Questions surround collapse of Penguins
YOUNGSTOWN — There are plenty of fingers being pointed by followers of the Youngstown State football team on what’s going wrong.
Defense. Offense. Coaches. Players.
Fans have taken to social media to call out the litany of issues and who’s to blame. The Penguins are pointing fingers as well — right at themselves.
Coach Bo Pelini admitted that losing five of the last six, including back-to-back lopsided losses, falls squarely on him.
“I apologize to everybody associated with this program,” said Pelini about YSU’s 56-21 loss to South Dakota last Saturday, which came after a 56-17 loss the week prior. “That’s unacceptable, and I’m responsible for it. I’m sick about it, and we’ve got to come out and play well Saturday and get some things fixed.”
Pelini isn’t the only one accepting blame.
No one knows the struggles of a defense that has given up 112 points in the last two games much better than Kyle Hegedus. The starting free safety is at the apex of a secondary that has been picked apart for much of the season. The senior also is the man who makes most of the calls to get the defense aligned, and thus he must take the wrath of Pelini when things go wrong.
They’ve gone wrong a lot lately.
“Point blank, we’re just not executing as a whole,” Hegedus said. “The way our defense is built, all 11 guys need to do their job. You have one guy who doesn’t do their job or isn’t aligned correctly, fits a block where they’re not supposed to, it messes up the whole defense.
“Overall, it’s just a lack of execution,” he added. “The coaches do a great job, I think it’s more communication on us players. That’s really where it lies. It’s not that they’re not teaching us correctly or not teaching us the right things. They’re putting us in the best position that they can, we’re just not executing up to our standards right now.”
YSU fell to 5-5 after Saturday’s loss, but more importantly the Penguins dropped to 1-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and out of the FCS playoff picture.
Pelini understands that “playing for pride,” as he put it, isn’t what anyone expected, especially after a 4-0 start, but the Penguins have regressed as the year has gone on. The offense has lost its physical, run-first identity (rushing for 62 yards last week), and the defense has been shredded through the air and on the ground (two players ran for more than 100 yards, and the quarterback threw for four touchdowns last week).
The defensive-minded Pelini is mystified by it all.
“We didn’t do anything well the other day,” he said of the defense. “We lined up wrong in just basic calls. I had to call three timeouts in the first half because we weren’t lined up. The one time we were getting ready to blitz, and we weren’t even covered down (to compensate for the blitz), so I ran over and called timeout. We had 22 missed tackles. So, it was a comedy of errors, and it’s unacceptable.
“… We’re trying to turn over every stone, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to get this thing turned around.”
The Penguins travel to face another team looking for answers.
Indiana State is 3-7 and 1-5 in the MVFC. The Sycamores have lost four straight. Much like YSU, they were expected to contend for a playoff berth before losing their starting quarterback (ISU in Week 4; YSU in Week 9) and both teams’ only league win came against lowly Western Illinois.
Indiana State has played some of the conference’s better teams closely the last two weeks, while the Penguins have been outscored 112-38. Pelini said he’s considering giving younger players more playing time, but he said he must be careful not to put them in a position they’re not ready for.
“In all three phases, we’re also trying to weigh the possibility of playing some younger guys where possible,” he said. “You also don’t want to put them in there when they’re not ready. They’re on scout team in some cases. You have to weigh the benefits of putting them in there to get some experience, or do you wait until spring ball to get them going?
“This freshmen class we have is really talented,” he added. “It’s probably our best recruiting class from top to bottom. You don’t want to do it at the expense of them and of giving yourself the best chance to win.”
It’s a position Pelini and the Penguins never envisioned they would be in.