By DANA SULONEN
The story of Saturday’s scrimmage was the quarterbacks.
The play of the running backs came in a close second.
Despite losing leading rusher Tevin McCaster and his 1,234 yards to graduation, the running backs were a strength of the team on Saturday, with a trio of backs each having stand-out moments. So much so that it was hard to tell what coach Bo Pelini’s depth chart of backs will be to start this season.
Christian Turner, the team’s leading returning back, had 12 carries for 32 yards. Braxton Chapman had six carries for 65 yards, including a nice third-down pickup in the first series of the game against the first-team defense. He also was on the receiving end of a touchdown catch from Nathan Mays on a wheel route. London Pearson registered 12 carries for 28 yards and one touchdown, showing good balance as he made a few runs on which he extended the play for extra yards, bouncing off would-be tacklers.
“I like the way our offense is flowing right now,” Turner said. “Our O-line has made a huge jump. I think that’s what helped us propel forward. I think we had a good overall day today.”
Chapman arguably had the best day, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry and doing his part on the receiving end as well. The sophomore from Farrell, Pa., was hesitant to say he had a breakout day on Saturday, instead insisting he’s just doing all he can to help the team, and make the running back group a strength of the Penguins.
“He’s a big, physical guy that runs hard,” Pelini said. “I thought he did a lot of good things.”
Last year’s 4-7 season left a sour taste with the YSU football team.
Especially the season-opening loss to Butler. It might be in the past, but the wound is still fresh.
“That’s a tough one to bring up,” Mays said about the Butler loss of a year ago. “That’s kind of what set our season in motion. I think a lot of people will tell you that, the second that that happened, it just kind of looked like we tanked.
“Guys are really taking that in the back of their head every day, coming on with a chip on their shoulder, whether it’s in workouts, or on the field or in the film room. I think not a lot of people want to talk about it, but it’s always in the back of people’s head that we want to be as far from that team as we can.”
Ask any of the 2018-19 Penguins, and even Pelini, and they will tell you that this group is doing everything in their power to make sure the 2018 season isn’t repeated in 2019.
“I think we’re real locked in and we know what we want,” Chapman said. “Nobody was even remotely happy with what happened last year. All summer and spring, that’s all we’ve been focused on. I think is the hardest we’ve worked all summer. The most locked in and focused we’ve been as a team, both sides of the ball. So I think if we continue to work, I think we can be where we want to be.”
This season, the Penguins open in Montgomery, Ala., against Samford, a team coming off a 6-5 season.
Samford is replacing several key players, including All-American quarterback Devlin Hodges.
The scrimmage ended the first week of fall practice for the Penguins. Overall, Pelini was pleased with his team on both sides of the ball, despite it still being early in the installation process, and what he called a few “bone-headed plays on both sides” during the scrimmage.
Despite that, he likes where this team is, physically and mentally, with three weeks to go before the season opener.
“I saw a lot of good things, I saw a lot of things that need to get corrected,” Pelini said. “I think it was a good first week. I thought we got a lot done, but just like I told the team, we have a lot of work ahead of us and next week is big.
“I thought we had a good first week. I think the attitude of this football team is great. I think that will give us a chance.”