Defense ramps up pressure in YSU spring game


By Joe Scalzo

Youngstown State’s defense spent all spring talking about turnovers.

It spent the spring game creating them.

Backup safety Aaron Edwards returned a fumble 22 yards for a touchdown and backup defensive end Derek Rivers had an interception and a fumble recovery to help the Red (starting offense, backup defense) beat the White (backup offense, starting defense) 17-10 on Friday at Stambaugh Stadium.

“Any time you can create turnovers, it’s gonna give you a great opportunity to win football games,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford, whose defense had just 11 turnovers all of last year. “That’s something we’ve emphasized this spring.

“You get what you emphasize.”

Starting cornerback Julius Childs and nickel cornerback Jamarious Boatwright each intercepted Red starter Kurt Hess on a cold, windy night that drew about 500 fans. Boatwright’s interception came off a dropped pass by running back Demond Hymes, and he also recovered a fumble forced by starting cornerback Dale Peterman, who pasted wide receiver Michael Wheary on a crossing route late in the fourth quarter.

“I was sitting in Cover 2 [defense] and I don’t think he saw me coming,” Peterman said. “At the last second I was able to pop it out.

“I think our defense is going to be more aggressive than it was last year. A lot more blitzes, a lot more scheme-wise in coverage, coming up to snatch picks.

“That’s the main thing we talked about this spring, getting turnovers.”

YSU is in its second year under defensive coordinator Joe Tresey and it showed on Friday as the Penguins brought a variety of blitzes, sacking White starter Dante Nania six times and backup Nick Wargo once. Hess didn’t get sacked — he almost never does — but he often had to move around the pocket and completed just 10 of 21 passes for 86 yards and no TDs.

All told, the White defense also had 11 tackles for loss while the Red had five and held Hymes, the starter, to just 49 yards on 15 carries.

“In spring games, there’s two ways you can approach it,” Wolford said. “You can say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna play basic defense and not blitz’ or you can throw the book at them.

“We blitzed every play because we want to see how they handle it. Anybody can line up and play against a base defense. But why handcuff your defense?”

Wargo, a redshirt freshman, outplayed the more experienced Nania, completing 8 of 11 passes for 60 yards with a 6-yard TD pass to Justin Getz.

Nania was just 3 of 8 for 22 yards but showed his superior athleticism by scrambling for 29 yards. (Thanks to the six sacks, he officially finished with minus-2 rushing yards.)

“Wargo had some nice tosses and Dante showed he can do some things when he runs with the football,” Wolford said.

Getz led White receivers with four catches for 28 yards, while Wheary caught four passes for 47 yards and juked Peterman off his feet early in the game.

“Wheary had a good game today,” Peterman said. “He was catching some bombs. He’s a fast kid, an explosive receiver.”

But after struggling in coverage last season, YSU’s starting defensive backs looked much more aggressive and much more cohesive, with none of the breakdowns that plagued last year’s team.

“It’s a lot easier when you know what you’re doing,” said Peterman, who, like Childs, was in his first year with the program last fall. “Guys play a lot faster when they know they’re assignments. Last year there was a little bit of confusion and guys were hesitant.

“We knew it was gonna take a little bit of time to get comfortable, but as you see out here, we’re definitely comfortable now.”

Newcomer Joey Cejudo was 2 for 2 on field goals — a 38-yarder and a 43-yarder, both with the wind to his back — and was perfect on three extra points.

After 15 practices/scrimmages, YSU now heads into a three-month break before fall camp opens in August.

The Penguins will do so feeling much better about their defense, which gave up 27.5 points in conference games last season (eighth out of 10 teams) and ranked next-to-last in the Missouri Valley in forced turnovers.

“You win a lot of football games with defense,” said Wolford. “That’s what we’ve got to get back to doing.”

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.