That is, of course, exactly how the Mountaineers are not approaching the contest. Line coach Bruce Tall is all too aware that going into any game with such a mentality is a recipe for an upset, or at least a closer score than warranted. That's especially true against a YSU program which performed markedly better than expected in an opening 45-10 over Duquesne. First-time starting quarterback Ricky Davis completed 12-of-16 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns (235 QB efficiency rating), while rushing for 74 yards on 10 carries behind an effective line.
The Penguins led 24-3 late in the second quarter, and outscored Duquesne 21-0 in the latter half. Four backs rushed for at least 74 yards, with six averaging at least 5.2 yards per carry in the balanced attack. This could be much ado about nothing, as the Dukes' defense isn't close to the caliber Youngstown State will face this Saturday. But it does show an ability to execute and avoid mistakes and negative yardage plays against a program that reached the FCS playoffs last season. YSU isn't flashy, but they're sound across the board, which creates challenges in itself.
"You just have to keep the attention up," said end Christian Brown, named by head coach Dana Holgorsen as among the top performers against Missouri after he recorded three tackles and his first career fumble recovery. "Coach Tall does a great job with our drills and stuff. It’s the same thing every week. That’s just how our mentality is right now. You just have to bring it each game. It's something that just is. I've been playing this game for five years now, so it's something I learned to just keep doing in the future."
Brown was literally all over the field against the Tigers, the end chasing down plays sideline to sideline while controlling gaps and negating any UM advantages on runs to his side. Brown kept the linebackers largely clean and able to scrape and fit the proper gaps to make plays, and showed high motor and a tenacity that has at times been touched in the past, but never with as much consistency as both Brown and the staff would have liked.
"We run to the ball mostly every practice so it’s just something that’s a habit," Brown said. "I was just trying to help my team out, doing whatever I needed to do to come out with the win. I wanted to play with a whole lot of effort and execute. I wasn’t worrying about (my performance), I was just worrying about the situation of the game and just come out with the win, really. I was steady running to the ball, so I knew I was going to have a good game."
Brown said he had it in "it in the back of my mind that I had to show everybody what type of player I am. I have been conditioning more, so I have been running to the ball more. And when you run to the ball more you are going to make more plays. If you feel like you are going to dominate the game, then you are going to do whatever you need to do."
That was a major part of the success against Missouri. The Tigers had very few cutback lanes, and when they used tempo - as they did for much of the game - the Mountaineers had to have its linemen slowing cutbacks even when the offensive sets were spread out. Missouri often left the same personnel on the field between second and third downs in an effort to try to gain advantages in speed, quickness and play in space by not allowing the Mountaineers to get into nickel and dime sets, or sub out defensive linemen.
It will pay dividends down the road," Tall said of the line's pursuit of the play. "People are going to see it on tape, and when you've got 300 pound men running to the ball, people aren't cutting the ball back. The thing they did is use the same personnel grouping so they didn't sub, and if they don't sub, you can't sub. There weren't enough dead ball situations to exchange that."
Tall said he used a four-man rotation of Noble Nwachukwu, Brown, Darrien Howard and Adam Shuler to start the game, then rolled in a fifth lineman starting in the second quarter. The first two series were played by the starters, with Shuler in place of Brown to begin Missouri's third drive. Tall then played Morgantown native Jon Lewis before using Alec Shriner in the second half. Reese Donahue saw time in the fourth quarter.
"I think our entire group played too many snaps," Tall said. "You don't ever want to play 100 snaps, but that's just the way they played their game. They had one of the fastest tempos I have ever seen, so you're gonna have to play more snaps. Ideally, you'd like to cut those down a little more, and we are going to keep watching and looking at how we can bring other guys around to reduce that a bit."
Youngstown State's pace of play will be considerably slower, as the underdog Penguins try and run clock via a steady diet of running between the tackles and mixing in play action to the tight ends, as well as safe routes by the wideouts. That should allow the Mountaineers to more freely substitute, and hopefully get the game to a situation where the starters can rest while the younger reserves gain valuable experience.