Uninspired play baffling to YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — The fact Youngstown State was dominated, 35-0, in a home game that held playoff implications wasn’t what bothered the Penguins the most.

The fact that players came out lacking energy and looking lost at times on the field is what frustrated a YSU team that came into the season with national championship aspirations.

“I thought we had a good week of practice,” senior quarterback Ricky Davis said. “We just came out flat. There’s no excuses. I’m not sure why. We just came out flat. We haven’t played that bad since I’ve been here.”

YSU coach Bo Pelini certainly felt the same way, calling the Penguins “the worst football team that I’ve ever seen play the game.”

The Penguins were shut out for the first time since he took over in 2015. In fact, it was the first time YSU was shut out at home since a 33-0 loss to Southern Illinois in 2008. Pelini, too, was at a loss in explaining the poor performance, which came a week after an ugly game against Northern Iowa, when the Penguins allowed 10 sacks, rushed for 47 yards and struggled to stop the run.

“I wish I had the answer right now,” Pelini said. “I’m going to keep searching for it.”

WHAT A RUSH?: Just two weeks ago, Youngstown State ranked ninth in the nation in rushing yards per game, nearing 300 yards a contest.

In the past two games, they’ve managed a total of 131 rushing yards and zero touchdowns. Leading rusher Tevin McCaster ran the ball just nine times for 32 yards against Illinois State (he averaged 20 carries, 89 yards and more than one TD per game coming in).

Much of the blame has put on a line that returned three starters and looked dominant earlier in the year.

“Did you see the way our offensive line was playing?,” responded Pelini when asked why YSU didn’t run the ball more. “It’s a bad combination when you’re not run blocking, you’re not pass blocking and your quarterback’s not making his reads. It’s a bad combination.”

SACK CITY: The Penguins are on pace to be one of the worst teams in the FCS in sacks allowed after being one of the better teams last year.

YSU came into the game allowing 26 sacks in seven games. That’s 3.71 per game, which ranked them 117th out of 123 teams in the FCS. They allowed five against Illinois State, including four in the first 20 minutes. That’s 31 for the season (eight games). YSU allowed 29 in 16 games last year.

QB CAROUSEL: Sophomore quarterback Nathan Mays started his fourth straight game in place of the injured Hunter Wells, who re-injured his shoulder on Oct. 7 against South Dakota State. For the second straight week, Mays didn’t last long.

Mays played the first two series before senior Ricky Davis took over. Davis, who was originally the starter last year, moved to receiver in the spring and then back to quarterback after Wells initially went down in Week 2. Davis first played in the second half of last week’s loss to Northern Iowa, when Mays suffered an injury.

Mays appeared to be injured again on Saturday as he was seen in a sling on the sideline. Pelini didn’t give much insight on the situation.

“We’ll see,” he replied when asked if Mays’ injury was serious. “I don’t know.”

The next quarterback after Davis is true freshman Joe Craycraft, a Marion Pleasant High School graduate.