YSU looks for better defense against Pitt


Penguins struggled to stop Pitt in Pelini’s 2015 debut

By Brian Dzenis

bdzenis@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Youngstown State’s football team will return Saturday to Heinz Field, where the Bo Pelini era began two years ago, for another game against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The Panthers spoiled the head coach’s YSU debut with a 45-37 defeat in 2015. The Penguins began preparing for the season opener last week and Pelini remembered why he doesn’t look back that game fondly.

“I watched the film from that game the other day and maybe I want to burn it,” Pelini said. “That was probably as bad as a defensive performance as I’ve ever been around in a while.”

Pelini has an older, more experienced team to take to Pittsburgh this time. It even has a few starters from the last contest against the Panthers, like quarterback Hunter Wells and linebacker Lee Wright.

“I remember we broke down a few times on defense with some deep balls. I remember the kick return they [returned for a touchdown] for a half and that was what really put them ahead,” Wright said. “I think we could have won it and I think this year will be a better game than two years ago.”

YSU upset Pitt 31-17 in 2012 under then-head coach Eric Wolford.

TOP OF THE HEAP

Running back Tevin McCaster beamed when it was his turn at the podium. The New Castle graduate finally gets the opportunity to do something he couldn’t do as a Red Hurricane: play at Heinz Field as the lead back.

“That was always the goal, get to Heinz Field for the WPIALs, but we didn’t make it,” McCaster said. “I’m really excited for Sept. 2.

“It means everything. I want to do this for everyone back at home and for the city of Youngstown.”

McCaster was listed as the starting running back Tuesday when YSU released its first depth chart. He was followed by freshman Christian Turner and South Range graduate Joe Alessi, a sophomore.

“We have a lot of talent at running back and obviously starts with Tevin and then you have Joe and Christian and London Pearson and Devin McNutt,” Pelini said. “They all complement each other well.”

TWO WARRIORS, ONE STARTING SPOT

Come Saturday, a guy who is 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds that went to West Branch High School will start at right guard. The name of that person is up in the air.

Senior Connor Sharp had held down the first-team reps during camp, but when the Penguins released their depth chart on Tuesday, sophomore Jacob Zinni was listed as the starter.

“You’ll probably see both of them. It’s going to be fluid. We’ve got to find out [more] about these guys and that could change Saturday,” Pelini said. “The way we approach it is if you don’t have a good week of practice, you’re not going to be the first guy out there.

“It’s only a starting point, both of those guys are going to play football for us and you might see different combinations of guys. I know Cole Newsome can move over and play guard. We have different rotations that we can use.”

STILL JUST VISITING

One guy who connected to YSU, but won’t be making his Heinz Field debut is former Pittsburgh Steelers QB Mike Tomczak. The former backup quarterback’s last year with the Steelers was also the final season of Three Rivers Stadium.

Tomczak is with the Penguins on a volunteer basis, Pelini said. He’s been attending some practices and team meetings to explore the idea of a return to coaching.

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