Youngstown State University does not award A-minuses or B-pluses. Everything is a letter grade. To pass a class in your major at YSU, you need a C or higher. Anything else is a failing grade. With that standard in mind, here’s a year-end breakdown of YSU’s football team by Vindicator sports writer Joe Scalzo.
Skinny: Statistically, YSU grades out higher than a C. The Penguins averaged 29 points per game and 387 yards per game and were in the top half of the conference in most categories. But YSU statistics don’t tell the story. The Penguins were behind last year’s record pace in almost every category, and there was too much talent and experience on this unit to take such a big step back. Though not a failing grade, the offensive coaches and players expected an A performance this fall. They didn’t provide it.
Who’s gone: Dante Nania (moving to safety)
Who’s returning: Kurt Hess, Patrick Angle
Skinny: Hess looked terrific in the first four games, as well as the final two, but was a turnover waiting to happen during the team’s four-game losing streak and a non-factor in the win over South Dakota. ... While he topped 2,000 yards passing for the third straight year and remains on pace to graduate with every significant passing record in school history, this year was a curious step back. Had Hess played like the 2011 version of himself, YSU would be no worse than 9-2 and hosting a playoff game this weekend. ... Angle is a talented backup who nearly got a start after the four-game losing streak. ... Redshirt freshman Nick Wargo’s progress will allow the coaches to move Nania to safety to take advantage of his athleticism.
Who’s gone: Jamaine Cook
Who’s returning: Torrian Pace, Adaris Bellamy, Demond Hymes
Skinny: Cook was the team MVP. ... A slimmed-down Pace earned a career-best 62 carries and averaged 5.2 yards. Question is, can he carry the load next year? ... Bellamy was a redshirt candidate after injuring his knee in the spring but played in nine games. He wasn’t as explosive as his first two seasons. ... Hymes played well in spot duty and was a decent kick returner. ... This unit missed Jordan Thompson’s explosiveness; Thompson left the team in the summer.
Who’s gone: TE Will Shaw
Who’s returning: TE Carson Sharbaugh, TE Nate Adams, WR Christian Bryan, WR Andre Stubbs, WR Jelani Berassa (redshirted), WR Andrew Williams, WR Kintrell Disher, WR Michael Wheary, WR Kevin Watts, WR Marcel Caver
Skinny: Shaw played well, leading the team with 35 catches for 429 yards and five TDs. He’ll get NFL looks. ... Williams came on strong late in the season and should be a factor next year. ... Bryan was solid but didn’t improve significantly from his freshman year. ... Stubbs was lethal against Pitt but never again approached those heights. ... This unit missed Berassa, who looked poised to have a huge year before tearing his ACL in the summer. ... YSU’s passing game suffered from a lack of explosiveness. There is no one on the roster who can turn a 10-yard slant into a 70-yard TD or serve as a consistent deep threat to “take the top off” a defense. ... Overall, an average year for a unit that too often looked average.
Who’s gone: T Andrew Radakovich, T D.J. Main, G Lamar Mady, C Mark Pratt
Who’s returning: G Chris Elkins, T Kyle Bryant, C Stephen Page
Skinny: Radakovich missed the last six games with shoulder injuries, Pratt missed two games with ankle injury and Main wasn’t 100 percent in the second half of the year. But this banged-up unit still paved the way for the conference’s best overall offense (measured by total yardage) and second-best run offense. ... Hess was sacked just eight times — easily the best mark in the MVFC. ... Elkins was again the team’s best lineman while Mady could be picked in the NFL draft next April. ... Graduation will take a huge toll.
Skinny: This unit deserved an F during a four-game stretch that included wins over Albany and UNI and losses to North Dakota State and Illinois State. But it played well in the first two games and in second half of the season, outside of the South Dakota State game when the entire team collapsed. ... Hiring defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was supposed to invigorate this unit but it too often looked like what YSU fans saw under Rick Kravitz. ... The biggest problem? A lack of playmakers. Only Stanton was worthy of a first-team all-conference vote.
Who’s gone: DT Aronde Stanton, DT Nick DeKraker, DE Luis Quinones, DE Josh Fenderson, DE Chuck Lengyel
Who’s returning: DE Kyle Sirl, DE Terrell Williams, DT D.J. Moss, DT Steve Zaborsky, DT Emmanuel Kromah
Skinny: Stanton was the defense’s MVP. ... Injuries hampered DeKraker but he played well when he was on the field. ... Sirl was disruptive in limited action, particularly as a pass-rusher. ... This unit struggled in the first few conference games but improved significantly as the season progressed. ... Graduation will take a toll but there is talent in the lower classes.
Who’s gone: No one.
Who’s returning: Teven Williams, Travis Williams, Dom Rich, Ali Cheaib, Dubem Nwadiogbu (redshirted), Terry Johnson, Kevon Caffey
Skinny: Expected to be the strength of the defense but failed to make an impact in most games. ... Travis and Teven were the two leading tacklers but they combined for one forced fumble, zero interceptions and two sacks. YSU needed more. ... Rich is solid on running downs. A classic overachiever. ... Nwadiogbu earned a starting job out of training camp before an ACL tear ended his year. Wasn’t a difference-maker in his three games. ... Cheaib made his biggest impact on special teams.
Who’s gone: SS Jeremey Edwards, FS Deionte Williams
Who’s returning: CB Dale Peterman, CB Julius Childs, CB Jamarious Boatwright, CB Parnell Taylor, CB Ricardo Dixon, FS Donald D’Alesio, FS Chris Charles, SS Twin Fernandes, SS Josh Garner
Skinny: Below average in every way. ... Finished last in the MVFC in pass defense, both in overall games and conference-only games. ... An upgrade in talent and athleticism didn’t make a discernible difference on the field. This unit has been the team’s biggest weakness each of the last three years. ... Combined for three interceptions as YSU finished last in the conference in that statistic. ... DBs take bad angles, miss assignments and show little in the way of football instincts. ... Bottom line: Not good enough.
Who’s gone: K David Brown
Who’s returning: P Nick Liste, LS Nathan Gibbs
Skinny: A good performance in YSU’s final game doesn’t make up for a season’s worth of lapses. ... Penguins finished second-to-last in punt return average at 5.8 per attempt, compared to 17.1 for opponents. ... Southern Illinois scored a TD off a blocked punt and recovered a fumble on a kick return. ... North Dakota State returned a punt for a TD. ... Illinois State used a 42-yard return to set up its first TD. ... South Dakota State blocked a field goal to set up its only TD. .. In short, it seemed like YSU made at least one bad special teams play in every important game, even if was just a bobbled return or a penalty. ... The highlights: Cheaib blocked punts against Valpo and Albany (the latter setting up the game-clinching TD), Brown made a 47-yard field goal against Indiana State and Wheary showed promise as a kick returner against the Sycamores. ... Bottom line: Once again the weakest of YSU’s three units.
Skinny: Can’t blame this year on Jon Heacock. All but 11 players on this year’s roster were Wolford recruits and most of those 11 were contributors ... YSU was completely overwhelmed by NDSU and SDSU, seemed clueless in the last 40 minutes of the Illinois State game (after the Redbirds had switched up their defense) and played with a complete lack of poise and maturity against Southern Illinois. ... After a tour-de-force performance against Pitt, in which the Penguins seemed one step ahead of the Panthers all night, there wasn’t another game when YSU seemed to have a clear advantage from the sidelines. ... Since April, Wolford made it clear that this was a “playoffs or bust” year. The Penguins busted. ... That said, YSU did get its first win over a BCS conference team, its first win over UNI since Jim Tressel was walking the sidelines and its best record since Wolford took over. It was a small step forward in a year when YSU needed to take a leap.
Note: Roster breakdown limited to starters and significant contributors (i.e. those who started at least one game or played in at least five).