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Three Things To Watch from Youngstown State

Ohio State opens up at home in 2023 against the Penguins

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an underwhelming 23-3 win at Indiana in the season opener, Ohio State will have their 2023 home opener against FCS opponent Youngstown State of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Ohio State has previously played Youngstown State twice, winning 38-6 in 2007, and 43-0 in 2008.

This game will serve as somewhat of a homecoming for Youngstown State head coach Doug Phillips and current Penguins safety Marcus Hooker. Phillips previously served on the staff in 2006 as a quality control coach under former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, and Hooker played safety for Ohio State from 2018 through 2021.

Youngstown State had a convincing 52-10 win over Valparaiso in their season opener. The Penguins rushed for 302 yards on the ground, while also collecting five sacks against Valparaiso defensively. While Youngstown State is a FCS opponent, and Ohio State should win this game easily, this contest will serve as an opportunity to fix what issues they discovered in their season opener at Indiana, while also providing chances to build upon areas of strength.

Below are the Three Things To Watch From Youngstown State, as this game will be kicking off on The Big Ten Network at 12pm ET...

  1. The Ohio State offensive line vs. Youngstown State’s defense

Up above I wrote that the victory over Indiana was underwhelming, and a primary culprit for that unflattering definition was the play of the Ohio State offensive line. With three new starters along the offensive line, there were bound to be — and probably will continue to be — growing pains with developing cohesiveness and chemistry within that unit.

For all of the hand-wringing and angst about the lack of a downfield passing game by Ohio State in game one, the reality is that a downfield passing game requires strong pass protection by the offensive line, and the offensive line can only develop that with repetition. Youngstown State was able to collect five sacks in their win against Valparaiso, while Ohio State was able to keep both Kyle McCord and Devin Brown from being sacked even once.

Here is an opportunity to see what adjustments and improvements the coaching staff have made from the Indiana game with regards to pass blocking. More importantly, the offensive line struggled repeatedly in short yardage situations. Keep an eye on how effective Ohio State is at third down conversions, as the Buckeyes were only 2-for-12 last week against the Hoosiers.

2. The Ohio State run defense vs. Youngstown State’s offense

Penguins RB Tyshon King ran for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win over Valparaiso. Earlier this week, Michael Citro and I had the pleasure of having Joel Whetzel as a guest on The Silver Bullets Podcast to preview this contest versus Youngstown State. Josh stated that Youngstown State traditionally runs a ball-control offense, as evidenced by King’s and teammates Da’Shaun Whatley’s (5 carries for 59 yards, 1 touchdown) and Cephus Harris III’s (7 carries for 58 yards) performances against the Valparaiso Beacons.

Ohio State was able to clamp down on Indiana’s running game, limiting the Hoosiers to only 71 yards on 33 carries, a 2.2 yards per carry average. If Ohio State is as successful against Youngstown State as they were at Indiana, that should bode well for the Buckeyes as they get closer and closer to B1G conference play.

3. “Put Me In, Coach”

I wrote this article over the summer, and now is the time for Ohio State head coach Ryan Day to apply it in this game. Ohio State can play its true freshmen in up to four games, and still redshirt those players for the 2023 season.

Ohio State played the following seven players from their 2023 recruiting class at Indiana:

  • DE Arvell Reese
  • WR Carnell Tate
  • WR Noah Rogers
  • WR Brandon Inniss
  • OT Luke Montgomery
  • DB Jermaine Mathews, Jr.
  • S Malik Hartford.

Some played more prominently than others, but the point is that these players have demonstrated to the coaching staff that they are worthy of playing time.

If Ohio State plays as expected, the coaching staff should play as many of the true freshmen as they possibly can. Even more so, there are a considerable number of redshirt freshmen who should get some game time in the fourth quarter. It is imperative that Ohio State has a strong, healthy roster as the season progresses, and a good way to do that is through ample substitution when the game has been clearly won by the Buckeyes.

I wrote this last week, and I will reiterate it for this game - expect some sloppiness. Perhaps not as much as in Week 1, but there will be some mistakes that will frustrate you. Game one at Indiana, this game versus Youngstown State, and next week versus Western Kentucky, are the games the coaching staff will use as teaching tools for the first big test of the season, when Ohio State travels to South Bend on September 23rd.

I expect to see better performances across the board, and believe the coaching staff will have Devin Brown in at quarterback sooner and more frequently than he was at Indiana in game one. The Ohio State defense will look to build upon their strong showing from game one by hampering Youngstown State’s running game.

Ideally, the offensive line will play better, which will mean more downfield passing by Kyle McCord, resulting in a bigger game by Marvin Harrison, Jr. I see the Ohio State running game also being effective, and I am openly hoping that this game will give Ohio State fans a brief glimpse at true freshman quarterback Lincoln Kienholz late in the contest.

I have it Ohio State 49, Youngstown State 3.