YSU missing a key trend from the 1990s

Fans of Youngstown State University need to start being realistic.

There’s only one Jim Tressel, and he’s not coming back to return the Penguins to glory.

The 90s are over – just a fading memory of bad trends and a different brand of football. Jean shorts are out. CD players are just about obsolete. And slap bracelets have disappeared.

Speaking of disappearing, whatever happened to defense being the backbone of a football team? Rule changes haven’t helped. You can hardly tackle someone anymore without being flagged for a personal foul. Officials treat wide receivers like they’re made of glass – only to be touched after they catch a long bomb downfield. Quarterbacks might as well wear flags on their pants for defenders to pull. It’s a sad turn of events for fans who appreciate big hits and a 10-7 victory in which neither team amasses 200 yards of offense.

Those types of teams were what helped YSU win four national championships, and while that type of football may be a thing of the past, it doesn’t mean the current Penguins should abandon the defensive-minded formula Tressel assembled.

That’s not to say coach Eric Wolford should follow Tressel’s blueprint. While it worked in some ways, it failed in others – mainly in how he handled players. But building a team on defense is still a winning formula.

It’s a concept Wolford seems to be grasping, maybe a little slower than some fans had hoped. An offensive line coach for most of his career, some might say Wolford has centered his focus too much on that side of the ball. The offense possesses skilled players galore, and the line has been one of the best in the Football Championship Subdivision during his tenure. The defense? That’s another story.

Calling it inconsistent would be an understatement. The Penguins have given up huge leads and game-winning plays in the final seconds numerous times during Wolford’s three years. Then it will regroup and completely shut down a team loaded with talent. There’s no clear-cut answer as to why, and the players are ultimately the ones who win or lose those games, but it’s hard to believe YSU made defense the top priority.

Wolford’s recruiting classes over the past few years were highlighted with great running backs, quarterbacks, linemen and receivers, but it seemed to lack impact defenders. In his defense, there have been injuries and kids who haven’t made the cut academically, but when push came to shove, offense always seemed to win over. Early impressions of spring practice, now in its second week, show glimpses of that trend starting to change, but it may not be enough.

The Penguins front seven is solid – stout against the run with an ability to rush the passer – but the secondary is still a bit suspect. YSU receivers have run free numerous times during the first five practices, and that’s against a group that brings back three starters. The Penguins finished dead last against the pass in the Missouri Valley Football Conference last year, and without any major changes or acquisitions, there is a large amount of improvement needed. Wolford and the players in the secondary acknowledged their deficiencies, and guys like junior safety Donald D’Alesio are determined to turn things around.

D’Alesio, a Cardinal Mooney graduate who Wolford called “the quarterback of the secondary,” spent the first part of his offseason working out and getting faster. If the others follow suit and make the defense a strength before fall rolls around, YSU has as good a chance as anyone in the MVFC to make the playoffs.

The postseason is another trend from the 90s that’s gone.

I’d rather see that make a comeback than neon windbreakers.