By Joe Scalzo
What do you get when you mix together the heartbreak of Youngstown State’s 2010 season with the head-scratching losing streak from the Penguins’ 2012 team?
You get Northern Iowa.
The Panthers (4-5, 0-5 Missouri Valley) started 4-0 this season with an opening win at Big 12-member Iowa State but have lost five straight for the first time since 1978.
But that’s misleading. Three of those losses have been in overtime and another was by one point to the nation’s top team, North Dakota State.
“If you watch them on film and you don’t see the score of the game or anything, you would look at them and say, ‘There’s no way this is a 4-5 football team,’” YSU receiver Christian Bryan said. “I mean, they’ve got some good talent. They’ve got some really good football players.
“I’m shocked that they’re 4-5. I expected us to go in there and this be a big-time game around the country, honestly. It still is, in our minds. It’s still UNI.”
UNI’s biggest problem has been injuries. The Panthers have lost two wideouts (Brett LeMaster and Phil Wright), their best linebacker (Jake Farley, the coach’s son) and, in last week’s 13-3 loss to Illinois State, their starting quarterback (Sawyer Kollmorgen) and running back (David Johnson).
Johnson (ankle) has already been ruled out for Saturday and Kollmorgen (who suffered his second concussion of the year) is probably out, too.
Kollmorgen shredded YSU’s secondary for 333 yards and three touchdowns last season and Johnson combined for 160 yards rushing/receiving with four TDs, so their absence could be a big boost to the Penguins.
Junior Brion Carnes, a Florida native who spent the last three years at Nebraska, would replace Kollmorgen, giving the Panthers a dynamic run-pass threat similar to what they got from Tirrell Rennie in 2010-11.
YSU defensive coordinator Joe Tresey actually recruited Carnes in high school when Tresey was with South Florida in 2009, which gives the Penguins a little bit more familiarity with him.
“We have an idea of what he can do,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “Obviously he’s an outstanding athlete who can do a lot of things and now they’ll have the ball in his hands every play.”
Youngstown State (8-1, 5-0 MVFC) snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Panthers last season, winning 42-35 to complete a 4-0 start. But YSU hasn’t won at the UNI-Dome since 1999. The Penguins came close two years ago, falling 21-17 on Johnson’s 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal with two minutes left.
UNI leads the all-time series 20-7 and the Penguins have only won back-to-back meetings once, in 1999-2000, which were Jim Tressel’s final two seasons at YSU.
“They own the series right now,” Bryan said. “It’d be nice if we could start turning that around in our favor.
“They’re our biggest rival, in my mind.”
Countered Wolford, “I don’t know that it’s a rivalry game. I think that’s been mentioned a lot here in the past. I see a rivalry game as more of a back and forth type deal. They’ve handled us for a long time around here.”