Published November 17, 2012
UPDATE: As feared, YSU missed the playoffs. Three MVFC teams make it in: North Dakota State, Illinois State (both got first-round byes) and South Dakota State.
1. Before I get to the playoff stuff, I want to say a few things about Saturday's game.
I thought YSU played its best overall game of the season, and maybe of the Wolford era, on Saturday. And I'll start by praising the special teams, which has been criticized this season but played a key role in the 27-6 win over Indiana State.
Michael Wheary had two kickoff returns for 81 yards, including a 56-yarder that set up YSU's second field goal, a 47-yarder by David Brown. That was Brown's career-long. He also had a 20-yarder.
Nick Liste had three touchbacks and pinned four of his seven punts inside the 20. Only one of his punts got returned. The Sycamores started but two drives inside their own 30.
"Pretty good day, obviously," said YSU coach Eric Wolford.
2. YSU's defense made plays all over the place.
The most eye-popping stat was attached to Shakir Bell, who ran for a season-low 54 yards on 18 carries (with a long run of 11). He didn't score a touchdown and was, basically, a non-factor. Considering he ran for 256 yards and four TDs last year against the Penguins, you can understand why DT Aronde Stanton took a look at the stat sheet and did a little dance at the podium in the postgame press conference.
Julius Childs had a team-best seven tackles and had an interception. Donald D'Alesio picked off Bell on a halfback option (and had another interception called back due to pass interference). Dom Rich had a monster sack.
"It was a great group effort today," Rich said. "We're definitely a team that's progressing."
3. Offensively, YSU scored 27.6 points on a team that entered the game giving up just 13 points a game — second-best in the country. The Penguins piled up 394 yards on a team that was giving up just 286.6 yards per game (sixth-best in the country).
If it was Jamaine Cook's last game, well, he went out in style, carrying 30 times for 124 yards and a TD. He also became YSU's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (ahead of Tamron Smith) and became just the second YSU running back to pass 4,000 yards for a career. (Smith still holds that mark.)
Kurt Hess, meanwhile, completed 20 of 28 passes for 248 yards and two TDs and looked like the guy we all saw against Northern Iowa. He entered the game tied with Tom Zetts on the school's career passing TD list and now holds the record all by himself. He could put it completely out of reach by the end of next year.
Christian Bryan had five catches for 84 yards and Andrew Williams (who has just gotten better and better) caught four passes for 91 yards and both TDs.
Plus, YSU controlled the ball for 36 minutes and 36 seconds. You're going to win a lot of games doing that.
4. Afterward, Wolford was confident YSU would make the playoffs but, well, he's a confident guy. And even if he wasn't, he's certainly not going to let the playoff committee see any quotes that aren't confident.
I wish I was that optimistic. I think the loss to Illinois State, in which the Penguins blew a 28-7 lead, is going to end up costing them a playoff berth. A 4-4 record in the conference -- which puts them sixth in the standings -- just isn't good enough.
Wolford has argued that "money game" wins (like YSU had against Pitt) should count as two, but by that logic, wins over partial-scholarship teams (like Albany) and non-scholarship teams (like Valparaiso) should count as half a win. Add in conference wins over Western Illinois (which stinks) and one-win South Dakota (which came by 3 points at home) and I just don't think YSU's resume is strong enough. Maybe next year, when the field is expanded to 24 teams, but not this year.
We'll find out what the playoff committee thinks when the results are announced at 1:30 p.m. today on ESPNU.
5. Wolford has been adamant this season is a failure if the Penguins don't make the playoffs. His players said the same thing afterward.
I'm not so sure. I think 7-4, with a three-game win streak to end the season, might not be a success. (Particularly after a 4-0 start.) But "failure" seems too strong a word. I think it was a step forward in a year when YSU was hoping to make a leap.
In his postgame press conference, Wolford talked about how this was the first year he was really able to redshirt recruits, rather than force-feeding them into the lineup. He talked about all the promising young lineman in the program and how he's building a foundation. These are things he should have been emphasizing all season.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Wolford set the high jump bar at seven feet, then got frustrated when he was criticized for only jumping five. On Saturday, I think the Penguins made it up to six.
They'll have to wait until 1:30 p.m. today to see if they got to seven.