Penguins an ‘embarrassment’ in loss

Tribune Chronicle / Marc Weems Youngstown State linebacker Armand Dellovade (42) pursues Illinois State running back Markel Smith Saturday in the Penguins’ 35-0 loss.

YOUNGSTOWN — Maybe the only thing worse than the weather on Saturday was the play of the Youngstown State football team.

In a game that could have brought the Penguins back into the playoff hunt, they “didn’t show up” and were an an “embarrassment,” according to YSU coach Bo Pelini.

The 21st-ranked Penguins suffered one of the worst home losses in school history as they fell 35-0 to 16th-ranked Illinois State.

“I apologize to everybody associated with Youngstown State University, our football program (and) the city,” said Pelini to start his postgame press conference. “That was an embarrassment. Obviously, I’m the head coach. I’ve never been so disgusted in my whole life. I don’t have an answer for it right now, but I’ll search for one. We didn’t show up today, and that’s what happens. It’s a total embarrassment. I’m responsible for it, and I’m sorry. I apologize.”

There was plenty to be sorry for as YSU (3-5, 1-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) looked uninspired from the start — on both sides of the ball.

The offense managed a putrid 147 yards — total. The defense allowed 299 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns to the Redbirds (6-2, 4-1). YSU turned the ball over twice and punted on eight of their 11 possessions. They were overmatched, outplayed and, as Pelini said, embarrassed in a critical game at Stambaugh Stadium — a place they had won 11 of their last 12.

“That was the worst football team that I’ve ever seen play the game, right across the board,” Pelini said. “Worst coached, worst played, no character, no heart, no discipline, no fundamentals, you can go right down now the list.”

The eventual rout was evident from the start.

On a cold, rainy, windy day, YSU attempted to pass the ball three consecutive times during its opening possession. The Penguins gained two yards, punted and then were ran over by the Illinois State offense. The Redbirds began their onslaught by running the ball seven of the first nine plays and going 72 yards, scoring when James Robinson ran in from 11 yards out. It was a sign of things to come.

Robinson was one of two ISU running backs to rush for more than 100 yards, going for 117 and three TDs on 22 attempts. Fellow back Markel Smith only scored once, but he rushed for a game-high 124 yards on 18 carries. Many of their yards came after first contact, running through and by would-be tacklers.

“We’ve just been missing a lot of tackles,” said YSU senior safety Jalyn Powell of an inability to stop the run. “We’re in the right position to make them, we’re just not making them. It’s just coming down to us missing tackles.”

The offensive line continued its downward spiral, allowing five more sacks (after giving up 10 last week) and struggling to create any running lanes.

The Penguins ran the ball 32 times for 84 yards. Nathan Mays began the game at quarterback but was replaced by Ricky Davis after an undisclosed injury. Mays was hit hard on YSU’s second possession and fumbled. Redbird tackle Matt McCown scooped up the fumble and raced in from 26 yards out for a TD. Mays completed 3-of-5 passes for 16 yards and was sacked three times, while Davis connected on 5-of-13 for 47 yards and was sacked twice. He also threw an interception.

Davis, who looked to be scrambling for his life at times, tried not to place blame on the line, but he couldn’t help but point out the obvious.

“I’m trying to get those guys going,” he said. “I thought they played hard, and then at the same time, something’s got to change. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s personnel. I don’t know. I know they have a lot of potential. I believe in them, wholeheartedly. I’m not sure what’s going on. Every time I come to the bench, I try to tell them, ‘I believe in you guys. Let’s do this.’ And I don’t know what’s going on.”

The Redbirds put together one more long touchdown drive before halftime, and then iced the game with solid defense and a power running game in the final two quarters.

The loss, the fourth in a row for YSU, essentially removes the Penguins from playoff contention. They still have three games left, including two straight on the road, and Davis intends on making the best of them.

“I’ve only got so many of these nights left,” said Davis, a senior. “I love playing for this city and playing for this university, and most of all, I’m going to enjoy the guys and give it everything I’ve got every week.”