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Pelini is pleased

Penguins play well in rout of Colonials

Correspondent / Robert Hayes Joe Alessi from South Range runs the ball for Youngstown State during the first half at Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday. He ended with 146 yards rushing and a touchdown in the Penguins’ 45-10 win over Robert Morris.

YOUNGSTOWN — Even Bo Pelini couldn’t be mad after this game.

The fiery coach of the Youngstown State football team even cracked a joke about the Penguins’ lone penalty of the game.

YSU looked good enough during a 45-10 victory over Robert Morris that even the testy Pelini could relax and enjoy himself.

“Overall, I thought it was a pretty good performance,” said Pelini, who earlier in the week said he struggles to enjoy victories because he always wants perfection. “Defensively we played well. We did a lot of good things offensively. We ran it. We threw it. We were pretty efficiently throwing the ball. … It was a good effort, and like I told our guys, the preseason is over. It’s time to move on into league play.”

Indeed, the rigorous Missouri Valley Football Conference is up next, with a trip to No. 9 Northern Iowa up first.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Ma’lik Richmond (left) and DeMarko Craig (right) tackle George Martin (center) of Robert Morris during the first half at Stambaugh Stadium.

With that in mind, Pelini was asked just how long he’ll allow himself to enjoy the victory.

“Until I wake up in the morning,” he said. “At this time of year, you’ve just got to go. As I was walking off the field, I was already thinking about next week.”

The Penguins, now 4-0 for the first time since 2012, look ready for the MVFC.

The run game was again dominant, with YSU running for 257 yards and four touchdowns. South Range High School product Joe Alessi led the way with 146 yards and one TD on 14 carries (averaging 10.4 yards per attempt). Special teams was even better.

John F. Kennedy graduate Jake Coates broke a 36-year old record with 133 punt return yards (the previous mark of 127 was set by Robert Thompson in 1982). Coates scored on a 63-yard return in the second quarter that put the Penguins up 28-7. He also had returns of 33 and 23.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Nate Mays (center) flips the ball after scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter at Stambaugh Stadium.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Coates, a junior. “It’s my third year, and I’ve been waiting for that moment for a while now. To actually experience it and have everyone tackle me in the end zone, it was indescribable.”

As well as it finished up, the game didn’t start so hot.

Robert Morris (1-4) forced a three-and-out on YSU’s first possession, and RMU running back Alijah Jackson rumbled 80 yards to the Penguins’ 5-yard line. Colonials quarterback George Martin found running back Terence Stephens on a 4-yard shovel pass for a 7-0 lead. YSU had another three-and-out, and the Colonials were driving at midfield, but YSU made a key stop on third-and-2.

The Penguins then rattled off 31 straight points, with Alessi doing much of the damage. The senior had 112 yards and a TD on eight carries by halftime.

“We use all our backs. They all complement each other well,” Pelini said. “Joe has turned on another gear. That started last year, and in hindsight I can say I wish I got him more carries earlier, but he’s coming into his own. I think he’s a special back.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jake Coates runs past a pair of RMU defenders on a 63 yard touchdown punt return in the second quarter.

Another turning point was quarterback Nathan Mays joining the offense.

He had to sit the first two series because of what Pelini described as “a minor violation of team rules.” The Penguins struggled without Mays, who started the first three games after winning a quarterback competition over Joe Craycraft (who started in his place Saturday).

YSU drove 80 yards on Mays’ first drive, with Mays scoring from 2 yards out. On the Penguins’ next possession, he fired a perfect strike to Jermiah Braswell on a post pattern for a 24-yard TD. Braswell did a little dance move in the end zone after the TD, which led to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

That was the lone penalty of the game for YSU, which was averaging nearly 10 penalties per game coming into Saturday. Pelini was obviously pleased with the improvement, so much so that he didn’t even seem to mind Braswell’s antics.

“I just told him, ‘Not only was it a bad penalty, but it was bad dance moves,’ ” Pelini cracked.

It was all fun and games from there, with the defense taking over.

The Penguins allowed just 212 total yards — 131 of which came in the first quarter — and shut down an RMU offense that started the game with some life. The defense recorded its seventh interception (11th total turnover) and registered 2.5 sacks.

Pelini said much of the beginning of the game is figuring out what the opposition is trying to do and then adjusting to it.

“We were talking walking out on the field for pregame,” Pelini recalled, “and I said to one of the coaches, ‘It’s going to be interesting to see how they try to attack us.’ We saw what their gameplan was, and we made a couple of adjustments.”

Pelini and the Penguins hope to start a little quicker against what is arguably their toughest opponent to this point in Northern Iowa.

“I feel like we’re all ready,” YSU linebacker Ray Anderson said. “Not just me personally, but the whole team. … We believe in the coaches and what they’re coaching us, and we just need to progress forward.”