Difficult to explain Penguins’ bad loss

YSU's Head Coach Bo Pelini watches as his team gets beat by Butler during the home opener...by R. Michael Semple

Savon Smith looked down at the podium to see if there was something in the statistics that could explain what just happened.

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t. Youngstown State, a team with more than 60 scholarship players and one that many expect (or expected) to compete for a playoff berth and beyond, just lost to Butler — a non-scholarship team that’s known for its basketball success.

Football? Some fans probably didn’t know the Bulldogs had a team. They do, and they beat YSU in all three phases of the game Saturday in Youngstown to stun the Penguins, 23-21, in one of the biggest upsets in YSU history.

Again, a team with more than 60 scholarships lost to one without a single one.

“That’s something that (senior center) Vitas (Hrynkiewicz) just talked about, and he just said that’s a team that doesn’t even have any scholarship guys, and we just lost to them,” said Smith of the team’s discussion after the game. “Hats off to them. They played well, obviously, they beat us. We all were expecting to win, and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we were expecting it and not prepared enough. Maybe we didn’t take the game seriously.”

That seems to be the only explanation.

A team that was EXPECTED to have the game in hand by halftime wasn’t good enough to overlook Butler. The Penguins, who have just nine starters back from last year (the least amount of any team in the conference), are attempting to quickly put together another winning team after a down year in 2017. Things have not started off well.

They gave the Bulldogs hope right off the rip with a three-and-out by the offense and a four-play touchdown drive by Butler. Immediately the Bulldogs realized they could hang with 24th-ranked YSU. That was the Penguins’ first mistake. The litany of others that followed led to one of the most embarrassing losses in school history.

“They wanted it worse than we did,” YSU coach Bo Pelini said after the game. “There was lot of that out there today.”

Again, immeasurable factors such as heart and mental focus are the only explanation.

Yes, YSU is enduring a large turnover at numerous positions, but they’re still an upper-echelon FCS program (I think) with exceptional talent at numerous positions. Even Pelini boasted a quiet-but-obvious confidence at his Tuesday press conference. The longtime college football coach likes this team, or at least, he did.

Their inexperience, immaturity and lack of leadership showed against the Bulldogs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost. Pelini is a good coach, regardless of what some may think, and he and the seniors on this team can pull this together and become a relevant playoff contender, but it won’t be easy — not after a loss like this one.

Teams find out the most about themselves when adversity hits. Well, it landed a haymaker that would make Mike Tyson proud. Let’s see if the Penguins can peel themselves off the canvas.