Youngstown State hosts Robert Morris in nonconference finale
YOUNGSTOWN — Doug Phillips remains a process-driven coach.
Following Week 1’s win over Valparaiso, the fourth-year coach said Youngstown State’s focus remained inward as it prepared for its annual Power 5 “buy game” against Ohio State.
Now, coming off a 35-7 loss to the vaunted Buckeyes during a game in which YSU posted a respectable showing, the focus is the same — making the needed improvements from Week 2 to Week 3 as the Penguins (1-1) enter their nonconference finale (2 p.m., ESPN+, 570 AM WKBN) against Robert Morris (1-1).
“You’re still assessing and evaluating and finding the areas we need to make the greatest improvement,” Phillips said.
So where are those areas as YSU prepares for its final dress rehearsal ahead of Missouri Valley play?
“It’s got to be focus and discipline,” Phillips said. “After you watch film, we left some things out on the field — maybe because of a missed assignment, those sorts of things. That starts with coaching. … For us, it’s continuing to clean that up and become a four-quarter football team where you play complementary football on offense, defense and special teams. We have yet to hit that.”
Offensively, that focus is on finishing drives.
YSU was able to sustain a handful of lengthy drives against OSU. The first of those was YSU’s first possession of the game, which resulted in an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by a Mitch Davidson 1-yard touchdown run and ate 5:52 off the clock.
In the second half, however, YSU put together an 11-play, 43-yard drive that chewed 7:36 but ended with an interception. The Penguins also had a drive end at the Ohio State 47 after negative plays, and penalties stymied other Penguin efforts.
Phillips also wants to see more explosive plays. The Penguins’ first touchdown drive was keyed by a 36-yard pass from Davidson to Max Tomczak, but there were few large chunk plays otherwise.
“You have to have explosives. You’re not just going to drive a football four yards, three yards and a cloud of dust in college football anymore. You need explosives. On that (first) drive, we had an explosive with Max Tomczak. If you don’t get those explosives, you’re probably getting to the 40 yard line and then punting the football because it’s very hard to (sustain long drives),” Phillips said.
Defensively, he cited tackling and run fits. YSU yielded 4.6 yards per carry to Ohio State — 123 yards on 27 attempts.
And, in a general sense, YSU is focused on penalties. Whether it’s a holding call or delay of game stalling the offense or a personal foul giving up unnecessary yardage on special teams or defense, the Penguins are seeking to minimize what’s been a somewhat alarming trend through two games. YSU is averaging 8.5 penalties per game for 83.5 yards.
All the while, the Penguins are tasked with a Robert Morris team with some new-found confidence.
During the Colonials’ 42-7 loss at Air Force to begin the season, RMU inserted Anthony Chiccitt at quarterback.
It’s yielded results similar to what YSU found when it turned to Davidson a season ago. Chiccitt immediately sparked confidence in the Colonials and, in last week’s 31-21 win over St. Francis, Chiccitt was an efficient 21-of-27 for 281 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target was Noah Robinson, who caught eight passes for 138 yards and a touchdown in the victory.
“When they put (Chiccitt) in (during) the second half of that Air Force game, I saw a completely different team, an inspired team,” Phillips said. “He’s distributing the football — he’s thrown for (a) 78% (completion rate). They have good wide receivers, and you could see that team rally behind him. They needed a win, and they got a huge win against St. Francis.”
And then, of course, comes the importance of piecing together a complete performance to cap nonconference play. After hosting Robert Morris, YSU will have a bye week before heading to Northern Iowa for a visit to the dreaded UNI-Dome.
“These nonleague games are huge. …You have to go into these games (ready) because the committee is picking who goes in and who goes out. We have to not only represent Youngstown, our university, but we’re also representing our league. These games are important at the end, because you have to have a resume, and last year we learned if you’re not ready to play, it’ll come back to haunt you.”
• This is the fifth all-time meeting between YSU and RMU. YSU is 4-0.
• Over the last three meetings, YSU has outscored the Colonials 113-16. Those games were a 45-10 decision in 2019, a 30-0 decision in 2017 and a 38-6 decision in 2016.
• Robert Morris’ victory over SFU last week was its first victory since a 20-17 win over Campbell on Nov. 20, 2021 — a span of 658 days between victories. RMU went 0-11 a season ago.