Ten thoughts on YSU's loss to Pitt


« Penguin Insider

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

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1. I said before the game that I thought YSU would go 8-3 and make the playoffs.

Nothing I saw on Saturday made me change my mind.

In fact, I think it's a testament to how much Eric Wolford changed the mentality of this program when it comes to money games that (some) fans were upset about an eight-point loss on the road to an ACC team. That mentality continued on Saturday, when Bo Pelini made it clear that he was disappointed in the loss because he fully expected to win. The players followed his lead in the postgame comments.

As Pelini said afterward, "There are no moral victories. That doesn't exist in my world."

2. OK, so no moral victories. But it was hard not to be impressed with the way YSU responded whenever Pitt seemed ready to break the game open. There was a point in the second quarter, when Pitt was leading 17-3 and dominating the line of scrimmage, that I wondered if the game was headed for a 2005/2009-esque blowout. But YSU's offense was able to shift field position, the defense got a big stop and, on the ensuing possession, freshman Zak Kennedy hit a 42-yard field goal.

A minute later, LeRoy Alexander got a pick-six and the Penguins were right back in it, trailing 17-13.

3. Yes, YSU gave up a kick return for a touchdown on the next play, but it seemed like every time Pitt made a play, the Penguins had an answer.

Case in point: I thought Pelini blundered when he went for it on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter at the Pitt 45. Martin Ruiz, YSU's best inside runner, was out with a thigh injury and Shane Montgomery called for an off-tackle run to the right, where Jody Webb got stuffed. Now, Webb is a talented guy, but he's more of a change-of-pace back, not a grinder. And at that point, YSU had rushed 26 times for 60 yards. I thought the smart play would be to punt. Instead, Pitt got the ball back at the 45 and immediately went deep, hitting on a 55-yard pass play that made it 38-23.

It seemed like a back-breaker, but the Penguins scored about 5 1/2 minutes later and kept things close the rest of the way.

"All through camp, we worked on battling through adversity and staying composed," Alexander said. "We showed we're going to play all 60 minutes."

4. Alexander, who transferred from Nebraska in the offseason, was clearly the defensive MVP. He led the team in tackles (nine), had two interceptions and gave the Penguins a difference-maker at safety, which has been a weak spot over the past few years.

DEs Derek Rivers (two tackles for loss, one sack) and Terrell Williams (one sack, one forced fumble) also made some plays. Obviously, there's some issues with run defense, but I think YSU's defense will be better than it showed on Saturday. And outside of the kick return, the special teams were pretty good.

5. Speedy senior WR Andre Stubbs has always been a playmaker, but I was impressed with the way he maintained his speed against Pitt. In past years, it was like he was a video game player where you would hit the burst button and he would accelerate, then immediately go back to normal speed.

Afterward, he credited strength coach Ben Iannacchione for his improvement in that area.

"We worked on a lot of hundreds [100-meter dashes] and I think our team improved on its speed," Stubbs said.

6. As a side note, Stubbs also improved his interview skills. He's always been friendly, but it was painful interviewing him as a freshman. Same with Martin Ruiz. Both those guys are a lot more confident in interviews, which makes our jobs easier because they're such impact players.

In case you care (and I doubt you do), if I were to rank the five best interviews on this year's team, it would look like this: 1. Junior QB Tanner Garry (he's a Hall of Famer in this area), 2. Webb, 3. Senior DE Steve Zaborsky, 4. Alexander, 5. Senior LB Dubem Nwadiogbu. DE Derek Rivers is also very good, as are DE Terrell Williams and RB Demond Hymes.

7. Maybe the most disappointing thing about Saturday's game was the atmosphere. The heat, combined with Pitt's mediocrity over the last years, made for a lackluster crowd. The announced attendance was just below 50,000, but that's firmly in the "tickets distributed" category. By the middle of the fourth quarter, Heinz Field wasn't even 20 percent full. The only signs of life came from the student section, which showed up in pretty good numbers.

I don't think Pitt should build a new stadium -- that would be a waste of money -- but in a perfect world, the Panthers would play in a 50,000-seat stadium. And it's not like Pittsburgh is going to catch college football fever after an eight-point win over YSU.

8. I say this as someone who was raised in a strict Cleveland sports/Ohio State household: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is an idiot. OK, he's an idiot who has helped the Big Ten make a ton of money, but his opposition to the college football playoff was stupid. And his policy to stop scheduling FCS schools is equally stupid.

Case in point: Indiana beat Southern Illinois 48-47 on Saturday.

Oh, and how about this score from Saturday: Illinois 52, Kent State 3.

YSU lost to Illinois 28-17 last year -- and was leading in the fourth quarter -- but Kent gets destroyed a year later to an Illini team that fired its head coach about 30 seconds before the season started.

The Big Ten's policy is bad for YSU, financially and otherwise, but it's also small-minded. As Bo Pelini said in an article I wrote last month, "You can't just lump everyone into one category. Some [FCS] teams are better than others. And there are some FBS schools that would struggle in our conference."

9. Missouri Valley teams went 3-7 in opening games, with the big surprise coming on Aug. 29, when North Dakota State lost to Montana 38-35.

While YSU obviously wanted to beat Pitt, the 2012 win over the Panthers showed that November games mean more than September games. (Or, in the case of that season, October games.)

YSU's playoff hopes will come down to conference play. The Penguins need to go at least 5-3 in the conference to have a chance. If they go 6-2, they're almost certainly in.

The schedule sets up nicely, with the three best teams (North Dakota State, Illinois State and South Dakota State) coming to Stambaugh Stadium. With the talent on this year's team, there's no reason YSU can't go 6-2 in the MVFC.

10. One more press conference note. One of the things that drove YSU fans crazy was Wolford's unwillingness to blame himself for losses, combined with his tendency to blame his players for bad plays.

Pelini didn't do that on Saturday. He made it clear that it was a team loss, coaches included.

"We all did our part in every phase of the game to lose the football game," he said. "Coaching as well. We didn't coach well enough, we didn't execute well enough, we didn't play well enough. We as a football team need to get better."

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