Thursday, August 30, 2018
Penguins to break in new QB, tackles and wideouts
By Brian Dzenis
Ten years ago, Brian Crist faced the unknown.
He was a wide receivers coach at the University of Massachusetts at the time when the Minutemen were coming off back-to-back Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances, but the team’s top three receivers had moved on. The Minutemen’s receiving corps remained at a high level thanks to the emergence of future New York Giant Victor Cruz and Jeremy Horne.
That experience keeps Youngstown State’s offensive coordinator calm through the unknowns he has to face in his debut as OC on Saturday against Butler.
“Victor Cruz had like three catches coming into the season and he ended up being a 1,000-yard receiver and [Horne] had around 900 yards,” Crist said. “It doesn’t really bother me not having guys that played.”
Outside of senior running back Tevin McCaster, the Penguins’ offense is using a lot of players who have little, if any, collegiate statistics. Quarterback Montgomery VanGorder is making his first career start. He’ll be throwing a receivers and tight ends group that returns eight catches from 2017. The offensive line will see redshirt freshman Dan Becker replacing All-American Justin Spencer at left tackle and at the other tackle spot, senior Charles Baldwin was on Kansas’ roster as recently as this spring — and has yet to play a snap at the FBS or FCS level.
Crist and head coach Bo Pelini go back to facing each other in 2006 as assistant coaches at Lousiana-Lafayette and LSU, respectively. Crist became part of Pelini’s staff at Nebraska in 2014 as the director of player personnel and Pelini brought him to Youngstown the following year.
“He’s always been, ‘Hey, this is what the defense is doing to you and this is what you have to do in order to try and score,’” Crist said. “I don’t want to work for anyone else. He’s an unbelievable football coach. He sees everything. He explains things. He’s a good person. He’s been unbelievable to my family and my kids love him.”
While Pelini gives Crist a fair amount of leeway to adjust things on his side of the ball and the two are free to share ideas, he didn’t say too much to him when it came time to replace Shane Montgomery, who left to become the OC at UNC Charlotte this offseason.
“[Montgomery] left and we just kind of moved on. He doesn’t tell you what he’s thinking,” Crist said. “He just asked me, ‘What are your thoughts on the offense?’ and about this or that and that was kind of it.”
As for the offense that will play at Stambaugh, Crist likes the group he has. Crist said he likes VanGorder because he’s a coaches son like himself — Brian’s father, Dave, was a the head coach at Blacksburg High School (Va.) for 40 years. He declined to expand on how the o-line has fixed its pass protection issues from 2017, but Becker has developed for the job and Baldwin’s athleticism make them up to the task along with the experienced interior. If there’s stability at quarterback, the wideouts and tight ends can come up big.
Then the unknowns aren’t there anymore.
“We’re all excited. The players are — and they should be — anytime you’re going into an opening game in any season it’s exciting because everything is in front of you and you get to compete,” Crist said.