Despite loss, YSU likely in playoffs


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by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins."   | 155 entries"> Untitled document

1. Win or lose next week, I can't see a scenario where YSU doesn't make the playoffs.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference may be the FCS' best, but it's lacking in elite teams — outside of North Dakota State, obviously.

With an 8-3 record (including 5-2 in the conference), YSU can't finish any worse than third in the MVFC. And with the playoff pool expanded to 24 teams (from 20), it would be almost inconceivable if the MVFC didn't get three teams in.

SDSU (7-4, 4-3), Southern Illinois (6-5, 4-3) and Missouri State (5-7, 5-3) all have three conference losses. While the winner of Saturday’s SDSU-YSU game would be in, even with a loss, YSU would get the nod over SIU (which lost to YSU) and MSU (which has seven losses).

After Saturday's loss, Kurt Hess said he doesn't think the Penguins deserve to make the playoffs if they lose to South Dakota State next weekend.

Head coach Eric Wolford (wisely) stopped short of agree with him, saying only that after missing the playoffs by one game each of the last two years, he doesn't want to leave the decision up to a committee.

Ideally, the Penguins will win and they won't need to. But I think they're in regardless.

2. At halftime of Saturday's game, Jim Tressel recalled his motto "November is for contenders. And we'll find out if we're a contender today."

Well, YSU lost 35-17, but the Penguins looked like contenders to me. Down to their third-string quarterback, Tanner Garry, YSU was still in the game in the fourth quarter. Had starter Kurt Hess (ankle) played the whole game, YSU would have had a chance to win. That showed me something.

That said, North Dakota State is clearly better than YSU — and everyone else in the FCS. Once Hess went out, the Bison played pretty conservatively, figuring (correctly) that the Dante Nania/Garry combination wasn't good enough to beat them.

3. Wolford was really angry about NDSU DE Cole Jirik's late hit on Nania just before halftime. Jirik was flagged for roughing the passer, setting up a field goal that made it 14-10, but Nania injured his shoulder on the play and left after one second-half series.

A few minutes later, he complained about the play during his halftime radio interview, which would have been fine had he not said "s---."

Wolford's mouth got him in trouble again midway through the third quarter when he was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Wolford believed there was a little too much pushing-and-shoving after a play and let the officials know about it.

Instead of a second-and-8 at the NDSU 21, YSU got pushed back to the 36 and eventually settled for a 44-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked.

Now. I can appreciate that Wolford was sticking up for his players, but there's no excuse for either incident. When you're the head coach at YSU, you flat-out can't curse on air. And when the third-team quarterback is trying to keep his team in the game, the head coach can't get flagged for stupid 15-yard penalties.

4. I asked Wolford about those two incidents afterward and he wasn't exactly apologetic.

"I'm sure a lot of people were upset about the personal foul on Dante Nania," he said. "Were you upset about it? I mean, it was a cheap shot. That's part of the game, I guess, but that was something I thought was unnecessary. Those things come back to haunt you at some point."

When asked if Jirik should have been ejected, Wolford said he'd have to review the play on film. "But I thought it was a blatant-enough one that it should have been discussed."

That's fine, but, again it doesn't excuse cursing on the air.

As one fan tweeted to me, "Nice halftime interview, Wolford. Stay classy."

5. Hess said he expects to play on Saturday, so this might be a moot point but I would play Garry over Nania.

Nania showed his athleticism on some runs, but he looked uncomfortable when he had to pass, which is the same problem he's shown in practice over the last two years. He struggles to read defenses.

Garry (a former walk-on at Bowling Green) is more of a traditional drop-back passer. While he looked rusty (which is natural considering he probably hasn't had reps with the first team since August), he made a big-time throw to tight end Nate Adams late in the third quarter. That pass came on fourth down and it cut the deficit to 28-17.

I'd like to see what he could do with more preparation time.

The irony is, both players were briefly switched to safety during spring camp, which shows you just how thin YSU is at that position, and how important Hess is to the Penguins.

6. It would have been nice to have more than 13,164 at Saturday's game but as athletic director Ron Strollo told me, "This is one of the best November crowds we've had."

And unlike the Western Illinois game, where YSU had an announced crowd of 13,607 but probably only had 2,000-3,000 fans in the seats, Saturday's attendance figure seemed legitimate. The fans were engaged.

"It was louder than it's been all season," LB Dom Rich said afterward.

Added Wolford, "It was loud. The crowd did a great job. The tailgate lots were revving and that's what's the Ice Castle atmosphere should be like and I would expect they'll be back out there next week knowing what the circumstances are. I would hope so."

Hope is a good word. I expect next week's crowd to be much smaller. A lot of things came together on Saturday (nice weather, Tressel's induction, big game) and I'd be surprised if YSU gets more than 7,000 actual fans next week.

I hope I'm wrong.

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