Published September 24, 2011
Postgame thoughts from Saturday's 37-35 loss to Indiana State.
1. In the postgame press conference after YSU's 37-35 loss, Penguins coach Eric Wolford said -- unprompted -- that he wouldn't use youth as an excuse for the team's struggles, particularly on defense.
It may not be an acceptable excuse, but it definitely was a big reason for Saturday's loss.
YSU essentially had nine first-year starters on defense, including three freshmen at linebacker (Travis Williams, Teven Williams and Davion Rogers). The two returning starters consist of a 2010 transfer from Bowling Green (Andrew Johnson) and a guy who was playing soccer in Nigeria the last time the Penguins made the playoffs (Obinna Ekweremuba).
Indiana State running back Shakir Bell gashed the team for four TD runs of 39 yards or longer in the first half, essentially on sweeps to the right side of the line. There were a lot of missed assignments and missed tackles but it was also obvious that once things started going bad, it took awhile for them to stabilize things. That comes with leadership and experience, something the offense has a lot more of.
2. On his way out of the press conference, ISU coach Trent Miles told me to make sure I put in his quotes praising YSU.
So here they are: "They've got a great coach. They made a lot of excellent adjustments. They're going to win a lot of games."
3. Question is, will they?
Before the season, I thought this looked like a 7-4 team. But to do that, they'll have to go unbeaten at home (which is very doable considering they have South Dakota State, Western Illinois and Missouri State, which are probably the three worst teams in the conference this year). But to get that seventh win, they'll have to steal one on the road against Southern Illinois, North Dakota State and UNI.
Unless the defense improves, that's going to be tough.
4. YSU scored 35 points but it had to work for all of them. Indiana State throws a LOT of different looks at teams defensively, stunting and blitzing on almost every play, usually at odd angles.
Linebacker Aaron Archie was everywhere with 18 tackles, including two sacks. And DE Ben Obaseki had three quarterback pressures as the Sycamores repeatedly forced Hess to move around, inside and out of the pocket, to buy time. The worst part was, even when they were rushing three or four, they got pressure.
5. This is Miles' fourth year in the program and you can tell the difference between where the Sycamores are and where YSU is.
Indiana State was awful his first two years but he's done a nice job developing his players and the program. YSU's fans aren't going to be that patient but there's just no way YSU is ready to compete for a league title yet. Maybe a playoff berth, but not a conference title.
Next year could be a different story, especially with another recruiting class like this one.
6. Jamaine Cook didn't look like himself.
He didn't have the same burst to the outside and YSU's offensive line had a tough time opening holes against a stacked front specifically designed to stop Cook. There was one play where he appeared to have the edge and got chase down by a linebacker from the side. Still, he managed 177 yards on 33 carries because, well, he's still pretty good, even at 85 percent.
With RB Jordan Thompson suffering possibly a season-ending shoulder injury and Cook taking a LOT of hits through the first four weeks, the coaches need to get Adaris Bellamy more involved. Problem is, Cook is also the team's best pass protector at the position and I don't think the coaches trust the other RBs to pick up blitzes.
7. YSU misses Andre Stubbs.
The freshman wide receiver suffered what could be a season-ending shoulder injury last week and there's a huge dropoff between him and the other kick returners.
One thing the coaches might need to consider is whether to play true freshman RB Demond Hymes. They had hoped to redshirt him but he's the only one on the roster with the type of burst and quickness you see from Stubbs. Thompson also returns kicks and with him out, they could use another hold-your-breath RB in there.
8. Quick plug: Next Sunday (Oct. 2), I'll have a big story on the 1991 national championship team. The Penguins are honoring that team at the Oct. 8 home game against South Dakota State.