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Consistent play is necessary for YSU

Time is running out for the Youngstown State football team — and maybe for coach Bo Pelini.

No, YSU won’t be firing him anytime soon — nor should they — and no, the Penguins won’t be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose Saturday’s showdown with top-ranked North Dakota State (6 p.m., at Stambaugh Stadium), but that’s not the point.

Consistency has been the missing ingredient since Pelini took over in 2015, and if that doesn’t change soon, one has to wonder if it’s every going to happen. This season could be a defining one for Pelini and his Penguins.

Right now, it’s hard to know which team is going to show up on a weekly basis. Some days, the Penguins look like the team people expect to see. They run the ball with authority, make a few big pass plays and the defense plays exceptional.

Other times, none of the above happens. Maybe it’s the next quarter. Maybe it’s the next game. The running game suddenly looks inept, which essentially takes away from the passing game, and the defense has total meltdowns. A team that appeared to be on its way to being a contender will look like one of the worst teams in the conference.

It’s puzzling, not only to fans and members of the media but to the team and Pelini. He has said more than once that he doesn’t understand why the up-and-down play is happening. Players have pointed to inexperience and not realizing just how difficult it is to win in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“We might be a relatively old team in terms of age, but a lot of guys are relatively young and inexperienced,” said YSU senior quarterback Nathan Mays in an interview last week. “That experience that they’re lacking in this conference, it will come back to bite you. So they need to realize that each of these games is either going to come down to the last series, or you’re going to get blown out. There aren’t going to be many games where you come out and you just manhandle the other team. You’ve got to come ready to play each week, and if you’re not, then we’re going to see the same result as last Saturday.”

Mays said that days after YSU was clobbered, 35-10, by an unranked Southern Illinois team. They followed that loss up with a 59-14 rout of Western Illinois last Saturday, further demonstrating the inconsistent play.

If the Penguins are ever going to become a perennial winner and compete for national championships, the inconsistencies must stop. Not next week. Not next year. Not for a handful games before going back to bad habits. It needs to happen now, and it needs to happen for good.

This is Year 5 under Pelini. There’s no more talk of culture change. There aren’t any former players from previous coaching staffs. There isn’t any unfamiliarity with the conference or blaming youth. There aren’t any reasons YSU shouldn’t be a consistent winner.

This year’s team still has a chance to change their ways. They don’t necessarily have to go out and beat the undefeated Bison, which has won 29 straight games, to prove they’ve changed. While a win would do wonders for their playoff hopes, the inconsistencies aren’t about one game.

Building a perennial winner takes a lot of things, one of which is possessing the right mindset — believing in the coaches, the system and the team. Pelini actually touched on it this week at his press conference as he was discussing the success of North Dakota State, which has won six of the last seven national championships.

He said the Bison reminded him of when he played for Cardinal Mooney and the Cardinals were playing for a state championship every year under legendary coach Don Bucci. NDSU has similar traits.

“They have their system, and they run it, and they run it at a high level,” Pelini said of the Bison. “That’s a testament to good football teams and good programs, is they’re going to run what they run and they’re going to make you stop it. They have their beliefs, and they execute really well.”

Well, it’s time for those attributes to be part of YSU’s system.

That’s easier said than done. Getting a team to buy into every single thing a coaching staff is preaching is much more difficult than people think, but it can be done. If Pelini can make it happen, this seems to be the team to get it started.

YSU has good leadership. They’re talented on both sides of the ball, and they seem to have “bought in” more so than in other years. Pelini himself appears to have made some subtle changes to his own demeanor.

He has ever so slightly calmed the volatile manner in which he carries himself. Pelini is still incredibly intense and fiery, but his meltdowns on the sideline haven’t been as frequent, which needs to continue. If he expects his team to play at a consistent level, he needs to project behavior that is in line with that.

It’s often said that a team is a reflection of its coach. That may very well be the case with YSU.