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No panic from QB Mays, Penguins

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State senior quarterback Nathan Mays has seen a lot in his five years at YSU — a whole heck of a lot.

Finally a starter after years of injuries and working his way up the depth chart, Mays understands what it’s like to endure a tough stretch of games. He was here for the run to the FCS Championship in 2016 and then during last year’s ugly 4-7 campaign.

That’s why Mays isn’t panicking after a rough three-game stretch. It’s also why he isn’t surprised that it may take something of this magnitude to wake up some of the younger players.

“From my standpoint, each of my five years has been different,” Mays said. “We’ve had different personalities each year. We’ve had different coaches in certain roles, different guys in certain roles, and sometimes playing in this conference, as tough as it can be, it takes a multitude of things to kind of pile on top of each other and really reinforce that some stuff has to change in order for us to get better.”

Whatever has to change better happen quickly.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference has smacked the Penguins across the face. They went from owning a 4-0 record and one of the dominant rushing attacks in the country to losing three straight and limping to a paltry 76.6 yards rushing per game during that skid.

Life in the MVFC is never without problems (unless you’re North Dakota State), and some players for YSU (4-3, 0-3) are finding that out for the first time. A crushing 35-10 defeat to unranked Southern Illinois last weekend was the most recent example of the incredible depth in the league.

“We might be a relatively old team in terms of age, but a lot of guys are relatively young and inexperienced,” Mays said. “That experience that they’re lacking in this conference will come back to bite you. So they need to realize that each of these games is either going to come down to the last series, or you’re going to get blown out. There aren’t going to be many games where you come out and you just manhandle the other team. You’ve got to come ready to play each week, and if you’re not, then we’re going to see the same result as last Saturday.”

The Penguins and coach Bo Pelini are determined not to let that happen again.

They’re facing the right team to change their fortunes. Western Illinois is winless at 0-7 and is the only other MVFC team without a win in the conference at 0-3. That said, the Leathernecks have not been blown out yet (aside from a 38-13 loss to FBS foe Colorado State). They lost, 28-14, to 10th-ranked Illinois State last week.

YSU is more worried about itself at the moment. The Penguins’ power running game has disappeared, and the defense has had numerous blown coverages. Both have been points of emphasis during Pelini’s tenure, and if they continue to struggle in those areas, it won’t matter who they play.

“In this day and age of football, you’ve got to be able to adjust to formations and communicate,” Pelini said. “If you call something, you better play it. We gave up an 80-yard touchdown on somebody who made a call to play a defense and didn’t play it. One guy did, he didn’t, and the guy’s wide open going down the field. Then we have no explanation for it. Those are the things that frustrate me. When you stand there and watch it live, I said to my wife the other night, I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack. It’s like a bad nightmare happening in front of your eyes.”

What started as a dream season has quickly went the other way. The Penguins believe they can get it back on track.

Mays said players are not turning against one another. They have seen their potential — dominating third-ranked South Dakota State for nearly three quarters two weeks ago — and they have seen the worst-case scenario (last week’s embarrassing loss).

Now in a situation where every game is critical to having a chance at the playoffs, Mays hopes YSU’s best will rise to the surface.

“We’re not really backed into a corner as if it’s do or die,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re playing nervous now, but yeah, in the back of our heads we all know that if we don’t pick up something new and change a lot of things, then we’re just going to get the same result we’ve had the past two seasons.”

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