It's tough to get a good gauge on how good (or bad) the Youngstown State football team is after these first two games.
It's kind of like judging a woman after a first date, which usually isn't a good idea. Maybe she was nervous. Maybe she just got out of a bad relationship. Maybe she could not stop thinking about the shoes she just has to have at Journeys or wherever it is that women shop for shoes that sit in their closet most of the time.
Anyway, the Penguins have played two teams that are not playoff-caliber in Dayton and Morehead State - both are non-scholarship schools. YSU isn't as bad as it looked in its 28-10 victory over the Flyers, nor as good as it appeared in a 67-13 thrashing of MSU, a team that lost to an NAIA school in Week 1. The Penguins are somewhere in the middle, just where is hard to say.
Fans and media alike should gain a little better understanding of YSU's level of play this Saturday against Michigan State. YSU will face one of the best defenses in the Big Ten (they've scored four of the Spartans' six touchdowns this year), and while MSU's offense has been struggling a bit, it's certainly better than Dayton's or Morehead State's.
The only problem is that the Spartans should be better than most teams on YSU's schedule, so even after this game, it's going to be tough to know what kind of team will enter Missouri Valley Conference play on Sept. 28 at Southern Illinois. So, I'm going to tell you what I've seen from them over the past few weeks.
1. The defense is as good as its been in years.
Speed is one of the first assets that comes to mind when describing the Penguins' defense. From the linemen, to the linebackers and the secondary, players are flying around and making plays. One of the biggest questions coming into the season was how an inexperienced defensive line would perform, and so far they've been very impressive rushing the passer. The line has consistently applied pressure in both games, making it difficult for quarterbacks to set up in the pocket. There have been a few running lanes that randomly open up, an area that must improve.
2. There is incredible depth at running back.
The Penguins have rushed for 726 yards and 10 touchdowns in their first two games. I don't care if you're playing Madden with cheat codes, that's impressive. The stable of running backs looked good in training camp, but I don't think anyone outside of Stambaugh Stadium knew just how talented this group was. On Saturday against Morehead State, redshirt freshman Jody Webb, a University of Toledo transfer, showed the speed, elusiveness and vision of someone who could start for the Penguins if needed. That's significant because he's the sixth-string running back! Warren G. Harding graduate Demond Hymes, who was the starter entering camp, hasn't even played a down yet because of a nagging ankle injury. When he returns, which could come this week, the depth is unreal.
3. The success of the offense falls on quarterback Kurt Hess.
That may seem like "duh" statement, but the reason I point it out is because there isn't another quarterback close to his ability on the roster. So, if Hess is injured, the Penguins could be in big trouble. Back-up Dante Nania, a sophomore, showed some signs of promise against Morehead State, completing 5 of 10 passes for 77 yards in mop-up duty. That said, completing passes against the Eagles' second string is like passing chemistry class with a C. Sure, it's an accomplishment, but I wouldn't run home to tell mom about it.
Overall, I like the makeup of this team. The defense is as talented as I've seen at YSU since 2006, when the Penguins advanced to the national semifinal. Furthermore, they're a run-first team with immense skill at running back.
Hmm... Sounds a lot like the teams that won a ton of games back in the 1990s. I'm not saying YSU is at that level, but maybe we'll get a better idea of how close they are at 2 p.m. Saturday in East Lansing.