Published November 2, 2013
1. As I was waiting for Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford after the game, I overheard linebackers coach Ron Stoops say, "We had 'em all the way."
I also heard wide receiver Christian Bryan say, "Let's get the hell out of here."
They were smiling as they said it. I think everyone on the team felt maybe they got a win they didn't quite deserve on Saturday.
I've said this before, but good teams win games like that. YSU lost three fumbles, didn't cause a turnover and missed four extra points/conversions but came up big in the game's biggest moments.
Unlike the 2010 team, which lost a boatload of close games, this YSU team has enough talent and resilience to find a way to win these kind of games.
Even when Jim Tressel was dominating I-AA in the 90s, the Penguins often won close, ugly games, particularly on the road. These Penguins are starting to do that, which is why it's time to start believing in them.
2. My prediction before the season was YSU would go 9-3 with losses to Michigan State, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
That could still happen, but there's no reason why this team can't go 10-2. South Dakota State has looked vulnerable and
Northern Iowa is a surprising (stunning?) 0-5 in the Missouri Valley after a 4-0 non-conference start.
YSU can essentially clinch a playoff spot with a win at UNI on Saturday and with the way the Panthers are playing, it would be a surprise if they didn't.
Meanwhile, Missouri State (which doesn't play YSU) and Illinois State (which got pasted by the Penguins) are both 4-2 in the conference.
It's a weird year in the league.
(Except, you know, for North Dakota State.)
3. There was some temporary panic after YSU's blowout loss to Michigan State in Week 3 but that defeat is looking better and better.
The No. 22 Spartans dominated Michigan on Saturday and only one of the Spartans' nine opponents have scored more than the 17 put up by YSU: Indiana, which lost 49-28.
MSU has give up nine points TOTAL in its last three games.
Turns out, Michigan State was just really good.
4. YSU's special teams had been really good this year but Nathan Gibbs had two bad snaps on extra points, which forced Wolford to gamble on some conversions.
(He ripped himself pretty thoroughly on Twitter after the game.)
Fortunately for the Penguins, it didn't cost them the game but YSU should have finished with 42 points, not 38.
I wrote a story about YSU's good special teams in Friday's paper, which prompted Wolford to call me out in a postgame interview.
"My media boys at home always talk about how perfect everything is and the next we just go out and botch it up," he said. "One of these days I'll get these guys to stop jinxing us."
You hear that everybody? Wolford accused me of being too positive.
Mark it down.
5. On that note, I'm not sure what to say about YSU's defense. It just didn't look very good.
Unlike the first half of the Southern Illinois game, I felt coordinator Joe Tresey was pretty creative on Saturday, bringing blitzes and stunts from a lot of different positions and different angles.
But the secondary got gashed a couple times and YSU gave up 34 points to a team that came in averaging 17 points per game.
In fact, South Dakota had only scored more than 17 in one game, a 38-31 double overtime win over UNI. And the Coyotes only had 28 points in regulation of that game.
Yes, 17 of Saturday's points came off YSU turnovers but this was not a winning performance by YSU's defense.
That said, I did think LB Teven Williams had maybe the best game of his career. He made a lot of nice open-field tackles.
6. If YSU can beat UNI, it sets up a huge home game against North Dakota State on Nov. 16.
Not only will the Penguins be hosting the two-time defending national champions (and, presumably, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation), but they'll be doing it on the same day Jim Tressel goes into YSU's athletic hall of fame.
After Saturday's game, I asked Ron Strollo if he expected a sellout, but he shook his head, saying the bad weather scares away companies that buy hundreds of tickets for warm-weather games earlier in the year, in part because they can tailgate beforehand.
"That's what we need to have a sellout and we don't have any of those right now," he said. "I doubt it will be our biggest crowd of the season."
I disagree. I think if the Penguins enter that game unbeaten in the conference, the fans will come out.
"I hope I'm wrong," Strollo said, smiling.
7. Running back Martin Ruiz has obviously been YSU's best freshman but I'm a big Jody Webb fan.
Webb had two more touchdowns against South Dakota, one on a 42-yard run and another on a 40-yard reception, and he's emerging as a big weapon.
I'd love to see him starting returning some kickoffs. Andre Stubbs handles most of those right now but for all his quickness, he doesn't have the strength to break tackles. Stubbs also tends to be faster than anyone in his first 10 yards but it's hard for him to maintain it after 25 or 30.
When I asked Webb about it after the game, he smiled and said, "We've got some great returners back there, but maybe some day."
8. I can't tell you how many people run up to me on the street and shout, "You get to go with the team to South Dakota?
In November? You're so lucky! What's it like?"
Well, once you get past all the sunshine, palm trees and bikini-clad hula girls, it's a lot like you'd expect: Flat, brown and cold.
On the plus side, I saw gas for as low as $2.89 a gallon. And Sioux Falls has a pretty solid downtown. And … well, that's it.
9. Oh, I did see someone wearing a "Home school valedictorian" T-shirt, so we can give South Dakota a point for that.
10. I got an email asking if Jamaine Cook was still on the Browns' practice squad. The answer is yes.
If you scroll down to to the bottom of this link, you'll find his name: http://www.clevelandbrowns.com/team/roster.html.
11. I'll finish this blog with a little more from the 1993 team.
In last Sunday's paper, we ran an oral history of the 1993 national championship team. (In case you missed it, you can read it here.)
I probably had enough in my notes to write a story three times that long, which means I had to leave a few things out.
One of my favorite stories came from running back Tamron Smith, who told me he was forced to run the stadium steps at least once a week that season.
"Anybody on the team can tell you I had the propensity for finding trouble," he said. "So on Senior Day, when they announced all the seniors' names, they ran out on the field and the fans would clap. But because I got in trouble every week and had run the steps so much, I actually ran the stadium steps and everybody clapped."
When I told that story to QB Mark Brungard, he started chuckling and said, "He knew he had the affection of Coach Tressel. Most of it [Smith's antics] were good-natured. Nick Cochran [the 1992 quarterback] was that way, too. They had one of those relationships where they knew how to push his [Tressel's] buttons. Tamron was just a gamer. A flat gamer. Getting him to practice hard was another story."
And I liked this quote from Chris Sammarone, when I asked him if that team ever got bored or complacent during the regular season because it had played so many playoff games over the previous two years:
"Bored? No, because we were so good, it was fun," he said. "Every team gave us their best shot. We were circled on everybody's calendar. For us, that was fun. We expected to win every game we played, whether they were 1-9 or 9-1, because we knew they were going to play that game like it was their championship."
And I liked this from Dave Burch, who said he'd pay attention to which opposing players were getting a lot of hype, which he interpreted as a shot against YSU. (He all but admitted this was a little crazy.) "We looked for reasons to get mad at people," he said. "It could be anything. You've got to have a little edge. Basically for us, especially on defense, we took everything personally. If you scored a TD against us, especially for me, I took that personally. Anytime someone was supposed to be as good as me, I took it personally. Everybody on the team did. If Tamron was going against a team with a running back that had as many yards or as much attention as he had, we took it personally."