FCS Semifinal: Youngstown State-Eastern Washington
(STATS) - Oh sure, there will be a lot of red on Saturday in the FCS national semifinal between Youngstown State and Eastern Washington.
The red turf of Roos Field.
The school colors of both teams.
Any bare skin.
The forecast for Cheney, Washington, is calling for a high under 5 degrees, so it may not be a day for the offenses - Eastern Washington's excellence notwithstanding.
"If it is a factor, it's a factor, but who is going to handle it better?" Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said. "It will never be something where I'll come back and say the weather cost us a game. I'll say they handled the weather better than us. We need to decide who is going to handle it better and not make it a factor."
The previous low game-time temperature for an EWU home game was 12 when South Dakota State visited in the 2013 second round.
FCS Playoffs Semifinal
The Matchup - Youngstown State (11-3) at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (12-1)
Kickoff - 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Roos Field (8,600) in Cheney, Washington
Coverage - ESPNU
Series - Youngstown State leads 1-0 (YSU won 25-14 on road in 1997 FCS semifinals)
Coaches - Youngstown State: Bo Pelini (16-9, two seasons; 83-36 overall); Eastern Washington: Beau Baldwin (85-31, nine seasons; 95-34 overall)
Players to Watch - Youngstown State: QB Hunter Wells (91 of 145, 1,199 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs), RB/KR Jody Webb (191 carries, 1,200 yards, 6 TDs; 25 receptions, 303 yards), DE Derek Rivers (48 TT, 15.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 18 QB hurries), LB Armand Dellovade (95 TT, 10.5 TFL, 5 QB hurries), S LeRoy Alexander (67 TT, 4.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 5 PBU); Eastern Washington: QB Gage Gubrud (368 of 537, 4,807 yards, 45 TDs, 12 INTs; 125 carries, 558 yards, 5 TDs), WR/PR Cooper Kupp (107 receptions, 1,520 yards, 15 TDs), WR Shaq Hill (75 receptions, 1,112 yards, 16 TDs), DE Samson Ebukam (68 TT, 13.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 6 QB hurries), LB Miquiyah Zamora (92 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
What to Know - The only previous meeting between these two FCS powers wasn't played at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) in the 1997 semifinals, it was held at Albi Stadium in nearby Spokane, and Youngstown State won the matchup on the way to capturing its fourth national title of the 1990s. The visitors from the Missouri Valley Football Conference are appearing in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the 2006 semifinals. The Penguins are having a tumultuous week as it's been reported four or five unnamed players, including three regulars, have been suspended for the semifinal after testing positive for banned substances following the second-round win over Jacksonville State on Dec. 3. News of an arrest last week of second-leading rusher Martin Ruiz on a gun charge also emerged in Youngstown. The Penguins had to survive a mistake-filled, 30-23 win over Wofford in double overtime in the quarterfinals. Still, second-year coach Bo Pelini's squad has been the strongest unseeded team. Averaging 257.1 rushing yards per game, their game plan will be to run the ball with Webb and perhaps Tevin McCaster. Wells has been a steady decision maker at quarterback since replacing Ricky Davis as the starter on Oct. 29. His offense averages 27.1 points per game. The defense might be the best that Eastern Washington has faced this season, allowing just 18.1 points per game (seventh-best in the FCS). Rivers and Avery Moss (10 sacks) are a pair of All-MVFC defensive ends who have fueled YSU to an FCS-high 44 sacks. They will try to flush Gubrud from the pocket, so a secondary featuring Alexander and Jameel Smith will have to hold tight against the Eagles' excellent wide receivers corps. The kicking game had been strong until Zak Kennedy missed three of his four field goal attempts and an extra point in the quarterfinal. Eastern Washington is the more explosive team as the Big Sky Conference co-champion averages 533.5 yards - second-most in the FCS - and 42.7 points - third-most. Gubrud leads the FCS in passing yards and total yards (5,365) and is nearing school and conference records in both categories. The Eagles have had one of their better seasons despite replacing six seniors from last year's offensive line. It helps to have the best wide receivers corps in the FCS, and Kupp, Hill and Kendrick Bourne (1,082) are all over 1,000 receiving yards. Kupp, who has 30 100-yard receiving games in his career, ranks first in Division I history in receptions (418), receiving yards (6,284) and touchdown receptions (71). Their maligned defense of recent years has matured into a solid unit over the second half of the season. The Eagles, whose program won the 2010 FCS title under ninth-year coach Beau Baldwin, posted their first shutout since 2009 when they beat Richmond 38-0 in the quarterfinals. Ebukam had a career day in the win and provides the senior leadership with Zamora (349 career tackles) and S Zach Bruce, who leads the team with 102 tackles. Kupp's sophomore brother Ketner has stepped up his play at linebacker with 18 tackles in the playoffs while replacing an injured Alek Kacmarcik (lower leg). Both teams have excellent weapons in the return game.
Up Next - The winner will play either No. 4 seed James Madison (12-1) or No. 1 seed North Dakota State (12-1) in the FCS championship game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
Prediction - Eastern Washington hasn't scored less than 31 points and Youngstown State hasn't allowed more than 24 to an FCS opponent. Something will give on the red turf. Eastern Washington 28-19.