Brian Dzenis: YSU looks in mirror tonight

Having an unflattering doppelganger stinks.

In high school, a girl said I reminded her of conservative commentator Glenn Beck. In June, a friend tweeted a picture of Manchester United defender Luke Shaw — who was getting reamed out in the British media at the time for being out of shape. He tagged me in the photo and said, “Is that you?”

Honestly, I’ll take the Shaw comparison.

The Youngstown State football team’s look-alike is today’s opponent: Southern Illinois.

That’s not a compliment.

Nearing the halfway point of the season, the Penguins look more like a side that has had losing seasons in the past two season than two winning seasons a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship.

Are both teams 1-3? Yes.

Does the forward pass confound both defenses? Yes.

Do both teams have losses on their ledger that each side has no business having? It’s hard to top the Penguins losing as a 37-point favorite to Butler, but the Salukis made a solid go of it with a 48-44 defeat to 20.5-point underdog Southeast Missouri State, so check that in the yes column.

After YSU had the best pass defense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference last year, the Penguins and Salukis are in a tight competition for the worst pass defense in the conference. Expect a shootout.

Opponents are complete 65 percent of their passes against the Penguins for an average 8.4 yards per attempt. Their opposing passer efficiency rating is 161.18, which ranks 111th out of 124 FCS teams. For comparison’s sake, Southern Illinois’ rating is 143.96.

Yes, the defense is smarting because of injuries to defensive end Justus Reed and safeties Kyle Hegedus and DeShon Taylor and there’s inexperience, but what’s the best way to fix inexperience if there isn’t continuity?

Last Saturday’s 45-38 loss to Western Illinois marked the debut of Devanere Crenshaw, the team’s fourth different starting safety in four games and part of the team’s third pairing. Terray Bryant originally started with Avery Larkin and was never heard from again after the season opener. Chrispin Lee and Larkin were paired together for the West Virginia and Valparaiso games before Crenshaw replaced Larkin last week. Starting doesn’t necessarily mean owning all the snaps, but Central Michigan transfer Jakkar Jackson — who showed up on campus as the university started classes — has also seen some playing time.

Are there any metrics that favor the Penguins over the Salukis? Montgomery VanGorder is a more efficient quarterback than SIU counterpart Sam Straub. The two aren’t separated by much in yards and touchdowns — even with Straub having close to 50 more attempts, but Straub has eight interceptions to VanGorder’s three. The Penguins also boast a slight advantage in yards per punt.

Basically, the playoffs start today for the Penguins. Another loss or two and there will be questions of what the program looks like.

None of it will be flattering.

Brian Dzenis is a sports reporter and the Youngstown State beat writer for The Vindicator. Email him at and follow him on Twitter, @Brian_Dzenis.

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