Published: Saturday, November 11, 2006
Line's consistent effort has been key for offense
The Penguins visit Western Kentucky today in the regular season finale.
By PETE MOLLICA
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. Consistency on the offensive line has been a big factor in the success of the Youngstown State football team this season.
The Penguins (8-2, 5-1 Gateway Conference) have been averaging nearly 400 yards and over 30 points per game and it all begins with up front.
The Penguins wind up regular season play today with a 5:07 p.m. kickoff against Western Kentucky in another important Gateway clash.
A win would give the Penguins at least a share of the conference title and assure them of a playoff berth, possibly even the conference's automatic bid.
A loss and another 8-3 finish would put the Penguins at the mercy of the NCAA I-AA selection committee again, although their chances of getting an at-large bid are much better this season than last year's eight-win team.
Health has been important
Consistency has been a key word with the YSU offense this season, right down to the starters on the offensive line.
The Penguins have started the same five interior linemen in every game.
They are led by All-Gateway Conference center Ryan Jewell (6-foot-4, 285 pounds, senior), left guard Josh Tanner (6-2, 305, junior), right guard Brad Samsa (6-3, 280, sophomore), left tackle Tyler Booth (6-6, 300, junior) and right tackle Pat Walker (6-5, 290, senior).
That group has helped the Penguins average 236.5 rushing yards and 150.4 passing yards, and 33.4 points per game.
"It's a big plus to have that same group in there all season long," said YSU coach Jon Heacock. "They all feel very comfortable with each other and it shows in their performance."
Nobody appreciates the line like senior tailback Marcus Mason, who has rushed for 1,496 yards and 19 touchdowns. And the line takes great pride in the fact that Mason is the leading rusher in Division I, averaging 166.2 yards per game.
Junior quarterback Tom Zetts is another player who appreciates the support of his line.
Zetts has passed for 1,393 yards and thrown 10 touchdowns, while also running for three TDs and another 242 yards.
YSU snapped a four-game losing streak against the Hilltoppers last season with a season-ending 42-10 win at Stambaugh Stadium. Western Kentucky still leads the overall series 10-5 and YSU has won only once in Bowling Green.
Other Gateway games
Elsewhere today in the Gateway, Northern Iowa (6-3, 4-1) will visit Southern Illinois (6-3, 3-3) in Carbondale, Ill., at 4 p.m.
The Panthers won a squeaker last season, 25-24, and neither team has won more than one game in a row in the series since 1997.
Illinois State (7-2, 4-1) will travel to Terre Haute, Ind., to take on Indiana State (1-9, 1-5) at 1:05 p.m.
The Redbirds routed the Sycamores, 70-28, a year ago, but Indiana State holds a slight edge in the series, 28-27-2.
Missouri State (1-9, 0-6) gets its final shot at a conference victory at home against Western Illinois (5-5, 2-4) in Springfield, Mo. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
The Leathernecks won last year's contest, 34-24, and have won three of the last four games. They lead the series, 13-11-1.