By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford likes to remind people that when he was hired 31/2 years ago, the biggest question before BCS games was, “Are you going to score a touchdown?”
“I think we’ve changed the expectations around here,” said Wolford, whose team scored two against Michigan State on Saturday but lost 55-17. “We really expect to win those games. We expect to go in and compete and have a chance to win them.”
The Penguins may have been victimized by those expectations as the lopsided score, combined with a lackluster effort in the opening win over Dayton, have made some YSU fans nervous.
“Maybe it was a little bit of a reality check for us,” Wolford said Tuesday. “We’re going to have some big games coming down the pipe.
“When you’re in that arena, when the game is on line the or it’s a big game where you can’t have a mistake, you’ve got to play at a higher level. You have to be able to handle the moment better than we did when the pressure is on.”
The Penguins get one more week to work out the kinks. Saturday, the Penguins host Duquesne, a partial scholarship FCS school from the Northeast Conference. The Dukes lost to Dayton, 23-20, on Sept. 7, one week after YSU beat the Flyers, 28-10.
“Every week, we’ve got to be on our game,” YSU linebacker Teven Williams said. “We feel like it’s not about who we play, it’s all about how we perform.”
Youngstown State’s offense could get a boost with the return of running backs Adaris Bellamy (who missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury) and Demond Hymes (who has yet to play after injuring his ankle during fall camp). Both players practiced at full speed on Monday.
“Maybe we’ll play five running backs,” Wolford joked.
Senior Torrian Pace is still listed atop the depth chart, but true freshman Martin Ruiz, who scored both touchdowns against the Spartans, is making a strong case to start.
“Martin Ruiz showed in last week’s game that he belonged on the field,” Wolford said. “He wasn’t intimidated.”
The same can’t be said for YSU’s receiving corps, which combined for just six total catches for 61 yards against MSU. Tuesday’s depth chart remained unchanged from last week but it could look a lot different by Saturday, Wolford said.
“I think you’ll see some new guys in some new spots getting some opportunities,” Wolford said. “Some guys around here in the past that have made plays in the past that haven’t gotten some opportunities. Guys like Christian Bryan. I think you’ll see him pop up again.
“[Receivers] Coach [Kurt] Beathard feels strongly that we still have too many missed assignments on routine plays. We’re going to shake up that group and get guys in there that are going to be assignment sound and do the things we ask them to do.”
Wolford confirmed that junior CB Jamarious Boatwright will miss significant time after re-injuring his ACL against the Spartans.
“He’ll probably come back and rehab it up and do the best he can,” Wolford said. “It’ll more than likely be a situation where he does as much as he can for the rehab process and try to come back and play with a brace. I’d say he could come back at the end of the year and potentially help us on special teams and maybe a little bit of nickel.
“It’s a tough deal there.”