Defense (finally) dominates
By Joe Scalzo
As Youngstown State’s defense stuffed run play after run play at Saturday’s scrimmage, senior defensive tackle Aronde Stanton yelled at running backs Adaris Bellamy and Jamaine Cook, telling them, “I’m going to be there all day!”
“I like to get in their head a little bit,” said Stanton, the defense’s vocal leader, “and they fell for it.
“That’s what I do. I talk.”
More than any scrimmage in the Eric Wolford era, the defense did more than that, dominating a Penguin offense that returns every starter from last year’s record-breaking season. YSU’s offense didn’t score its first touchdown until the scrimmage was 55 minutes old. Of the first 28 plays, just one went for more 10 yards, and that was an 11-yard pass.
Heck, it took the offense four drives just to pick up a first down — and it took the second-string offense to do it.
“It was something we talked about for a long time — we need to play some defense,” Wolford said. “When we start playing some defense around here, we’re gonna have a good football team.”
Looking faster and more physical than it has in Wolford’s first two seasons, the defense forced turnovers on back-to-back plays before the offense’s first touchdown.
Sophomore cornerback Dale Peterman picked off a Kurt Hess overthrow and returned it 50 yards before getting tackled inside the red zone. On the ensuing play, junior cornerback Quamane Bryant stripped freshman wide receiver Marcel Caver and freshman safety Jameel Smith recovered.
The Penguins nearly had another turnover, but nickel cornerback Parnell Taylor couldn’t hold onto a sure pick-six when he brought pressure off the edge.
“I asked [Taylor], ‘What was wrong with you?’ and he said, ‘Man, I don’t even know,’” Stanton said, chuckling. “We emphasize turnovers in meetings, trying to get three turnovers or more or be plus-two [for the game].
“Last year we didn’t get enough takeaways. This year, we’re focusing on that.”
YSU’s offense finally broke through on a 20-yard TD pass from Hess to tight end Will Shaw during a red zone drill. Freshman tailback Lawrence Hughes scored the other TD on a 60-yard run during a four-minute drill.
New defensive coordinator Joe Tresey likes to play an attacking style and he brought pressures from all angles and all defensive positions.
When asked if that’s something fans should expect this season, Tresey paused and said, “Uh, you know, you don’t want to show your hand. But I think everybody has it in their package.
“When you have kids who know how to pressure and who know how to read gaps on the run, I think you have a chance to be a pretty good pressure team.”
All but one of YSU’s defensive starters — Peterman — were with the team in the spring and the experience with Tresey’s scheme showed.
“I feel much better about us challenging the offense now, as opposed to not challenging or competing like we should in the past,” Wolford said. “Quite frankly, it didn’t surprise me. I expected it. I’ve been out here and this is practice 11 today and I know we’re faster and we recruited well.”
And coached well, Stanton said.
“For the most part, I just give credit to the coaches for calling great plays in certain situations and players coming out and executing,” Stanton said. “We came out with good energy and came out trying to prove a point to all the people who came out to see us.
“We wanted to let everyone know we have improved.”