This week, MSU hosts Youngstown State. Beat reporter Joe Scalzo from The Youngstown Vindicator was kind enough to answer some questions about the Penguins.
1. There have been many FCS upsets of FBS teams this season. Is that something that gives the Penguins some more motivation or confidence for this Saturday?
I think they gain confidence from the fact that they were competitive against Michigan State two years ago, then beat Pitt last year. And I'm sure YSU's coaches will draw attention to the fact that Jim Delany compared FCS schools to junior varsity teams last week. On a deeper level, I think every FCS player believes he's good enough to play at the FBS level and wants to prove it. This game means significantly more to FCS players, YSU's included.
2. Offensively, YSU has put up some impressive numbers. What should MSU expect to see in terms of style, and who are some playmakers?
YSU leads the FCS in rushing right now (363.0 yards per game), although some of that was due to the level of competition. (The Penguins played two non-scholarship FCS teams.) Still, Eric Wolford loves to run the ball to set up play-action. YSU's offense has been the strength of the team in his four seasons but it's more of a grind-it-out, control-the-clock approach. Other than WR Andre Stubbs (who is also a running threat), there's not a lot of explosive playmakers. But when QB Kurt Hess is playing well, he makes good decisions and keeps the chains moving.
3. On the other side of the ball, it hasn't taken much to stop this MSU offense. How has Youngstown State's defense looked, and who are some key players?
YSU's defense has been a weakness in recent years but it's looked a lot faster this season. One player to watch is junior linebacker Travis Williams, who is a three-year starter who transferred from the University of Miami (Fla.). He's got NFL talent. The secondary is a little suspect, but, like you said, Michigan State hasn't exactly been lighting up the scoreboard.
4. What are three keys to victory for the Penguins?
The first key is turnovers. When YSU went through a four-game losing streak last year, it had a bundle of turnovers in three of those games. Turnovers always matter, but they matter more when the other team has a lot more talent.The second key is running the ball. Hess has been a little shaky at times over the past two seasons and he's not usually someone who can win the game by himself.Third? The Penguins need a little luck. Maybe get a couple turnovers or some lucky bounces.
5. Do you have a score prediction?
I think Michigan State will win 28-13. Because Narduzzi's dad coached at YSU (and was fired just before the Penguins hired Jim Tressel), and because Dantonio has YSU ties, they're not going to look past YSU, especially after all the FCS upsets this season. But I think the Penguins can keep it close, in part because the Spartans don't look like they're going to be blowing anyone out this year.
Thanks again to Joe for answering some questions. Check out Vindy.com for Youngstown State coverage.