Troubles continue for YSU on defense
Despite big win, UNI created concerns for Penguins on D
By Joe Scalzo
In honor of Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, who pioneered the science of wet blanketry, we bring this splash of cold water: Youngstown State’s defense and special teams are in trouble.
While the secondary is the most obvious scapegoat — see Northern Iowa’s 333 yards passing and three TDs — there was plenty of blame to go around in the Penguins’ 42-35 win over UNI on Saturday night.
The Panthers averaged 29.3 yards per kick return. (Almost 13 yards better than YSU.)
They gained 454 yards (30 fewer than YSU) despite running 11 fewer plays than the Penguins.
They put up 35 points — and nearly 42 — despite losing the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes.
Even worse, YSU’s defense regressed as the game wore on, looking more like the 2010 version than the one the coaches felt they had when the season began.
Fortunately, there was one key difference between this year’s defense and the previous two: with the game on the line, it got a stop.
“As a defense we knew we needed to step up at some point in that game,” said sophomore safety Donald D’Alesio, whose pass break-up in the final second secured the win. “We couldn’t just keep exchanging scores with them.”
No, but YSU coach Eric Wolford knew the Penguins couldn’t afford many punts, either. Two of YSU’s three touchdown drives came after successful fourth down plays (including a 25-yard TD pass to Nate Adams on fourth down) and the Penguins had as many punts as fourth-down tries (three).
“When you get into those fourth down situations and even those third-and-shorts, you have to let it all hang out a little bit,” said Wolford. “We’re gonna go for it. We’re gonna have a good game plan where we feel like there’s some plays out there.
“Sometimes people think you’re gonna go for a 2- or 3-yard play or a 5-yard play and you’ve got to show you’re not afraid to pitch it out there in the end zone.”
With the Penguins averaging 41 points per game, you can bet they’ll spend the two weeks before their next game focusing on defending the pass (particularly the middle of the field) and shoring up their kickoff coverage.
Until they improve, those units will be viewed as the biggest roadblocks to YSU’s national championship goals.
As Mad Men’s Don Draper once said, “You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself.”
Quarterback Kurt Hess was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s offensive player of the week.
He completed 20 of 28 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns. He also set a YSU record with his 14th 200-yard passing game.
Wolford’s wife, Melinda, was offered a chair at the postgame press conference, but declined.
“I don’t want to sit down,” she said. “This is the best day of my life.”
YSU’s 7-point win over Albany last week doesn’t look quite as bad this week.
The Great Danes, a partial scholarship FCS team from the Northeast Conference, beat Maine 30-20 on Saturday. The Black Bears advanced to the third round of the FCS playoffs last season.
Running back Jamaine Cook moved into fifth-place on YSU’s career rushing list with 3,205 yards.