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Rough start

Struggling offense fails to support Penguins’ defense

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State linebacker Malachi Newell tackles UNI’s Dom Williams during the second half of the Penguins’ 21-0 loss on Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.

YOUNGSTOWN — The Doug Phillips era got off to a rough start at Youngstown State on Saturday, and that was before the game even started.

Phillips got tripped up and fell running onto the Stambaugh Stadium field for the first time as YSU’s head coach. He tucked and rolled as he landed, quickly picking himself up and moving forward.

He hopes his Penguins can do the same after another poor offensive performance.

YSU was shutout, 21-0, by fifth-ranked Northern Iowa in its home opener in a Missouri Valley Football Conference game.

The Penguins (0-2, 0-2), who have scored just seven points in two games, amassed 135 total yards and punted on seven of their eight drives. They missed a 38-yard field goal on the other one.

Phillips admitted he needs to find answers as YSU searches for an identity.

“Our young men will do what we teach them,” he said. “If we’re not putting them in a position to be successful, that falls directly on the head football coach, so we have to do a better job of putting our young men in a position for them to be successful on Saturday.

“Because I do know that they will fight, they will battle, but there comes a point where you get worn out, too.”

The defense did, indeed, fight, and it also got worn out.

UNI and first-team all-MVFC quarterback Will McElvain were shut down for much of the game. The Panthers (1-1, 1-1) only led 6-0 at halftime, and YSU pieced together an 11-play, 48-yard drive to start the second half.

Led by Girard High School graduate Mark Waid, one of two rotating quarterbacks for YSU, the Penguins moved to UNI’s 17 before a 2-yard pass play, an incompletion and a sack stopped the momentum.

The positivity created by a good offensive showing was completely erased when Colt McFadden pushed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left. It was a tough blow for a YSU team that needed some momentum.

“There’s no question we need to fix the offensive side of the ball,” Waid said. “The defense is playing great. They played their hearts out back-to-back weeks. It’ll come. We have a great coaching staff that trusts and believes in us and draws up good plays. We just have to take our time at practice and really go over the fine details and just play together.”

The defense held it together as long as it could.

Even after the missed field goal, YSU forced another punt from the Panthers. Yet, YSU went three-and-out on offense, and UNI finally started to impose its will. Running back Dom Williams capped an 11-play, 57-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 13-0 at the 13:48 mark of the fourth quarter.

YSU again could not mount any type of drive on the ensuing possession, and the third poor punt of the game by freshman Paddy Lynch set the Panthers up for a game-sealing score. They took over at the YSU 45-yard line and Williams again finished off the drive, this time with a 1-yard TD run. The two-point conversion made it 21-0 and sealed YSU’s fate.

While frustrated with how the game went, the Penguins are keeping the faith in their teammates.

“Our thought process is, if they don’t score, they can’t win,” said YSU defensive tackle Vinny Gentile, a Cardinal Mooney graduate who had a team-high nine tackles. “If we keep giving the ball back to our offense, one of these times it’s going to happen. We trust those guys on the other side of the ball from us every day at practice, and I know if we keep giving them the ball — keep getting those three-and-outs, keep getting those turnovers — it’s going to turn around.”

The Penguins were without some key players.

Starting left tackle Dan Becker, a first-team all-conference selection, was a late scratch. That was a big blow for an offensive line that had four players participate in their first college game last week against North Dakota State.

YSU also played without starting wide receiver C.J. Charleston and starting defensive tackle DeMarko Craig for a second straight week. Phillips hinted that COVID-19 regulations played a role in their absences.

Next Saturday, the Penguins host Southern Illinois, which shocked top-ranked North Dakota State on Saturday, 38-14. Kickoff is at noon at Stambaugh Stadium.

Waid said the Penguins will find a way to come together and will not start bickering among one another.

“At a lot of programs, that would happen, but with this coaching staff, and this group of guys in the locker room — this is a great group of guys — there’s none of that,” he said. “Usually, when the offense or the defense is struggling, (people are) pointing fingers.

“We have great leadership in Zaire Jones, (Antoine) Cook, James Jackson — guys that instead of pointing the finger, they’re motivating us, they’re pushing us as an offensive unit to get going. That’s what makes great teams. We just need more of that.”

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