Penguins’ season wasn’t lost against NDSU
By Joe Scalzo
What was the best thing about Youngstown State’s 41-point loss to North Dakota State last weekend?
It happened in the fifth game.
“It cost us a loss,” said Penguins coach Eric Wolford. “If we learn that lesson late in the year, it could be fatal.”
The loss — the worst of the Wolford era — was notable both because of familiar struggles (defensive breakdowns, poor kick coverage) and unfamiliar ones (three turnovers, ineffective offense).
“I think it’s a good eye-opener,” Wolford said. “I think sometimes when you have success you think maybe you’re a little bit better than you are.”
After a 4-0 start that included wins over Pitt (YSU’s first over a BCS conference team) and Northern Iowa (the team’s first since 2000), the Penguins lost a little bit of focus, senior left tackle Andrew Radakovich said.
“We got a little overconfident,” he said. “We thought we could roll the ball out there and play with any team. Obviously, that wasn’t true.
“It was obviously a blow, but a lot of teams that end up being good teams have to go through some struggles and I think it’s better to go through it now than face it in the playoffs.”
YSU gets another test today at Illinois State (5-1, 2-1), which is coming off a 17-0 loss to Southern Illinois. The 14th-ranked Redbirds were picked to finish fourth in the MVFC’s preseason poll but since beating Eastern Michigan in Week 2, they’ve looked mortal.
Whether that trend continues depends on whether YSU can get back to being the team it was before the NDSU loss: a run-first team that avoids turnovers and converts third downs.
“We have to play mistake-free, fundamental football,” said Radakovich. “It’s representative of where we came from. It’s not a fancy place but we’re a hard-working team that hits you in the mouth until you quit.
“We can’t let a team get us out of that.”
While North Dakota State looks poised for a second straight national championship, a lot can change over the next few months. Wolford pointed to last year’s LSU-Alabama series; the Tigers won the regular season game but the Tide won the rematch.
“That’s the great thing about college football,” Wolford said. “If we take care of business, we’ll get another shot at them.
“Until then, we need to take care of assignment No. 6 and that’s Illinois State right here, staring us in the face.”