YOUNGSTOWN - There are a lot of factors that give the Youngstown State University football team at least a chance at winning when it travels to East Lansing, Mich. to take on Michigan State on Saturday.
The Penguins are comfortable - they played at Spartan Stadium in 2011, so they know the surroundings. They're confident - they beat Pittsburgh, a Football Bowl Subdivision school, 31-17 in 2012. And they're talented - they set a school record with 718 total yards last week and lead the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing (averaging 363 yards per contest).
YSU coach Eric Wolford said none of that matters if they're not prepared.
"We'll determine today if we're going to have an opportunity to play well on Saturday," said Wolford at Tuesday's weekly press conference. "What that means is it's about our preparation. You win or lose games on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That's what lets you go out there play fast and do what you're coached to do."
The Penguins (2-0) will certainly need to play fast against Michigan State (2-0), which boasts a defense ranked third in the FBS (allowing 179.5 yards per game). After a few days off following their 67-13 beat down of Morehead State, arguably the weakest opponent on YSU's schedule, the Penguins began preparing for what is probably their toughest foe of 2013.
It's a rather different situation than last year, when YSU had the entire spring and most of summer to ready itself for Pitt.
"Ultimately, I think it was just the preparation we had before that game that really put us over," said YSU quarterback Kurt Hess of beating the Panthers. "This is a very vital time for us. We only get three or four practices to work on Michigan State, where as last year it was a little bit different - we practiced for weeks for Pitt. We're going to see how in tune our guys are, and obviously that falls on the leaders."
Most of YSU's preparation will be focused on a Spartan defense that had dominating performances against Western Michigan and South Florida. MSU's defense has scored four of the team's six touchdowns this year - including a 21-yard interception return by Hubbard High School product Kurtis Drummond, the starting free safety. The Spartans have allowed 19 total points, their defensive line averages 6 foot 4 1/2 and 273 pounds and their secondary has two players who were named to the preseason All-Big Ten team.
"They're a big, athletic team, and they're well coached," Hess said of the defense. "Their schemes are something that they're used to. They've been in their system for a while, so they definitely know where they're going to be and what time they're going to be there. It's going to be a big test for us."
Studying for that test started Tuesday.