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Pelini seeks perfection from Penguins

YOUNGSTOWN — Bo Pelini admits it’s hard to bring a smile to his face when he’s discussing his Youngstown State football team.

It’s nothing against the Penguins. He’s thrilled 20th-ranked YSU is 3-0 and looking more like a playoff contender each week. Just don’t expect him to show it — regardless of the outcome.

“Sometimes I’ve got to learn to enjoy the wins more than I do,” said Pelini, who was unhappy following YSU’s last two lopsided victories over Howard and Duquesne. “I’m the first one to admit that. I’m always thinking down the road. So sometimes I have a hard time enjoying it. I want to see perfection. I want to see us play up to a very high standard, knowing what’s coming down the road.”

Some of the best teams in the FCS lurk down the road.

He and the Penguins are doing their best not to think about that right now. YSU hosts Robert Morris (1-3) at 6 p.m., Saturday in the Penguins’ last non-conference game of the regular season.

The Colonials, a smaller FCS program in the Northeast Conference that offers roughly 40 football scholarships, picked up their first win last week, a 31-21 victory over Virginia Military Institute. YSU, which funds approximately 60 football scholarships, has never lost to RMU and won each of their first three games this year by at least 23 points.

Pelini doesn’t care. He and some of the seniors at YSU remember when Robert Morris took them to overtime in 2015, nearly pulling off a major upset. More importantly, the Penguins say they need to be more focused on themselves than their opponent.

“You’ve got to respect the preparation and your opponent,” senior offensive lineman Jacob Zinni said. “This team has done a very good job of that. We have to take the right steps throughout the week to where (overlooking an opponent) won’t even be a factor. We’ve just got to take care of us.”

The Penguins have had some time to take care of themselves.

YSU is coming off its second bye week. The Penguins had their first one after they played in the “Week Zero” FCS Kickoff Classic on Aug. 24. The break comes at a good time. Saturday marks the final game before the Penguins enter the vaunted Missouri Valley Football Conference — finishing with eight straight MVFC opponents.

For now, their sights are set on Robert Morris, which suffered a surprising 13-7 loss to Division II Kentucky State (it snapped a 12-game losing streak for KSU). The Colonials also have losses to Dayton (34-31) and Buffalo (38-10).

Pelini isn’t concerned with their record, their number of scholarships or who the Colonials played. He seems certain his players aren’t either.

“We will not overlook this football team,” he said. “You’ve got to go day to day, control what you can control. Our guys understand that. We (coaches) put a lot of pressure on them in practice as far as executing and what our expectations are, and we really don’t change much regardless of who were playing, what time of year, whether it’s conference or non-conference. Our approach is pretty consistent.”

The Penguins are mostly healthy as they embark on nine straight weeks of football, and Pelini said he doesn’t anticipate many lineup changes.

He made it clear that freshman punter Nick DeSalvo’s job is safe despite his struggles. He averaged 22 yards per punt against Howard and then 32 yards against Duquesne. His 27-yard average is one of the worst in the nation.

“He’s hitting the ball really well in practice,” Pelini said. “But obviously when you walk out there the first time and you drop the ball, that can rattle you some. He just needs to relax and go do it. Just trust his preparation. … He’s put a little too much pressure on himself at times. It’s like any position, sometimes it takes some adversity to grow into the spot. I have a lot of confidence in Nick. He’s going to be fine.”

A few solid punts may force Pelini to crack a smile.

OK, maybe not.