If you analyzed the turnover that first-year coach Eric Wolford had to deal with in his inaugural season, you probably would scratch your head trying to figure out how Youngstown State was even in so many close games. Saturday, the Penguins dropped another heartbreaker, 41-39, to Illinois State. The loss dropped the Penguins to 3-7 overall, and 1-6 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The NCAA standard for scholarships to award for a football program sits at 63. Youngstown State is only using 53 due in part to some of the fallout of a new program. People quit when they do not buy in to something new. Wolford is a hard-nosed coach who wants his team to be on the same page. Some of the returning scholarship players from last season’s Jon Heacock era did not buy in to what Wolford was selling and left seeking greener pastures. The result of this process is a group of talented seniors who are surrounded by youth and inexperience.
The best example would be the defensive secondary. The loss of Andre Elliott has crippled the Penguins defense, period. One guy does not make a team, but his senior counterpart, Brandian Ross, just can’t do everything else while the new guys learn as fast as they can. Coach Ron Stoops recently discussed the blowing of late leads and how inexperience can contribute to such patterns. We discussed Donald D’Alesio, the talented Cardinal Mooney recruit who earned playing time. “Donald is good and has the talent, but he hasn’t even had a year to adapt to the speed difference at this level, has not had a full year of weight training which will help him down the road.” D’Alesio, Will Shaw, and Randy Louis tried to do as much as they could to keep opposing teams out of the end zones late in games. Since the loss of Elliott, the Penguins are winless.
My praise goes to Defensive Coordinator Rick Kravitz, as well as Stoops, for working with what they have to come so close. In Saturday’s loss, this defense actually kept the Penguins in the game allowing the offense to score a couple of times before yielding the big play at the end of the game again. In this situation, Kravitz has tried many different things. He has blitzed and gotten burned, he has sat in a prevent, like he did yesterday setting up a pair of defenders 25 yards off of the ball, he has disguised blitz and dropped back into coverage, he has disguised coverage only and blitzed… bottom line is Kravitz is relying on mostly inexperienced players to make big plays at a new level, and it hasn’t worked yet. He has no alternative, and I am sure it drives him crazy, as much as it baffles Wolford.
“We got closer, there was only point seven seconds left this time. Usually we let it get away with 53 seconds or so”, commented Wolford after the game.
The critics are running their mouths about how the coaches are losing games. Coaches do not lose games, despite Wolford always taking the heat with every loss to keep the negativity off of his players. You can put guys in position to make plays all day long. If no one makes a play or steps up in these crucial situations, it can’t be pinned on the coaches. The players are giving their all, some have just never been in these situations at a higher level. It is unfortunate, especially for the seniors. In yet another classy gesture, Wolford has exclaimed then when this team wins a championship (and they will within the next three years), he will make sure that this year’s senior class receives rings for their contributions into the new program.
This coming Saturday marks the end for Dominique Barnes, Brandian Ross, Stephen Blose, Eric Rodemoyer, Andre Elliott, Nick Gooden, Bob Gratz, Erik Johnson, Kyle Banna, Jaimie Frasure, Rob Fernbeck, Luke Matelan, Torrance Nicholson, Brad Miller, Bobby Coates, Kyle Brown, Chris Gammon, and Tyler Figueroa. This senior class did all they could to win, the situation with the turnover in roster hampered their chances.
Plan on showing up to honor these seniors Saturday as they take the field one last time as Youngstown State Penguins, they are a great bunch of young men who stuck things out when they doubted where the program was headed and came out better people for it.
Kickoff against Indiana State is at 1 p.m. and the seniors will be honored.