New-look YSU starts Saturday

YOUNGSTOWN — When it comes to college football, major roster overhauls are rather normal on a year-to-year basis.

Students graduate or run out of eligibility, and incoming or redshirt freshmen step in along with players most people have never heard of because they were on the scout team. New leaders form and different players make names for themselves.

At Youngstown State, the roster is only part of the sweeping changes.

The Penguins, who open the season at 2 p.m. Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium against Butler, also are replacing their offensive and defensive coordinators. They shuffled numerous other assistant coaches around to different roles to compensate for the losses.

None of this is fazing head coach Bo Pelini. He is as confident as he has ever been as he enters his fourth season at YSU.

“We’re ready,” said Pelini, who later detailed how the changes have mended this team. “I like our staff a lot. It’s a young staff, but they have energy. They’re smart guys. They’re really good workers, and they communicate with players well.

“There’s a good relationship between the players and coaches in this program. It’s not like the coaches are up here and the players are down here. It’s a pretty laid-back atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere that I would hope our players feel good about walking in the door everyday. We have fun, but when it’s time to work, we work.”

One of the most notable changes on the field is at quarterback, where Notre Dame transfer Montgomery VanGorder is taking over for three-year starter Hunter Wells, who graduated. VanGorder battled with junior Nathan Mays during camp before Mays suffered an injury that has kept him out for the last two-plus weeks. Mays is out for this week’s game.

VanGorder, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound graduate transfer, never played any significant minutes under center with the Fighting Irish. In fact, Saturday will be his first start since high school.

“Well, I got a couple snaps last year in (South Bend), toward the end of some games, but nothing really meaningful,” VanGorder said. “The key word I’d use for myself is excited. When you get into the game, you can’t really replicate that in practice, how you handle certain situations, how your guys respond to you in the huddle. That kind of thing. We have a pretty good feel for where we are and how we’re going to come out and play.”

VanGorder leads an offense that looks a little different than years past.

Offensive coordinator Brian Crist takes over for Shane Montgomery, who left for the same position at UNC-Charlotte after last season.

Pelini said there won’t be major alterations to the scheme, which was centered around a power running game during Montgomery’s tenure, but tweaks have certainly occurred.

Pelini and VanGorder hinted that a more balanced attack with a variety of formations could be on the horizon.

“We’re very multiple in what we’re doing,” Pelini said. “We have depth. We have weapons at every position. I feel really good with where we are. Montgomery has been with us since the spring, and he’s had an excellent camp. … What I’m looking for is a high level of execution, and we’ve been doing that through camp.”

Despite the jettison of Carl Pelini, Bo’s younger brother, the elder Pelini said not much is different with the defense.

That’s in large part because Bo was one of the architects of the schemes. A longtime defensive coach, Pelini has pieced together one of the nation’s most consistent and successful defenses.

“Even though we’ve lost some coordinators,” Pelini said, “obviously with me being a defensive guy and having hands on the defense, it’s been a seemingly easy transition.”

Overall, the changes and different roles haven’t affected the Penguins. In fact, Pelini said the chemistry of both the coaching staff and the team is as good it has ever been during his tenure.

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “You never get to exactly where you want to be, culture wise, as a head football coach, but we’re pretty close. We’re a lot closer than we have been.”