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Questions remain on defense



Published: Mon, September 4, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



There wasn't anybody in Stambaugh Stadium Thursday night who really thought Slippery Rock had a chance to upend Youngstown State.

But early in the third quarter when The Rock pulled to within seven points 28-21 a lot of people started wondering about just how good the Penguins were supposed to be this year.

As it turned out, YSU played very well over the final quarter and-a-half and pulled away to a 51-21 victory, but the win still didn't erase some of the questions about the Penguins' defense.

Slippery Rock, a Division II team, had 99 total yards in the first quarter, 111 in the second, but managed just 72 yards the entire second half.

YSU didn't get much from the win. The victory doesn't count toward qualifying for the I-AA playoffs, but a loss probably would have ended its playoff hopes.

Slippery Rock is a good Division II program, probably better than most Division I-AA non-scholarship programs and probably better than some bottom-tier I-AA teams.

But again, the question asked by most fans is "If they can't help you get into the playoffs, why bother to play them?"

Buckeyes replaceSlippery Rock

Well, for the next two years that problem has been taken care of since the Penguins will be heading to Columbus to meet Ohio State to open both the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

I also know that Akron and Kent would now love to put the Penguins back on their schedule -- in fact, they've been in touch with YSU athletic director Ron Strollo. And it certainly wouldn't be a bad idea, but only if both the Zips and Flashes agree to come here and play on a home-and-home basis, or even a two-for-one contract.

With Division I-A football now playing a 12-game schedule and the possibility still looming that I-AA will follow in the near future, more teams will be looking for more games to play and contests against Division II teams should be a thing of the past.

Offense alreadyin mid-season form

Thursday night, while the defense left some unanswered questions on the field, the YSU offense certainly left no doubt that it will be a force to reckon with this year.

The offensive line showed it has both talent and depth and when they're working on all cylinders it really doesn't matter who's running the ball from the tailback or fullback positions.

Although the Penguins have two good tailbacks in seniors Marcus Mason and Monquantae Gibson -- and the third back Brandon Nicholson isn't too shabby either -- we haven't even seen senior Justin Reams, who is still a little banged up from camp.

Junior quarterback Tom Zetts is better than ever and senior Mike Schneider, the transfer from Duke and Sharon, Pa., appears very capable of stepping in when needed. Redshirt freshman Todd Rowan was held out of playing quarterback in the opener because of minor injuries, but he's capable of stepping in and taking over at any time.

Wide receiver, which had some question marks coming into the year, doesn't anymore. Not after seven different players hauled in a pass against Slippery Rock.

The Penguins also have good depth at tight end and expect to see much more from former Ursuline High's Louis Irizarry, who along with sophomore Derrick Bush and senior Max King give the Penguins three outstanding players at the position.

Trying to figure out the defense is another matter. The team has plenty of talent.

Gave up yardsway too easy

It's true the Penguins didn't show much blitzing against The Rock and played a pretty basic defense most of the night, but it still looked too easy for Slippery Rock to move the football, especially in the first half.

YSU head coach Jon Heacock is concerned and you can bet this week there will be a lot more emphasis put on the defense.

Another area that showed a lot of promise was special teams, but as Heacock said after the game, a lot of that unit (especially the kickoffs) had to do with kicker Joe Bishop, whose high booming kickoffs kept The Rock inside its 20 all night long.

The Penguins also have the benefit of a couple of extra days to get ready for Maine, their next opponent Saturday at 4 p.m. at Stambaugh.

Pete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at mollica@vindy.com.




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