Sunday, November 6, 2016
By Charles Grove
For the second week in a row the Youngtown Sate football team failed to find the end zone on offense. This time the result was a 24-3 loss to five-time defending national champion North Dakota State.
The Penguins (6-3, 4-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) gave up 17 first-quarter points thanks in part to two turnovers deep in their own territory that the Bison (8-1, 5-1) turned into 10 points.
“You come in here and go down 17-0 you’re going to have problems,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said. “There’s going to be some changes coming. Some big changes are coming. Because we’re not playing well enough here.
“You might see a lot of things different offensively. What we’re doing isn’t working.”
YSU got behind early when Bison running back Chase Morlock broke open a run up the middle on third and one for a 71-yard touchdown.
On the Penguins’ next possession, quarterback Hunter Wells got sacked on third-and-seven, had the ball stripped and NDSU recovered.
After a Bison field goal, Wells threw an interception the next series and one play later the Bison turned that into a second touchdown, putting a lot of pressure on an already anemic YSU offense.
“That was the difference in the game because they had to play catchup,” North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman said. “They didn’t want to, but we forced them into that.”
YSU fought back, but ended up having nothing to show for it in terms of points. In a near repeat of last week’s win over Indiana State, the Penguins moved the ball against the opposing defense everywhere but the red zone.
YSU went one for four in red-zone opportunities, coming up with just three points.
In the second quarter, YSU faced a third-and-goal from the 3, but Gavin Wiggins jumped. On second-and-goal from the seven, Nathan Mays was sacked. On first-and-goal from 1, Wells fumbled a snap resulting in a loss.
YSU made one field goal on those three trips, missing another field goal on another drive and turning the ball over on downs in the fourth quarter. That scoring opportunity was short-circuited after Wells again fumbled a snap on first-and-goal. It came with the Penguins just three feet from their first offensive touchdown since Tevin McCaster scored with under two minutes in a loss to South Dakota State.
“Moving the ball between the 20s doesn’t help anybody,” Pelini said. “You have to score points. It feels like we haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in two months.”
The defense by and large held firm against NDSU’s brutal rushing attack. Things weren’t made easy when the Penguins were forced to start defending a short field in the first quarter.
“The offense isn’t giving us as much help as we need,” free safety LeRoy Alexander said. “It doesn’t affect us that much because we’ve been dealing with it all year, but we’re looking for more help from the offense.”
Offensive lineman Vitas Hrynkiewicz said the different styles the offense has had to learn on the fly with the different quarterbacks moving in and out of the lineup hasn’t helped.
“We just still need to gel as an offense,” Hrynkiewicz said. “With all the quarterback changes and different styles with each guy, it’s difficult. We’ll be all right once we gel.”
YSU kicker Zak Kennedy was taken out in the second half when he began complaining of a quadricep injury. His replacement, Nate Needham, missed a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter on one of the Penguins’ stalled drives.
There’s no word on the extent of the injury.
Defensive tackle Savon Smith came out of the game in the second half, limping on what looked to be his right ankle. Pelini said Smith would be fine.