CEDAR FALLS — The more Mark Farley looked at the film, the more he kept coming to the same conclusion — Youngstown State has a very good football team.
Farley said he doesn’t see a 3-6 team that has struggled from time to time. He sees the usual Bo Pelini-coached team that will have a stout defense and a multiple offense led by a dynamic quarterback in Montgomery Van Gorder, a transfer from Notre Dame.
Asked if the Penguins (3-6 overall, 2-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) will embrace playing the spoiler role, Farley said his team can’t be concerned about that.
“I think the challenge for us is really very evident,” Farley said. “We have to be consistent. We are capable. There are times we haven’t been as consistent as we need to be.
“We just have to focus on our job, understand what they are trying to do to counter what we do and be able to adapt during the football game.”
Youngstown State has been somewhat of an enigma in 2018. It opened with a home loss to non-scholarship Butler, a team that is now 3-6, and was blown out by Indiana State (43-17) in its last home game.
But the Penguins have also been competitive in a seven-point loss at Western Illinois (45-38) and were tied with top-ranked North Dakota State heading into the fourth quarter last week before eventually falling 17-7.
“They played a very good football game against them (the Bison) and I’m sure they will take that confidence into this weekend,” Farley said.
Pelini had the same assessment.
“Our guys played their hearts out,” Pelini said in his post-game interview. “They played together. They played for each other. We got better today.”
The Penguins’ defense is led by senior linebacker Armand Dellovade, who had a career-high 16 tackles against North Dakota State while forcing a fumble. His 317 career tackles are the most by a Youngstown State defender since 2000.
“I know they don’t have the best record, but they have a lot of talent on the team and a coaching staff that schemes up their opponents very well,” UNI quarterback Eli Dunne said. “They gave NDSU their all. It was a close game the whole game. We know they have a lot of talent and it is going to be a tough opponent. We are going to have to be our best.”
The Panthers did enough offensively to beat No. 13 Illinois State 26-16 last weke, but feel they are going to have to do more against the Penguins.
“Same as always. It is Pelini-style. It is going to be tough,” Farley said of Youngstown State’s defense. “You can draw it up 100 different ways, but he always has somebody in the gap. He is on top of you and that is why you really have to earn anything you get against their defense like North Dakota State learned last weekend.”
Offensively, Youngstown State features 900-plus yard rusher Tevin McCaster who has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Penguins’ home games. Of his 957 yards and eight touchdowns, 764 and five TDs have come inside Stambaugh Stadium.
Van Gorder started Youngstown State’s first eight games, but veteran Nathan Mays made the start last week before Van Gorder came on in relief.
Both Mays and Van Gorder can run, having combined for 368 rushing yards.
“He (Van Gorder) can make plays with his feet just as much as with his throws,” Farley said. “We have to be disciplined on defense again.”
The final hurdle UNI will have to clear is an early start. The game kicks off off at 11 a.m., the earliest start time of any Panther game this fall.
“That is another challenge. You’ve got to get up in the morning and go to work,” Farley said. “To a player, it can’t phase them. That is why our routine is pretty set.”