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Starting strong

Penguins are too much for Howard in 54-28 triumph

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple YSU's DeMarko Craig Jr. flattens Howard's QB Caylin Newton during third-quarter action.

YOUNGSTOWN — Bo Pelini was rather angry following a game in which his Youngstown State football team clobbered Howard University, 54-28.

The man who smiles as much as a guard at Buckingham Palace felt the Penguins didn’t play to “our standard.”

He and the Penguins were still a lot happier than they were after last year’s home opener.

While it wasn’t always pretty, YSU improved to 2-0 and continued to erase the haunting memory of last year’s monumental upset to Butler.

Still, Pelini expects more from a team with national championship aspiration.

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple YSU's Joe Alessi looks over his shoulder at the Howard defenders as he rushes into the end zone for a third-quarter TD.

“We did some things good,” Pelini said, “but you can’t have the penalties, pushing guys in the back, blocking (illegally) 20 yards behind the play, you can’t have missed assignments. We didn’t play up to our standard. We did some good things. … We won the football game, but we’ve got to play a lot better.”

The Penguins continued their “GritU” mantra of playing physical defense and pounding the ball offensively.

YSU ran for 454 yards and six touchdowns, and the defense sacked Caylin Newton five times after the younger brother of Cam Newton put a scare in the YSU faithful with an impressive start.

The Penguins took a 6-0 lead (they missed the extra point), but then Newton started to dazzle. Much like his more-prominent brother, Caylin, a junior, scrambled to buy time in the pocket and repeatedly made big plays. He first found wide receiver Kyle Anthony on a deep pass down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown. Anthony’s size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) gave YSU trouble all day as he caught 10 passes for 146 yards and three TDs.

The Penguins then turned the ball over when quarterback Nathan Mays’ pass was tipped by his receiver and picked off by John Smith VI. Newton scrambled for two first downs and then handed off to Dedrick Parson for a 2-yard TD and a 14-6 lead.

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple YSU's Dee Ford hauls in a Nathan Mays pass as Howard's 16 John Smith VI defends during second-quarter action.

“He’s definitely kind of similar to his brother,” YSU defensive lineman Antoine Cook said of Newton. “The defensive line, we tried to do as much as we could to get him. We came out a little sloppy. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

YSU took over from there, thanks to a spectacular play.

With most of Howard’s defense packed inside to stop the run, Mays launched a bomb to wide receiver Jermiah Braswell, who had badly beaten his defender. Mays’ pass was a bit overthrown, but Braswell laid out, fully extended, and made an incredible catch as he fell into the end zone for a touchdown.

Seemingly rejuvenated by the catch, the Penguins scored two more times before the half to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“Off the release, I won,” Braswell said of beating the defender off the snap, “so I had a feeling the ball was coming. When he threw it, it looked a little long. From there, I just knew I had to make a play.”

The run game started to dominate at that point.

The Bison (0-2) did make it 27-21 with a third-quarter touchdown, but YSU rattled off 27 straight points to seal the victory — with all four TDs coming on the ground.

Braxton Chapman led a stable of backs with 132 yards and one TD on just eight rushes — averaging 16.5 yards per touch. London Pearson added 126 yards and one TD. Christian Turner ran for 82 yards and one TD on six carries, and Joe Alessi tallied 70 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

Led by a dominating offensive line, YSU had touchdown runs of 78, 75, 40, 6, 5 and 2 on the day. After running for 277 yards in the opener, the Penguins seem to have created an offensive identity centered around running the football.

“That’s why we brought out the hardhat and the sledge hammer with GritU,” said Braswell of Penguin players wearing a white hardhat with a “Y” on the front of it and holding a sledge hammer with “GritU” written on it. “Physical. Physical football. No matter if we running the ball, passing the ball, special teams, defense — we want to play physical. We’re going to out-physical you every game. We want to out-physical you during the week, so we already know Saturday what we’re getting into — we’re going to play a physical football game.”

The problems that irritated Pelini, who was “embarrassed about our performance,” were evident too.

YSU committed 13 penalties for 135 yards and didn’t execute its defensive gameplan. Newton finished 16-of-27 for 266 yards and two TDs, and he broke contain numerous times as he ran for another 48 yards (86 if sacks didn’t count against his total). YSU senior linebacker Cash Mitchell negated a pick-6 by corner Dee Ford when he nailed a Howard player with a blind-side block that was well behind the play.

It’s a lesson the Penguins know they have to learn from before they begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play.

“We’re very thankful for the win,” Cook said, “but going into conference (play) like that, with the teams we play, we’ve got a lot to work on. We’ve got to fix the mental mistakes. We’re way better than that.”

The Penguins can tune up some more next week with a 2 p.m. home game against Duquesne on the slate.