Penguins have decisions to make after N. Iowa win

DIGESTING a football game can be a lot like digesting food — never try taking too much in during one sitting.

This is coming from someone who drinks Pepto-Bismol straight from the bottle, so have some faith. Since there’s no such similar relief for your brain when trying to take in a wild football game, time and critical thinking usually are the best remedies.

These thoughts stem from Youngstown State’s thrilling 14-10 come-from-behind victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday. There were too many factors to comprehend — or explain — in one night, so sleeping on it was the logical solution.

So, after some deliberation … it’s still hard to figure out where to start with YSU. Since quarterback is always a hot topic, we’ll begin there. Heck, with all the moving parts, we might be here a while.

Obviously, the extent of the knee injury to starter Ricky Davis is critical for the Penguins, who are off to a 5-1 start, including a glowing 3-0 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Davis, who went down in the second quarter against the Panthers, was chosen over fellow quarterbacks Trent Hosick and Hunter Wells following a long QB competition for a reason. Coach Bo Pelini and his staff believe he gives YSU the best chance to win. His dual-threat capabilities make the Penguins’ offense hard to prepare for, and his array of talents often leads to big plays — both on the ground and through the air — for YSU.

But, the fact of the matter is, this is already the second time he’s been injured this year, and they’re only six weeks into the season. His style and never-give-up attitude are one his biggest strengths but could also be his downfall. With him being susceptible to injury, someone always needs to be ready. Hosick was the perfect back-up. His style is very similar to that of Davis, but he is likely done for the season after breaking his collarbone in the second quarter Saturday (not long after Davis went down).

That leaves Wells, who has started 18 games over his three-year career and nearly led the Penguins to the playoffs the last two seasons, and redshirt freshman Nathan Mays. Pelini revealed after the game that Wells has “a click in his shoulder that’s bothering him,” which is why Mays finished the game against UNI. Pelini isn’t sure when Wells might be healthy.

So, theoretically, if Davis is out this week against 11th-ranked South Dakota State, which is coming off an upset victory over five-time defending national champion North Dakota State, the Penguins have a decision to make at quarterback. Something tells me Wells will be able to play if needed. His injury seemed a bit mysterious, but I won’t speculate. I just think he’ll be ready to go. Even if he is, the Penguins could go with Mays.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound freshman from Urbana has good athleticism and might offer YSU a running threat close to the same as Davis and Hosick, but that also puts him in a position to be injured. Wells is a drop-back quarterback with a polished arm. He has worked on his footspeed over the past two years, but he’s still not going to scare many teams by running the ball.

There are reasons to go with either of the two. YSU wouldn’t have to change much offensively if it chooses Mays because of his speed, but he’s young, inexperienced and probably needs another year before he can be looked at as true leader on this team. Wells brings a different style, but he’s a veteran — who actually won in South Dakota State two years ago in what was a huge victory for YSU at the time.

That’s part of the reason Wells should be the guy. The offensive gameplan will have to change, but it’s not like YSU was putting up 40 points per game before Davis was injured anyway, so a change could be a good thing for the Penguins. Wells also has the ability to be a leader in the huddle. He’s done it before, and he might be more motivated than ever after losing out in the quarterback competition.

None of this means anything if Davis is healthy — or Wells isn’t — so let’s move on to a better storyline from Saturday: the defense.

The Penguins are playing at a level not seen at Youngstown probably since the Jim Tressel era. Former coach Jon Heacock had a great ‘D’ in 2006 (the last time YSU made the playoffs), but this group might be a tad better. The pass rush is non-stop from the first play to the last, with two ends playing at an All-American level. The secondary has been shutting receivers down since a rough day against West Virginia, and the linebackers and defensive tackles are making sure teams don’t run the ball with any consistent success.

The defense single-handily kept YSU in the game Saturday, and it might need to keep it up with all the injuries at quarterback. The fact is, that’s possible. The talent, mixed with Pelini’s schemes, make this defense one of the best in the FCS.

It also makes YSU a legitimate playoff contender, which, again, might be hard to digest when considering a fourth-string redshirt freshman who ran the scout team last week could start at quarterback.

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