Attention to detail

Minor issues cost Penguins in two losses

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini, shown here in the Penguins’ home-opening loss to Butler, has been disappointed in the multitude of minor mistakes YSU has made in its first two games. He expects them to improve in Week 3.

YOUNGSTOWN — Little things have caused big problems for the Youngstown State football team in its first two games.

The Penguins have one last chance to fix those problems before they begin conference play, and while that chance comes against a non-scholarship school with one winning season in the last 10 years, don’t expect YSU to take Valparaiso easy at 2 p.m. Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.

The Penguins are still smarting from a shocking season-opening defeat to Butler, another non-scholarship school that plays in the same league as Butler.

“It’s kind of embarrassing losing to a team like that, but they played a good game, and we played a bad game. It happens,” said junior offensive lineman Gavin Wiggins about facing another program that doesn’t grant scholarships. “I approach every week the same, no matter if it’s Butler or we’re playing the national championship. I prepare the same every week, but I feel preparation on the field between other players needs to be at a higher standard.”

The Penguins (0-2) looked better last week despite a 52-17 loss to West Virginia.

YSU trailed 14-7 late in the first half and was driving with a chance to tie the game. Things unraveled after the drive stalled, but the Penguins proved they can compete with a talented team.

However, as coach Bo Pelini said, competing isn’t the goal. Winning is, and to reach that point, the countless minor mistakes must stop.

“The kids played hard — I thought they played really hard — but we’re not always playing smart,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference. “There are too many details that are getting missed. Not being able to carry over what we’re coaching to the field, being able to make an adjustment or being able to execute it exactly how we want it executed. Our level of execution is inconsistent, and it’s hurting us.”

Issues have surfaced on both sides of the ball, but the secondary — an area in which YSU has excelled in recent years — has really struggled.

The Penguins have given up six touchdowns and nearly 600 yards passing in two games. Quarterbacks have completed 47-of-67 passes (70 percent) and have been intercepted just once. Those numbers are a stark contrast to a group that led the nation in passing yards allowed per game twice in the past three years.

Pelini pointed to the turnover at safety as the main issue. Both starters from last year graduated, and then the expected starters both suffered season-ending injuries at the outset of preseason camp.

“We’re green back there, so we’re mixing and matching and moving some guys around,” he said. “… Last week was a lot different than the first week. I thought we played better this past weekend, but it was a totally different type of game plan. It was a different offense that we were playing, and different issues than we saw the first week.

“I saw some progress. … There are some things we need to get better at, but overall there was a little bit of a jump.”

They’re looking for continued success against the Crusaders (0-1), who finished 6-5 in 2017, their first winning season since 2003.

Pelini said Valpo used numerous quarterbacks last year, and while Chris Duncan threw every pass in a 23-21 loss to Duquesne last week, he expects multiple QBs under center.

“I haven’t quite figured it out yet,” said Pelini of how the Crusaders utilize each quarterback. “… They’ll jump in and out of wildcat, at least they did last year. We’ve only seen them play one game this year, so you start looking at their stuff from last year. They had some different personnel. You just have to be ready to adjust.”

The main adjustment needs to come in the win column. A young team with a large amount of turnover at numerous positions is still seeking confidence. A win — regardless of who it’s against — would go a long way in that department.

“We’ve just got to keep growing as a football team and get more efficient, more accountable, more disciplined,” Pelini said. “Our execution is an ongoing process each and every day. I still see the potential with this football team. There’s really good potential, but we’ve got to keep getting better.”

McNUTT STILL NOT BACK: Co-defensive coordinator Richard McNutt was still away from the team as of Tuesday. McNutt was placed on paid administrative leave days before YSU’s season opener, and he has not been with the team during an ongoing investigation.

The university has not released details into the investigation. A report Tuesday by Tribune Chronicle news partner WYTV said the investigation involves a domestic dispute.

Pelini deferred comment to the university when asked about McNutt, a former Ohio State University player.