Pelini cites positve vibe
By Charles Grove
Youngstown State head football coach Bo Pelini is cautiously optimistic about the way his team is progressing as the Penguins prepare to face Northern Iowa on Saturday.
The Penguins have interesting statistics, like not allowing a single rushing touchdown all year. That’s well and good, but it’s the things that aren’t on the stat sheet that jump out to Pelini.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Pelini said Tuesday. “We are not there yet. We were not there last year — that’s why we lost football games we shouldn’t have lost.”
Pelini spoke about the noticeable change of how his team has been preparing for their games the past few weeks which has led the Penguins to being one of the three remaining undefeated teams in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
“I’m seeing some things maturity wise and preparation wise that are starting to move in the right direction,” Pelini said. “If we can continue to have a greater attention to detail, the right mindset, we’re going to have a heck of a lot better opportunity to be the team we’re capable of being.”
In terms of the little things that don’t show up on stat sheets, Pelini cited a play in the Illinois State game made by Robert Byrd, the wide receiver listed at 150 pounds who’s the smallest player the Penguins have.
“We’re second and 10, I think, on our first touchdown drive and Byrd goes in and blocks their linebacker and holds him up,” Pelini said. “Jody [Webb] gets to the edge, gets 13 yards and we have a first down. It was a huge play to keep our drive going.
“If he would’ve taken a play off or said ‘My block isn’t important,’ the ball is tackled at the line of scrimmage, it’s third and 10 and you’re probably punting,” Pelini said. “Those are the types of plays that don’t go in the stat sheets and some people don’t think about them.”
Pelini cited the tackle by Nate Dortch on a breakaway run that prevented a Illinois State touchdown as an example of an important play on defense. Pelini said plays like that will be important when playing Northern Iowa this Saturday, a team that tries to get their skilled players into open space.
“We’re going to be in space a number of times in the game and you’re going to have your responsibilities and you have your shots and you better make them,” Pelini said. “If there’s space created there could be bigger plays.”
Pelini said he’s pleased his team is outscoring opponents 55-21 in the fourth quarter but said he’d like his team to play in a way that won’t make it necessary for that to be such a decisive reason for winning.
“That’s important because we didn’t finish very well a year ago and it ended up costing us,” Pelini said. “But we obviously need to start a little faster offensively than we did last week and I didn’t like the way we came out of the locker room in the third quarter.
“For whatever reason we didn’t respond the way out of the locker room we need to.”
Overall, the message, at least until we see Saturday’s result, is that the team is becoming the team Pelini wants them to be at a steady and controlled pace.
“We were too up and down a year ago,” Pelini said. “We’re less up and down now. We’re less inconsistent than we were year ago.
“But we’re not where we need to be.”