2015 Results: 5-6 (3-5)
Key Returnees: RB Jody Webb, RB Martin Ruiz, QB Hunter Wells, LB Lee Wright, SS Jameel Smith, DE Derek Rivers
Key Losses: WR Andrew Stubbs, WR Andrew Williams, DE Terrell Williams, DT Steve Zaborksy, DT Emmanuel Kormah
Full disclosure, right from the start of this, YSU has been off of UNI’s schedule the last two years so I haven’t followed the roster all that close. The Penguins truly fell into a “out of site, out of mind” situation with me to a large extent. Yes, I’ve done the FCS Wedge on the radio for the last couple seasons, and along with following conference I tracked their results, but never took a deep roster dive like I have with the other programs. Thus, this gives me a first look at the 2016 Penguins, much like most of you.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed from what I’ve followed the last few years is that YSU is still going to YSU. What does that mean? Well, simply put – load up on NEC/PFL and look real good early in the season, only to fall flat on their face late in the year. Last year YSU started 3-1, beating 2 NEC programs and a bottom of the conference USD team, then lost 5 of their last 7 and both of their final two games, which including Bo Pelini going Bo Pelini. Leading into this season I’ve seen far more YSU fans questioning his coaching, and changing their opinion on his antics, than I thought I would see.
A few years ago I really though the QB position would be a source of strength in 2016. Hunter Wells bust onto the scene as a freshman and I thought there was no way he wouldn’t be near the top of the league QB by this time. Well, while he isn’t the main issue on offense he certainly didn’t take the step forward most thought he would last season. His completion percentage dropped 6 points, yards per attempt dropped 2 years, and he saw his TD:INT draw closer to 1:1 than it was as a freshman. This isn’t to say he’s bottom of the league by any means, but I’d say it’s fair to think that if he starts slow we might see Pelini change it up. The problem is, who else does he bring in? The other quarterbacks on the roster are a JUCO transfer that played 5 games last season, a kid that redshirted, and another that threw 18 total passes last season. A late injury to Wells may have Davis starting week 1, which could really throw a wrench into the disdain for the lack of production if Davis has a slow start to the season.
Not helping Wells’s case for the year is the receiver situation. More specifically, the lack of any known quantity at the position. Outside of Missouri State, the Penguins return the least in terms of stats, and it’s real close. Right now, it’s not a good thing to be considered “real close” to Missouri State in any way. Throwing a quarterback out, especially one like Ricky Davis (who is 8-19 passing in his career) isn’t going to change the offense when the leading returning receiver, I’Tavious Harvin, had 22 catches for 279 yards last season. There was only two other players with more than 10 catches, and both of them were running backs – Martin Ruiz (21) and Jody Webb (17). After that there isn’t another receiver with over 100 yards returning. I see YSU fans wanting to blame the offensive coordinator, blame Wells for not developing, etc…, and to an extent there looks to be some truth there. I think we need to look at who he has around him to throw the ball too, especially this year, when we are calling for the back up, whoever they may be, by half time of week 1.
The strength of the YSU offense is the ground game. As an outsider that hasn’t had to face Jody Webb and Martin Ruiz the last two years, it’s been fun seeing what they can do. While their individual stats aren’t on the level of a Tyvis Smith, King Fraizer, Marshawn Coprich, etc… they compbined for over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, so if a defense happens to catch one on a bad day it doesn’t mean they get to relax on the ground game. It means they better buckle up because you’re about to see the other one try to bring the pain. Webb is the far more explosive of the two. Last season he averaged 7.02 yards per carry on his 122 carries with 9 scores. Ruiz finished with more carries, 188, but didn’t have the same explosiveness as he was at 4.0 yards per carry. That kind of two headed monster in the back field is tough to prepare for though, even if only one appears to be the home run threat as Ruiz will pound the ball all game to tired the defense out and allow Webb to take advantage of it.
Defensively is where YSU has shined, and honestly kept them in games or flat out gotten them the win. Statistically YSU had the best pass defense in the league last season – remember NDSU, SDSU, ISUr and UNI all are conference mates. I’m not sure if teams stopped throwing at YSU because they couldn’t, or something else because YSU faced just 202 pass attempts last season – 95 LESS than the next closest team. I would guess part of that is because teams completed just 41.1% of their passes against the Penguin secondary. Bad news for the rest of the MVFC, that secondary is back, led by LeRoy Alexander who was first time all conference last season. Helping that secondary was the front seven. Lee Wright had 78 tackles with 6 sacks, Derek Rivers had 9 sacks, Dellovade had 4. Yes, DE Terrell Williams, DT Steve Zaborksy and DT Emmanuel Kormah are gone and at the vast majority of programs across the nation it’s not just a “plug the next man in”. I’m not sure it’s that way at YSU either, but the guys behind those three all got plenty of game action last season and are no stranger to game speed. Reports out of fall camp were promising on this side of the ball. The big question sounds like will they be able to maintain the same level of play they had last year all year this year again. If not, it could be a long season for Pelini and crew.
9/1 Duquense – W 1-0 (0-0)
9/10 @ West Virginia – L 1-1 (0-0)
9/17 Robert Morris – W 2-1 (0-0)
10/1 South Dakota – W 3-1 (1-0)
10/8 @ Illinois State – W 4-1 (2-0)
10/15 Northern Iowa – L 4-2 (2-1)
10/22 @ South Dakota State – L 4-3 (2-2)
10/29 Indiana State – W 5-3 (3-2)
11/5 @ North Dakota State – L 5-4 (3-3)
11/12 Southern Illinois – W 6-4 (4-3)
11/19 Missouri State – W 7-4 (5-3)
Yes, I think YSU actually does the anit-YSU thing and finishes strong this year, though more so due to the schedule lay out. Closing with two teams I see at the bottom of the conference helps, though the SIU game gets dicey for me. I think the NDSU game is a good shot at an upset. It’s the week after NDSU plays UNI, and both UNI and NDSU tend to struggle a bit the week after that game (it’s where USD picked NDSU off last season). IF YSU figures out how to play offense by then I could see that being a win. On the flip side I could see SIU going the other way. SIU’s defense isn’t good, but neither is YSU’s offense. To beat SIU you have to out dual them, I don’t know that YSU has that type of offense. I have them at 7-4 and right on the playoff bubble. I think 6-5 is quite likely and am willing to listen for an argument at 8 wins. If YSU finishes at 5 or worse I think it’s time to call the Pelini experiment and move on to a better, more permanent coach.