By Joshua Fitch
The Youngstown State University football team is desperate for a win this week against Southern Illinois University at the Ice Castle. With a record of 1-3 and tied for last in the Missouri Valley Conference conference with Southern Illinois, this is a big week for the football program at YSU.
The Penguins are coming off a 45-38 loss against the Western Illinois University Leathernecks last week in Macomb, Ill. Returning home this week, the Penguins must continue to eliminate mental errors.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been in this situation before where I’ve started 1-3 one of my years at Notre Dame, so it can go one of two ways: some guys can check out, or we can put our head down and go back to work,” quarterback Montgomery VanGorder said.
VanGorder threw the ball 57 times in the loss to the Leathernecks, completing 33 of those attempts for 418 yards. He also broke three YSU single-game records for passing yards, attempts and completions.
Down 30-10 in the third quarter, VanGorder hit Zach Farrar for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Later, he scrambled on a two-yard carry for another touchdown to cut the deficit to 30-24. However, the in-game mistakes were too much down the stretch for the Penguins.
“It’s very frustrating, especially to lose,” VanGorder said. “Each and every guy has to check their preparation and see what they’re doing throughout the week, that’s what separates the professionals from the amateurs.”
Pelini said his team held a “players-only meeting” in efforts to change something within the locker room to get the team back on track starting this week against SIU.
“It’s missed assignments, losing focus during the game and, not applying what we’re doing in practice to the game field. We have to coach it better and we have to play better,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said.
The Salukis also have a 1-3 record and are looking to turn around their own program. After starting the season with a win against Murray State University, 49-10, SIU has dropped three consecutive games. They most recently lost, 31-24, to the University of South Dakota last week.
“[SIU] put a lot of yards up at times,” Pelini said. “They do a nice job offensively. Defensively, they’ll mix a four-man front and some multiple coverages. They’re a good football team that is better than their record, I can tell you that.”
VanGorder also understands the task at hand.
“They’ve played pretty good opponents,” he said. “They play hard and fast, I know they score a lot of points. It’s a great challenge for us.”
Bo Pelini added that there are times when his football team is very good, but those times are masked by the mistakes that continue to be made. Despite the mental errors and the record, the players’ attitudes remain high as Pelini knows his players want nothing more than to put the mistake behind them.
“This is not a time to panic, but a time to stay the course and stay with the process. Keep working. That’s all you can do. There’s not a young man that walks onto the field wanting to make a mistake. It kills them,” he added.
The 1-3 start for YSU is now in the past, and being in the collegiate coaching business since 2003, Pelini knows it’s a long season.
“I believe wholeheartedly in the process,” he said. “You have to just keep staying with it each day. Look at everything you’re doing and figure out a way to do it better. That’s my message to the team and that’s what I believe in.”
The Penguins will end homecoming week at Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m.