Charles Grove: Penguins have changed since September

The Youngstown State football team might be hot at the right time of the season, but it’s also not the minnow that’s just lucky to be in the FCS quarterfinals with some of the top teams in the division.

This team has gone through a tremendous renovation midway through the season. The program that for the past decade you could count on to let you down doesn’t appear to be that team any longer.

You would’ve counted on them to lose at home to Northern Iowa after scout-team quarterback Nathan Mays was forced to come in and lead a comeback victory, albeit nearly everything was on the ground.

You would’ve expected them to lose at home to Indiana State when the offense looked like it couldn’t score on Boy Scout Troop No. 452 until Darien Townsend’s punt return capped an emotional victory.

Needing at least one win in their final two games, and depending on the committee possibly two, you again would’ve expected the same old Penguins to come up short. But a tight win over Southern Illinois and a blowout at Missouri State opened some eyes.

At least the playoff drought was broken. But still, after beating Samford, who could’ve predicted the roller-coaster offense YSU has had all year would put up 40 points on one of the best defenses in the country in Jacksonville State?

It’s pretty safe to say that at least this year, YSU is one of the elite teams in FCS. The Penguins are now in the elite eight with FBS slayers like Eastern Washington (45-42 over Washington State), Richmond (37-20 over Virginia) and North Dakota State (23-21 over Iowa).

But there’s no real use comparing how the YSU offense of midway through the season stacks up now. Hunter Wells wasn’t leading the team and a team that seemed to have too many quarterbacks in fall camp all of a sudden didn’t have enough to prepare the first-string offense and run a scout team, too.

At the moment, YSU is no slouch even compared to some of the seeded teams in the playoffs.

The Penguins are averaging 39 points per game in the playoffs, which is fourth-best of the remaining eight teams. And when you factor in the Penguins traveled to play one of the best defenses in the second round as opposed to staying home and beating up on a team that squeaked into the second round and was just happy to be there, it’s even more impressive.

What should have YSU fans licking their chops even more this year is Wofford’s one-dimensional offense. It may not be as simple as a team lining up in an I-formation and simply handing the ball off to the lone tailback, but this defense has shown it is more than capable, especially when they don’t have to worry about the pass.

The Terriers are averaging 38.5 passing yards per game. If YSU’s corners were able to shut down Jacksonville State’s passing attack, they’re more than capable of winning one-on-one matchups with Wofford, meaning linebackers should load the box and feast on running backs.

And if YSU can get up a few scores early, I’ll feel pretty confident about starting to write my game story early since Wofford is in no way designed to come from behind. We saw the Penguins go for the jugular early in their win over the Gamecocks and don’t be surprised to see Bo Pelini and Shane Montgomery allow Wells to air it out again to try to get the knockout blow early.

YSU no longer is the team that was just trying to get into the playoffs. From fall camp the players have been speaking about a national championship and it’s time for the Penguins to continue to act like one of the big boys of FCS.

Write YSU beat reporter Charles Grove at and follow him on Twitter, @CgroveVindy.

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