YOUNGSTOWN - There was a lot to think about and a long time to think for the Youngstown State football team on a seven-hour bus ride back from Terre Haute, Ind., on Sept. 24.
That's what happens when a team doesn't answer the bell - or the opening kickoff - the way its players believe it should have.
Indiana State running back Shakir Bell ran wild and the Sycamores took leads of 21-0 and 27-7 in the first half, then held on to beat the Penguins, 37-35. Bell finished with 256 yards, with most of it coming in the opening half.
YSU did a much better job against Bell in the second half and held Indiana State to just a field goal after intermission, but that was of little comfort to the Penguins, especially those who play defense for YSU.
They felt they let one get away by not being ready to play from the beginning. And they had all last week to brood about it, because the Penguins had a bye week last week.
"You don't want to go into a bye week with a loss and that's what we did," YSU nose tackle Aronde Stanton said Tuesday.
Stanton, a junior, said the rest of the Penguins - especially the defense are anxious to get back on the field. YSU hosts South Dakota State in another Missouri Valley Football Conference game at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The Penguins are 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the MVFC. The Jackrabbits are 1-4 and 0-2.
"Our defense has a lot to prove," Stanton said. "We're way better than giving up 256 yards to a player. We're mad at the fact we know we could have beaten that team."
There has been much conjecture about the Penguins' preparation for the Sycamores, with both the players and the coaching staff coming under fire after YSU lost for the first time in 11 road games against Indiana State.
Not so fast, Stanton said. YSU coach Eric Wolford and his staff are not to blame for what happened.
"It's really not a secret," he said. "It has nothing to do with the coaches. It's the players. We just have to come out from the start. It's on the players. I can't say anything about how anyone else felt, but from my standpoint, some people were down. I wasn't in the game in the first quarter. That's on us."
It's hard to imagine the Penguins taking the Sycamores lightly, especially after Bell and Indiana State took apart Western Kentucky - now a Football Bowl Subdivision program - on the road the week before.
But freshman linebacker Davion Rogers - a Warren G. Harding High School graduate - said the Penguins learned a hard lesson.
"We learned we can't come out too big-headed and think we're going to jump around on everyone," said Rogers, one of three freshmen linebackers expected to start against South Dakota State on Saturday.
"You've got to be relentless and give 100 percent on every play. You can't take any plays off. They caught us off-guard a little bit. We had a couple players out of place."
Stanton agreed, suggesting that too many Penguins weren't flying to the ball.
"We can improve our defensive effort," he said. "Instead of assuming one person is going to make the tackle, everyone needs to run to the ball."
The Penguins know their margin for error is small in the MVFC. By game time on Saturday, they will have had a full two weeks to think about what they believe should have been YSU's first road victory in Wolford's two seasons.
"I think it humbled us and made us hungrier for this next game," Rogers said. "We want to get out there."
Are the Penguins still angry birds?
"I would hope so," Wolford said. "I know we're all a little hostile right now. Indiana State is a good football team, but we feel like we gave one away."
SHAKE IT UP: There were two notable changes in the Penguins' two-deep charts Tuesday.
Senior John Sasson, a co-captain, was dropped to the backup spot at the "Mike" or middle linebacker spot. Freshman Teven Williams is expected to start between Rogers, the starter at the "Sam" spot, and freshman Travis Williams, the starter at the "Will" position.
Teven Williams actually started against Indiana State. Sasson had started the Penguins' first three games and all 11 games last season. He started four of 10 games in which he appeared as a sophomore in 2009 and three of 10 as a freshman in '08.
"John Sasson is a guy that was voted a team captain and he's been around here for a long time," Wolford said. "He still plays quite a bit. It's a situation where whoever plays better the previous game, that's who we're going to roll with.
"He's playing a lot on special teams. He's obviously a leader for us on and off the field. He does everything right and he wants to help in all the ways he can. I think he's giving us all the effort and all the things you can ask of a guy in his role."
Wolford also confirmed that junior Will Shaw has been moved from tight end, where he was a backup to David Rogers and Carson Sharbaugh, to a defensive end spot. Shaw will back up Obinna Ekweremuba.
"We're just trying to get some more quality depth at the defensive end position," Wolford said. "Will has a physical presence that we need, so we're trying to give him a look in there and see how he does. Maybe some more presence on the edges.
"I think you've got to get a guy like that on the field.