Penguins’ ground game piling up plenty of yardage
By Charles Grove
While the Youngstown State passing game has been busy with new faces at quarterback and receiver — all trying to learn the playbook — the running game has been dependable through the Penguins’ first three games.
You could almost describe the tailback trio of Jody Webb, Martin Ruiz and Tevin McCaster as Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Greek mythology. The trio has racked up 633 rushing yards plus another 98 yards through the air, all while Webb has only played one game due to injury.
Webb will be back Saturday against South Dakota and is looking forward to helping to carry the large load the running backs have taken on this season.
“Our offense is definitely playing at the level we expect to be playing at,” Webb said. “We strive off our run game. We’re expected to run it down people’s throats and that’s what we’re doing.”
That depth at running back that’s been highlighted in practices was key when Webb went down with an injury during the team’s first game against Duquesne.
“It helps a lot when you can keep guys fresh,” YSU running backs coach Nic McKissic-Luke said. “When you’ve got two other guys who can get the job done when you have Jody out, anytime you can have that type of depth it’s important.
“It says a lot about the work the group has put in.”
Ruiz and McCaster are both averaging 6.9 yards per carry though three games while Webb averaged 8.7 before he went down late in the game with the Dukes. The team credits two big reasons for the success, one being the offensive line.
“[The line] has been doing an excellent job,” McCaster said. “Coach [Carmen] Bricillo has been doing an excellent job coaching them up. It’s a lot different from [last year with injuries]. With all those guys healthy it’s a real great push for us.”
The second key has been the threat of the running quarterback whether it’s been Ricky Davis or Trent Hosick taking the snaps. It adds a different dimension that the team didn’t have last year with Hunter Wells.
“[Dual-threat quarterbacks] definitely spread out defenses,” Webb said. “A lot of times their eyes aren’t solely on the backs because we’ve got quarterbacks that can run. It gives the quarterbacks a better eye and it gives us a little more running room.”
Ruiz has noticed teams are a lot less likely to stack the box this year with either Davis or Hosick taking snaps as well as the speed of the receivers on the outside.
“We’ve been getting some help with the wide receivers so the defense isn’t loading the box as much as they did last year,” Ruiz said. “Even if they did stack the box it wouldn’t matter, we’ve still got to get the job done either way.”
McKissic-Luke tweaked some techniques and tendencies he noticed the running backs had from last year. One of the first things he did when he came aboard this past offseason was to fine tune the way the backs read the openings.
“The offseason was very different for them,” McKissic-Luke said. “We took some time changing things about our zone and how we’re going to make reads. A lot of it was new for them. They had a lot of studying and film study.”
While YSU head coach Bo Pelini said to take the rushing statistics with a grain of salt since the Penguins have blown two teams out this year, overall he’s pleased with what he’s seen. Still, Pelini wants to fine-tune the rushing attack.
“It comes down to fundamentals, technique, preparation and communication,” Pelini said. “It comes down to doing the same thing over and over again with consistency.
“If your offensive lineman is supposed to get to the linebacker, he’s got to get to the linebacker. You can’t have any busts that are going to get you off schedule.”