Penguins Playing for Pride

Justus Reed (right) and Antoine Cook chase down the University of South Dakota quarterback. Photo courtesy of YSU Sports Information

By Nathanael Hawthorne

After the Youngstown State University football team started the 2019 season hot with four straight wins, the latter half of the year has been tough. 

YSU seemed to be firing on all cylinders through the first few games of the season. The Penguins dominated other teams — out scoring their opponents 178-75 during the four-game win streak. 

Once the team hit Missouri Valley Football Conference play, however, the flame dwindled.

Joe Alessi breaks through the North Dakota State University defensive line. Photo courtesy of YSU Sports Information

“I can say that some of the errors that we’ve made, I’ve said it early on. We made some of those errors early in the year,” Penguins’ coach Bo Pelini said. “Some of those ones have you shaking your head.”

Having one conference win, the Penguins playoff hopes are all but over. Back-to-back 56-point losses make this the first time in 80 years that YSU has allowed 50 or more points twice in a single season. 

Pelini said the team is playing for pride from this point forward.

 “That was an embarrassment. That performance on Saturday… I apologize to everybody associated with this program,” he said. “That’s unacceptable, and I’m responsible for it.”

The season hasn’t been a complete loss, though. Many of the younger players have seen playing time. 

A perfect example is the emergence of sophomore quarterback Joe Craycraft. Before taking the starting role after Nathan Mays’ injury, Craycraft was seeing substantial playing time as a secondary quarterback. Pelini said he believes the last few games will give the younger players some game time. 

“In all three phases, we’re trying to weigh the possibility of playing some younger guys where possible,” Pelini said. “You’ve got to weigh the benefits of putting them in there [and] getting some experience. … This freshman class we have is really talented, probably our best recruiting class top to bottom, but you don’t want to do it at the expense of [the players] and of giving yourself the best chance to win.”

In an earlier press conference, Pelini said that the team would take a step forward and then a few steps backward. 

“I’m frustrated. I’m really frustrated because I’ve seen this team do it and play pretty well,” Pelini said.

Last season, the team had four wins. The Penguins are currently 5-5 overall and 1-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference. 

Another notable difference is the change in the defensive output. With only nine defensive turnovers in 2018, the Penguins dwarfed that statistic with a total of 16 turnovers so far this season.

Justus Reed (right) and Antoine Cook chase down the University of South Dakota quarterback. Photo courtesy of YSU Sports Information

With the possibility of playoffs off the table, Pelini said although players are going through tough times, they have to persevere.

“That’s the only way you can go. You can’t turn your tail and run,” he said. “You’ve got to man up and accept responsibility for what’s going on, myself included, and keep pushing forward. That’s the only way you get out of ruts like this.”

The Penguins will round out the season with a road game against Indiana State University on Saturday before heading back to the Ice Castle for one final game Nov. 23. Kickoff for the game against Indiana State is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Indiana.