EAST LANSING, Mich. - At least Youngstown State left East Lansing with a $650,000 check.
There wasn't much else positive to come out of a 55-17 drubbing by Michigan State on Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The big sum of money is the estimated amount the university receives for traveling to East Lansing for a clash with the Spartans.
It was evident early on that YSU wouldn't go home with much else.
Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, right, pulls down Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess (12) for a sack during the second quarter of Saturday’s game in East Lansing, Mich.
YSU (2-1) mishandled the opening kickoff and ended up with field position at the 5-yard line. The Penguins nearly made up for it on the first play, but wide receiver Michael Wheary couldn't hang on to a deep slant-and-go route. Quarterback Kurt Hess dropped a near-perfect pass into Wheary's arms, but the sophomore couldn't finish the catch when a Michigan State defender punched the ball out at the last minute. Wheary dropped a 15-yard pass near the sideline on the following play, and not much went right from that point on.
"If we hit a couple of those deep balls early on, and complete them, it's potentially a different game," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "But we let it get out of reach too quick."
Much of that was because of the talent on the other side of the ball, Wolford said. The difference in size and speed was obvious on offense and defense. The Penguins weren't able to establish a push at the line of scrimmage, and the Spartans (3-0) displayed quickness that even caught Wolford off-guard.
"They were just glaringly faster than us today," he said. "That really surprised me. I didn't think they'd be that much faster than us overall.
"And they controlled the line of scrimmage."
The performance was disappointing for a Penguins team that knocked off Pittsburgh, 31-17, last year and was hoping to be competitive against a Big Ten opponent (they're 0-6 against the Big Ten all time). Yet Michigan State, which came in with two offensive touchdowns in the first two games, appeared superior in every facet. The Spartans' receivers created separation from YSU defensive backs all day. The Penguins' defensive line couldn't create pressure, and the linebacker s struggled to get off blocks.
Offensively, receivers dropped passes, the line was overmatched on several pass-rushing situations and a running game that led the FCS in yards per game (363) entering the contest finished with 51 yards on 20 carries.
"Obviously we're not satisfied with our performance today," Hess said. "Sure, they're a Big Ten football team that gets Big Ten recruits, so they are bigger. They're strong. They're great players and they're well developed, but that's nothing we haven't seen before."
Wolford was upset with a number of issues after the game. He pointed out how the Penguins were 2 of 12 on third downs and MSU was 10 of 15. He mentioned problems in special teams, with two different players fumbling kickoffs - one of which was recovered by Michigan State. There were missed assignments and numerous unforced penalties. But it was a lack of focus that seemed to draw his ire the most.
"We had some guys that were caught up in the stage today - some guys who were just doing some uncharacteristic things," Wolford said. "They were caught up in the arena, or the moment or playing against the Big Ten or whatever. That was kind of surprising to me, really. I thought we'd handle the atmosphere better."
Even despite the struggles, the Penguins started to gain some momentum late in the first half.
YSU recovered a fumble on a punt, and freshman running back Martin Ruiz scored on a 5-yard run a few plays later to make the score, 21-10. The Penguins then forced a three-and-out and took over at the MSU 27 with 4 minutes, 16 second s left in the half. But on second-and-11, Ruiz couldn't handle a pitch, fumbling the ball away to the Spartans, who scored on the next play and added another touchdown before the half to take a commanding 35-10 lead.
"We knew our margin for error in a game like this was going to be much smaller," he said. "Our execution at times, on some key plays, was not there. That's all it takes sometimes, and then you're punting the football."
The Penguins return home for a non-conference matchup with Duquesne at 4 p.m. Saturday.