The 2012 football season that started with such a bang is fizzing away. After a 4-0 start, and then an 0-4 stretch, the Youngstown State University Penguins have gone from the headlines to the bread lines in just a month. There is no magical answer as to why, but a logical guess would be turnovers, failing to defend any passing game, and special teams weekly blunders.
Coach Eric Wolford knows that this stretch has been taxing on the psyche of his players and assistant coaches. Turnovers are not something that can be schemed against. Period. Any team that turns the ball over as much as YSU has in the last three games (11) will not win, and sometimes not even get close to winning.
Okay. So what happens now? The Penguins could very easily pack up the tent and post the ‘wait until next year’ taunts, ala Cleveland sports teams since 1949, or the Penguins can continue to try to win games.
Keep in mind, at 4-3 going into last week, this team was ranked #22. If the Penguins can defeat South Dakota this week and Western Illinois next week, they may very well end up right back in the polls at 6-4. If that does happen, the home finale against Indiana State will have plenty of importance in determining whether or not the Penguins will play the following week.
In true Penguin fashion, however, these games must be won one week at a time. Kurt Hess has struggled. Jamaine Cook has had limited production in two of the last four games because the Penguins have trailed, meaning the pass game becomes the dominant choice on offense. In obvious passing situations, teams can sit back and use numbers to conjure turnovers. They can also send more than what can be blocked to hurry or sack Hess.
Defensively, consistency is the biggest issue. South Dakota’s Tyler Starr, a sophomore linebacker, thinks his team is struggling with the same issues on the defensive side of the ball.
“It comes down to discipline and execution”, said Starr. “People can get carried away during a game and miss an assignment or take a play off here or there. Suddenly what was a 7-7 game becomes a 21-7 game, and you are trying to figure out what just happened.”
When asked who is a bigger threat to his defense, Hess or Cook (pass or run), Starr gave an honest and candid answer.
“They are both great players. We have to concentrate on shutting down the run game early and force them to pass.”
The meeting against South Dakota will be the first ever. USD is in its first year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It will also mark the 71st Homecoming game in school history. Since relocating to Stambaugh Stadium, the Penguins are 20-10 in Homecoming games.
The game has the potential of being a blowout for the home team, or a disastrous next chapter in a book Penguin fans do not want to read.
“It’s not hard to see that turnovers have made the difference in these last few games”, said Wolford. “We preach how important it is to take care of the ball, and we have failed to do that.”
The Homecoming Parade will start at Noon and the game will kickoff at 2 pm.