Published October 15, 2011
1. TE David Rogers was in a walking boot after the game. They don't think anything's broken but he might miss some time.
2. Saturday's win was YSU's first in October since October 10, 2009, when the Penguins defeated Western Illinois 31-21. They had lost 15 of 16 in October. Considering YSU plays St. Francis next week, it's a pretty safe bet the Penguins will have their first October winning streak since 2006.
I meant to get those two things in my notebook for Sunday's paper but forgot.
3. On the bus ride to the airport, radio analyst Ed Muransky told me, "They took the training wheels off."
Muransky had been irritated by YSU's vanilla defensive schemes and he was happy to see some blitzes and disguised plays. Defensive coordinator Rick Kravitz likes to blitz but that approach wasn't effective last year because the Penguins didn't have the elite athletes needed to get to the quarterback and cause disruption. But he sent guys like LB Davion Rogers (a former Michigan recruit) and CB Devont'a Davis (Miami, Fla.) and, obviously, those guys have some pretty elite athleticism.
Incidentally, you don't really appreciate Rogers' size until you stand next to him. The man is a giraffe. He's listed at 6-6, 215 and when he has a helmet and cleats on, he looks like a walking skyscraper.
I think YSU's defense took a huge step forward today, although the Penguins were helped out immensely by the struggles of Southern Illinois QB Kory Faulkner, who was not sharp. He's got some ability but he looks like a guy who is only making his second start. (Unlike South Dakota State QB Austin Sumner last week, who was a redshirt freshman making his third start and looked like a junior.)
4. After the game, Christian Bryan told me the team watched a video on Friday night of a cheetah.
"He's so focused when he stalks his prey," he said. "The coaches told us we needed to be like that."
The offense didn't have that killer instinct in the first half but it did in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns and showing equal amounts of aggression, creativity and playmaking.
Bryan told us earlier in the week that the team needed to develop a killer instinct, to finish teams off when they get the chance. Truth is, the offense wasn't the unit that finished things off -- the special teams did, thanks to a huge blunder by SIU's punt returner. But the fact that YSU's offense can put up 464 yards on a day when it was only playing at a top level in one quarter tells you just how good it is.
YSU gets a stop to start the fourth quarter thanks to an SIU drop and a sack of QB Kory Faulkner, who was slow getting up. After fielding the punt on a fair catch at the 11, YSU used its second timeout of the half. Curious time to do that.
YSU has 425 yards through three quarters and SIU only has 213.
After a Penguin punt, SIU QB Kory Faulkner hits MyCole Pruitt for a 42-yard pass to set up first-and-goal at the 8. It was Pruitts's first catch since the first half. He has eight catches for 124 yards.
YSU stuffed a run, then forced an incomplete pass and forced Faulkner to back up about 20 yards before completing a pass for a minus-6 yard net. After a false start penalty (SIU's first in awhile), Jackson MaClachlan was wide right on a 36-yard field goal attempt. Huge stop for YSU's defense after giving up the big pass.
It's still 28-23 YSU, with 9:45 left.
The Penguins take over at their own 20. Big drive here.
YSU picks up one first down, then Jamaine Cook gets stuffed on a stretch run on third-and-4 at the Penguin 40. YSU punts and the Salukis take over at the 25 with 6:57 left.
After a 5-yard gain on first down, Faulkner drops the snap for a 2-yard loss and gets sacked on third down for another 5-yard loss. YSU takes over at the 31 with 5:01 left.
Two plays yield 4 yards and Wolford burns his final timeout on third down. That could come back to haunt him.
Christian Bryan catches a 7-yard out pass when YSU needs 6. Huge play. The true freshman receiver has played really well today. That catch is going to force SIU to burn its timeouts. It has all three.
Two runs yield 5 yards and Wolford opts for a run on fourth down. It gets stuffed for no gain. I would have thrown there. (But, then, anyone who watched YSU's defense last year knows what I'm talking about.) YSU punts on fourth-and-5 with three minutes left.
AND YSU RECOVERS A MUFFED PUNT RETURN IN THE END ZONE!
SIU returner LaSteven McKinney muffed the return at the 6 and YSU fell on it at the end zone. At first, the official signaled touchback but after conferring, gave the Penguins the touchdown.
That's a season-changing play. It's 35-23 YSU with 2:48 left and Penguin fans can exhale.
Josh Lee gets credit for the recovery.
YSU's defense then holds on SIU's final possession and the Penguins get the first road win of the Eric Wolford era.
SIU gets a good return to start the third quarter -- YSU has had really poor kickoff coverage today -- and opt to go for it on a 4th-and-1 near YSU's 40. Kory Faulkner picks up three yards on the QB sneak. But the next three plays lose one yard and the Salukis punt it away.
It's 17-7 with 11:49 left.
YSU took over at its own 15 and Jamaine Cook burst through the left side for 69 yards. Three plays later, Kurt Hess threw an 18 yard TD pass to Christian Bryan to make it 17-14 with 9:59 left.
After another long kickoff return by SIU -- at this point, the Penguins might as well just kick it out of bounds or kick it straight up in the air -- the YSU defense again held, forcing a punt.
After a YSU first down, it faced a fourth and 1 at its own 46 and opted to go for it, with Jamaine Cook gaining 4 yards. On the next play, Kurt Hess hit Christian Bryan (who came back for an underthrown ball near the 20) for a 48-yard pass. Cook then took it up the middle and, suddenly, it's 21-17 YSU with 4:49 left in the third quarter.
The Penguins have played very well in third quarters this season and today might be their best.
Unfortunately, this kickoff coverage is the worst. The Penguins keep kicking it to Steve Strother, who keeps gashing them. I have no earthly idea why they're not squibbing it or kicking it high to some lineman. SIU starts at the YSU 36 after the long gain.
Four plays later, Jewel Hampton burst through the middle for a 27-yard TD. YSU's Kevin Watts blocked the extra point and it's 23-21 SIU with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Watts then breaks a decent return to give the Penguins the ball at their own 37. On the first play, Hess hits Bryan for a 38-yarder, with Bryan just going up and beating his man for the ball. Nice play. A few plays later, Hess hits Jelani Berassa for a 15-yard TD pass, with Berassa beating double coverage inside.
I haven't mentioned it yet bt YSU's offensive line has played very well today, particularly in protecting Hess. Outside of one play late in the first half, Hess has had time to throw.
It's 28-23 YSU with 1:11 left in the third quarter.
YSU squibbs the ensuing kickoff but an illegal hands to the face penalty (against YSU, naturally) gives SIU the ball at its own 48.
The quarter ends with SIU facing a third-and-5 at the YSU 35.
1. YSU's defense has actually made some baby steps today.
Defensive coordinator Rick Kravitz has mixed things up more than usual, bringing freshman Davion Rogers on a couple edge blitzes and sending different defenders from different angles. Overall, a better job disguising things.
2. Problem is, YSU's offense has played poorly.
Two fumbles -- both in SIU territory -- and a litany of mistakes have cost the Penguins a chance to be, at the very least, tied.
They only have four penalties for 45 yards but it feels like more because they've all been crucial. QB Kurt Hess has decent statistics (9 of 13 for 116 yards) but it feels like something is missing.
Southern Illinois plays a lot of Cover 3 and Cover 4 (basically, deep zone designed to stop the run and keep plays in front of them), which is actually a good defense for YSU's offense to play against, but it requires you to play mistake-free. So far, the Penguins haven't been up to the challenge.
3. I've said it before, but YSU really misses freshman WR Andre Stubbs.
Stubbs was a very dangerous kick returner and his season-ending shoulder injury forced YSU to play Kevin Watts in that spot, and Watts is not a good kick returner.
Watts is a good blocker and a good possession receiver but he just doesn't have the burst you want back there.
YSU tied the game with a five-play, 42-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard run by Adaris Bellamy. It's 7-7 with 12:56 left.
Nice looking drive by the Penguins. Kurt Hess got some time to throw and Shane Montgomery had a good mix of run and pass.
A nice return by SIU gives the Salukis the ball at their own 42. On third-and-6, YSU is victimized by an inside crossing route inside, then get tagged with a roughing the passer penalty on Daniel Stewart. That sets up a first down at the YSU 19. SIU picks up a fourth-and-1 at the 10, then scores on a 6-yard run by Jewel Hampton on the ensuing play.
It's 14-7 with 9:54 left and it's shaping up to be another game where YSU's offense will have to score 40 to win.
YSU drove into SIU territory and appeared to have a first down at the 36, but an illegal formation wiped out the first down (five men in the backfield; that shouldn't happen at this point in the year) and the Penguins were forced to punt after a dropped pass, with Nick Liste's kick going into the end zone.
A lot of sloppy play so far for the Penguins. Penalties, missed tackles, missed assignments.
But YSU's defense stiffens, forcing a three-and-out and the Penguins take over at their own 38 with 5:22 left. It's 14-7 SIU.
They better stiffen again. YSU gets a big pass play from Hess to Jelani Berassa, but Berassa fumbles the ball away at the end and the Salukis recover at their own 29. Frustrating day so far for YSU's offense. So far, three possessions have ended in SIU territory on mistakes by the Penguin offense -- two fumbles and one penalty that forced a punt.
Again, YSU's defense stiffens, thanks in part to SIU QB Kory Faulkner looking like a guy making his second career start. He's been off target with a lot of his throws and his reads.
YSU takes over at its own 25 and shoots itself in the foot with a 15-yard chop block penalty. YSU's offense has taken a step backward today, both literally and symbolically. On the next play, Hess is hit at the 5, tries to throw it, gets it batted back to him, catches it and gets sacked at the 5. That sets up a third-and-30. Jamaine Cook gains 24 yards on a draw play and Liste punts it away. (Considering that a draw and a screen were really the only two options there, it's amazing he got that much.) A good return -- YSU overpursued a deep punt -- and a block in the back by Penguins offensive lineman Andrew Sinko (yes, you read that right) gives SIU the ball at the Penguins' 33.
Another atrocious penalty by YSU. Sinko clearly leveled a guy from behind, so you can't blame the officials. In fact, you can't blame the officials for any of YSU's penalties.
The Salukis' drive stalls at the 17 thanks to two overthrows by SIU QB Kory Faulkner, who deserves credit for helping the Penguins stay in this game. Jack MacLachlan ties his career-long with a 34-yard field goal (one of the reporters quipped that it would have been good from 36) and it's 17-7 with about a minute left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kevin Watts was too deep and had to dive to catch the kick, rolling out of bounds around the 20. YSU picks up a first down on a pass interference penalty but then is forced to punt.
SIU takes a knee and that ends the first half. It's 17-7 Salukis and the Penguins should be happy it's not worse.
A promising opening drive for YSU ends at the SIU 29 on a Kurt Hess fumble.
YSU's defense then gave up one first down and forced a punt, but the Penguins weren't able to do anything and a punt gave SIU the ball back at the YSU 43.
The Salukis promptly drove 43 yards in eight plays, picking up a fourth-and-1 at the YSU 14. The drive was capped by a 2-yard TD run by Jewel Hampton.
It's 7-0 Southern Illinois with 3:15 left in the first quarter. So far, YSU's defense looks a little better than usual but YSU's offense needs to play a lot better.
Unfortunately, it doesn't. YSU comes up short on third-and-1 at its own 36 and nearly get its punt blocked. Southern Illinois will take over at its own 25.
YSU had a bad snap on its first punt so the Saluki coaches obviously decided to roll the dice and come after one there. If the snap had been bad again, it might be 14-0. Instead, it's 7-0 with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
Just before the quarter ends, Jeremey Edwards intercepts SIU QB Kory Faulkner, who was hammered by LB Davion Rogers as he threw. That's the second time I've seen them send Rogers on a blitz and it's worked out both times.
Incidentally, Rogers might end the season as the team's best defensive player and he's only a freshman. I really, really like that kid.
YSU QB Kurt Hess hits Christian Bryan on a 20-yard pass play to the SIU 22 on the final play of the first quarter. It's 7-0 but the Penguins are threatening.
OK, we're live in Cardbondale, Ill. and it's a tipping-point game for both teams. YSU and Southern Illinois both enter the game at 2-3, 1-2 Missouri Valley and the loser of this game is probably playing for pride.
I felt that last week's loss to South Dakota State was a season-killer and I still feel that way, but I've been wrong before. A win today, coupled with winnable home games against St. Francis next week and Western Illinois in two weeks would put the Penguins in position to make a run.
But, as I said, it all starts today.
As for Southern Illinois, this game could serve as a referendum on Dale Lennon, who made his playoffs his first two seasons but missed them last year and is in danger of doing the same this year. After making the playoffs every season from 2003-09, the Salukis have slipped a bit and start a sophomore quarterback making his second career start.
YSU's secondary has been the team weak spot (to put it mildly) so today is a good opportunity to get some confidence back there.
I have a bad feeling about this game -- YSU hasn't won a road game under Eric Wolford and the defense has regressed in recent weeks -- but I never thought the Penguins would lose last week, so what do I know?
The magic number today is 30. In 10 conference games under Wolford, YSU has only held opponents under 30 twice. Both were victories.
In last week's blog, I mentioned that I got my first "Why did we run off Heacock to get this guy?" email and the fan criticism escalated a little after that South Dakota State loss.
People are starting to ask me whether YSU hired the wrong guy, which I think is partly because of the losses and partly because Wolford refuses to temper expectations. He came out at Tuesday's press conference and repeated that the standard here is national championships and he's never going to back down from that.
That's fine, and he's right. But this team isn't competing for a national title this year and he'd be better off talking about growth and building his program into one that can do that in years to come. When you make those sorts of bold declarations, then go 5-11 to start your career, people start getting frustrated.
For the record, I think they hired the right guy. There's been a clear talent upgrade since last year and the team is set up to contend next year and beyond. I think a lot of people wanted to see more evidence of the program's growth this year (specifically, with wins and losses), which is what made last week's loss so critical.
The feeling in the program was that YSU's schedule was favorable enough for the Penguins to go, say, 7-4 this year and maybe slip into the playoffs, then make a run at the conference title next year.
That timetable may have been pushed back a year.
Wolford talks a lot about how the travel in this conference is tough and he's right. As the easternmost team (by FAR), YSU has long road trips everywhere. But what makes it worse is how they have to travel. Yesterday, YSU bused from Youngstown to Cleveland-Hopkins beginning at 6:45 a.m., arrived two hours before departure, flew to Chicago (there are no direct flights to St. Louis anymore), stayed on the plane, flew to St. Louis, then bused to Mt. Vernon and stayed overnight. Then, today, they made a one-hour bus ride to Carbondale.
The trip home is a lot easier (they'll fly from nearby Marion, Ill., to Youngstown's airport) but yesterday's trip shows the problem with this league -- a lot of the teams aren't located near airports.
Incidentally, Mt. Vernon's newspaper this morning had a front-page story about trick-or-treating hours. And the sports section had one (ONE!) high school football game.
If I ever end up at a newspaper like this, do me a favor: Drive to that city and run me over with your car.
We ate at BW-3 last night and they were putting red dye in the beer for Cardinals fans.
One of the guys I was with was tempted to ask if he could get one with blue dye for the Brewers.
If you're listening to the radio today and don't hear Bob Hannon, it's because he's in Columbus watching his daughter compete with Poland in the girls state golf tournament. YSU student Zach Humphries is filling in for him. Zach's a good dude.