YSU's offense in progress
By Greg Gulas
The countdown has officially begun for Youngstown State’s season opener versus the University of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
While a stingy defense looks to pick up where they left off at season’s end, offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery remains pleased with the progress that his offense has made thus far in pre-season camp.
With experience and depth at both quarterback and wide receiver, it’s time now to focus their attention on preparation for their lid-lifter with the Panthers on Sept. 2.
“Camp is going really well. When you go against your guys, some things look good for us and some things look good for the defense so you’re really trying to get some consistency and develop depth going into that first game,” Montgomery said. “We’ve thrown everything that we could possibly throw at the defense, and the defense has, too.
“Once we start game-planning, we’ll pull back some of the play book that we’ve put in so far and hopefully just get consistent so when we hit the field we’re playing with confidence.”
Two players that don’t lack confidence happen to be the two signal-callers that Montgomery and head coach Bo Pelini will count on to bark signals this season.
Senior Hunter Wells, who started the final nine games last year and guided the Penguins to a 7-2 record and it’s first national championship game appearance since 1999, is slated to start the year under center while red-shirt sophomore Nathan Mays, who played in 12 of the team’s 16 games a year ago as a freshman his capable back-up.
Both are chomping at the bit to get the season underway.
“There’s been a lot of good things and a lot of teaching moments thus far in camp,” Wells said. “The good things have been working with the receivers and being able to get our timing down. Teaching moments include getting on the same page, when to get rid of the ball, when to put it in there and when to try and make a play.”
Wells completed 135 of 216 passes (62.5 percent) for 1,714 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, averaging 190.4 passing yards per contest.
He was even better in the post-season as he connected on 77 of 123 aerial attempts for 1,120 yards and eight touchdowns, throwing just two interceptions in five play-off contests. Montgomery is impressed with Wells’ resolve.
“He had a difficult year last year in that he was coming off two years as a starter, wasn’t going to play and to his credit he stayed with it and obviously led us on a great run,” Montgomery said. “Even though he’s a fourth-year starter he didn’t play a whole lot until late in the year. He still hasn’t had a lot of practice over the last year and a half as far as getting ready with the first-team, so there’s still some things we’ll continue to grow with him.”
Mays is also a threat to beat you on the ground, having rushed for 126 yards on 35 carries in 2016.
“Nathan is our No.2 right now and gained some good experience last year, but like I’ve told him he’s got to be able to do our whole offense,” Montgomery said. “In the five or six games we played him last year we asked him to do things at a minimum. We weren’t asking him to do a whole lot, but this year he’s got to be ready in case something happens and he’s the full-time guy. He’s gotten better every day.”
Making the transition to the college game was an eye opener for Mays.
“By playing in 12 games last year I learned a lot about the speed of the game. It’s a lot different and that’s what I needed to get acclimated to,” Mays said. “Everything hit me at once, but now that I’ve had the experience I can go in and not have those butterflies I had last year.
“This year, I’m going to be able to let the game play out instead of worrying about what I haven’t seen yet.”