips. In his 33 games as coach, the Penguins are 118-for-136 (86.7 percent) inside the red zone. In 47 visits in 2011, the Penguins scored 39 touchdowns and kicked three field goals. YSU scored a total of 280 points on 42 of those 47 visits (89.4 percent). During Wolford’s first campaign in 2010, YSU was 41-of-45 in the red zone for a conversion percentage of 91.1 percent.

Standout Coaching Staff YSU has one of the best all-around coaching staffs in the FCS and would make some FBS schools green with envy. The offensive assistants feature former National Coach-of-the-Year Mark Mangino (tight ends), former FBS head coach Shane Montgomery (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), veteran play caller Kurt Beathard (wide receivers), fourth-year assistant Carmen Bricillo (offensive line) and newcomer Eric Gallon (tailbacks). The defensive staff includes former BCS coordinator Joe Tresey (defensive coordinator/safeties), veteran BCS line coach Tom Sims (defensive line), a member of the Stoops coaching family Ron Stoops (linebackers) and second-year assistant Glenn Davis (cornerbacks). Jamie Bryant, a former defensive coordinator in the SEC, serves as the program’s special teams coordinator.

Hess Holds Career Marks Senior QB Kurt Hess enters his final season as the program’s record holder for career touchdown passes (53), passing yards per game (202.9), 200-yard passing games (18) and passer rating (141.78). He is second in yards (6,697), completion percentage (62.3) and TDs responsible for and third in completions (542) and total offensive yards (7,124). With two completions against Dayton he would move into second place in completions ahead of Trenton Lykes’ 543. In 33 games, Hess has thrown a touchdown pass in 25 games and has 18 multi-TD performances. He has one rushing touchdown in eight different contests. He is the first quarterback in school history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in three straight seasons.

Three is Still Important In the three seasons under Coach Eric Wolford, YSU is a combined 21-of-26 on field-goal attempts (80.7 percent). Last season, PK David Brown converted from 47 (Indiana State), 31 (Western Illinois), 27 (Valparaiso), 25 (Pittsburgh, Albany) and 20 (ISU) yards. In 2011, the Penguins did not make a field goal in the first eight games before converting a 28-yard kick at UNI and two (33 and 30) at North Dakota State. The 30-yard kick by Brown in the third quarter at North Dakota State turned out to be the difference in the game. YSU was 12-of-14 in 2010.

Hess Among FCS’ Best Senior QB Kurt Hess ranks in the top seven in four categories. Hess’s 53 touchdown passes are fifth most among active players, his passer rating is sixth while his 6,698 yards and his 542 completions are seventh.

Receivers Grow Up The past two seasons the Penguins have relied primarily on freshmen and sophomores at the wide-receiver spot. In 2013, that group will be one of the most experienced on the roster. Senior Jelani Berassa returns from a knee injury that kept him out last year. Berassa, who had 37 catches, including eight TDs, in 2011, was named a team captain. Junior Christian Bryan has started every game the past two seasons. He has 76 career receptions for 1,094 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior Kevin Watts has 45 career catches while sophomore Andrew Williams had 27 a year ago. Williams had 24 of those in the final seven games of the year. YSU returns all 99 catches (115 if you include wide receiver/now tight end Kintrell Disher from last year’s squad. In fact, from the 2011 team,  120 of the 139 grabs are back from that year as well.

Single Digits in Fumbles The Guins lost six fumbles last season and have given up single digits in fumbles for eight straight seasons. In 2011, YSU lost five fumbles while in 2010, the Penguins lost nine. In 2009, YSU lost just three fumbles. In 2008, YSU lost nine in 12 games. YSU had nine fumbles lost in 2007, five in 2006, eight in 2005 and eight in 2004. Prior to the current eight-year streak, the Guins had committed single digits in fumbles lost in consecutive years just twice in school history (1986-87 and 1958-59).

Bryan Is Mr. Dependable Junior WR Christian Bryan has caught a pass in every game of his YSU career while hauling in a touchdown pass in almost half of them. In 22 career games played, Bryan has caught a touchdown pass in nine of them. He has started every game as well.

Top of the Liste Senior punter Nick Liste continues to be a key contributor as punter and kickoff specialist. Handling kickoff duties, last year he had 18 touchbacks after having just three in 2011. He averaged 40.7 yards per punt this season. As a sophomore, he averaged 39.8 yards per punt while 16 kicks were inside the opposition’s 20. He averaged 41.1 yards per kick in 2010. He has 131 career punts for an average of 40.6 per boot. He has 18 kicks of 50 yards or longer in his three seasons as punter.

Line Features Variety The Penguins offensive line features four seniors, two juniors, five redshirt freshmen and four true freshmen. Of the 15 players, only Chris Elkins, Kyle Bryant and Stephen Page have started during their YSU careers. Page is a backup center to Elkins, who has assumed center duties after three seasons at right guard. Seniors Fred Herdman and Andrew Sinko along with Brock Eisenhuth will make their starting debuts against Dayton. Herdman takes over the left guard spot vacated by Lamar Mady and Sinko replaces D.J. Main.

Picking up The Pace Senior TB Torrian Pace provided a spark for the Penguins last year. Pace rushed for 320 yards on 62 carries last season. Entering the year, Pace had 203 yards on 38 carries in his career. Besides Jamaine Cook, he was the only Penguin to rush for more than 130 yards last year. He had five rushing scores on the year with three coming in the fourth quarter.

Defense Has Mainstays Three members of the Penguins defense have more than 100 career tackles. Junior LB Teven Williams has 130 tackles, junior LB Travis Williams has 119 and Donald D’Alesio has been credited with 113. Three others have at least 38 tackles. Senior LB Ali Cheaib has 70, Julius Childs has 52 and Dom Rich has 38. This group of six players has played in 130 games and recorded 522 total stops.

2013 Senior Class The Penguins’ 2013 senior class features 15 players, eight of which have been with the program for five years. The eight players who have been at YSU for eight years are Jelani Berassa, Ferd Herdman, Kurt Hess, Nick Liste, D.J. Moss, Torrian Pace, Dom Rich, Carson Sharbaugh and Kyle Sirl. Five of the other seniors, Chris Elkins, Andrew Sinko, Kevin Watts, Adaris Bellamy and Ali Cheaib, were members of Coach Eric Wolford’s first recruiting class. Senior OT Kyle Bryant is a transfer from Bowling Green who joined the program in 2012.

President Debut Dr. Randy J. Dunn became the new president at Youngstown State University in July. With Dr. Dunn’s appointment, it marks the seventh time that a new president has taken office since the Penguins have played football. So far in the new presidents first game, YSU is 4-2 with wins in 1966, 1984, 1992 and 2000. The defeats came in 1973 and 2010 – to Dayton and Penn State.

Numbers of Note • Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 108-24 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 15-52. Since 1990 YSU is: • 137-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game. • 111-12 when rushing for 200-plus yards. • 130-22 when scoring 28-or-more points. • 70-8-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game. • 161-11 when leading entering the fourth. • 73-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next: Morehead State YSU plays an old Ohio Valley Conference foe when Morehead State visits Stambaugh Stadium next Saturday, Sept. 7. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. The Penguins and Eagles have played 14 times before with the most recent contest coming in 1987. YSU won that game 38-14 then left the OVC in 1988. Ironically that win over the Eagles won the conference title for the Penguins and clinched a playoff berth in what was their final OVC game.

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