Off to a good start

Penguins outscore Samford in opener

Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Youngstown State quarterback Nate Mays evades two Samford defenders Saturday in the Penguins’ 45-22 win.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Youngstown State ended a two-year losing streak in football season openers on Saturday in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff on national television.

The Penguins marched into Alabama and took home a 45-22 win over the Samford Bulldogs during college football’s “Week Zero”.

Quarterback Nate Mays said he thinks last season’s disastrous season opener against Butler helped the team mentally prepare going into 2019.

“That’s always one of the biggest focuses coming out of the offseason is that game one, starting your season out right,” he said. “I know a lot of people don’t want to talk about that first game last year, but for us that’s been a heavy motivator.

“We came out in game one and I think everybody knew we had a little something to prove today. I was really proud of the way guys came out and fought.”

Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Malachi Newell of Youngstown State celebrates the Penguins win Saturday in Alabama.

Defensive end Justus Reed agreed.

“We came out ready to play today. Even though I didn’t play last year, I was injured and had to sit and watch that Butler game, and right after that game it lit a fire under my belly and I was ready to go,” he said.

YSU was guided to victory by a conservative running attack and a stellar defensive effort.

One of the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s game was the fact that YSU had a three interceptions, matching their entire season total from 2018.

Vanderbilt transfer Zaire Jones had two interceptions in his first game in a YSU uniform and John Harper added a pick as well.

Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Cash Mitchell recovered a Samford fumble and ran it in for a touchdown Saturday for Youngstown State.

All in all, coach Bo Pelini was more than happy with the way his secondary turned the ball over.

“Well, last year it was musical chairs at defensive back and now we have some continuity, we’re healthy,” he said.

“There were times, especially early on, we had a will linebacker start at safety in our first game last year. We had guys all over the place, which was hard. We had corners playing at safety, and safeties playing nickel. We have continuity, which gives us a chance to be a good football team, and a good defense.”

Cash Mitchell also forced a fumble in the first quarter, which he returned for a 26-yard touchdown.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Penguins utilized the ground game, as they netted a total of 277 yards running compared to 159 yards passing. Colton McFadden pitched in with a 43 yard field goal.

Mays went 10-for-18 for 124 yards and he had touchdown passes to Samuel St. Surin and Josh Burgett. He also had 90 rushing yards.

“We knew that they were going to be susceptible to the quarterback run game, that was a heavy gameplan of ours,” Mays said. “I’ve always felt comfortable with my feet ever since I got to college and it was kind of molded into me whenever I was first playing four years ago.

“Anytime that I feel like I have to use my feet, I’m more than willing to take off running. A lot of teams know that and gameplan for that, but we just gameplanned a little better today and we opened some spaces.”

Joe Craycraft saw limited playing time and went 3-for-3 for 35 yards and 15 yards rushing.

Christian Turner had 89 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Braxton Chapman added two touchdowns on 50 yards rushing.

Turner credited his teammates for some of his success.

“I think we played well as a team today. There’s still some things we can clean up, but overall we played a really good game,” he said. “I want to give kudos to the offensive line for just creating big holes and being super physical up front. Without them, all four of our backs, we don’t do anything so, all those yards are a testament to how hard they work.”

Something that’s new on the YSU sidelines is a hammer with “Grit U” written on it, and a hardhat featuring the Y logo.

Similar to the Miami Hurricanes’ “turnover chain” the aforementioned items are given to a YSU player who scores or forces a turnover.

Chapman feels that the “Grit U” moniker is about the team’s culture.

“It just starts with the way we practice and prepare, I mean it comes from the top down, so it translates from the head coach on down,” he said.

“We call ourselves “Grit U” and stuff like that so we gotta live it, just the way we practice. We had a really hard three weeks of camp, we really got after each other so when we’re playing like that, especially then coming to a game, and get after somebody else, it feels really good.”

Although YSU won, Pelini still thinks there’s room for improvement.

“We’ll learn from everything we did today, and we’ll evaluate it. We’ll get better because of it, and we’ve got to make a big jump between game one and game two, and keep making progress,” he said.

“Because I said going in, no matter what the outcome today, whether we played good, bad, however it turned out, it gives you a starting point. We have a lot of football ahead of us, and we’ve got to get better every day.”

Youngstown State has a bye week next weekend, then returns to action in their home opener on Sept. 7 against the Howard Bison.