BY JEREMY HOECK
Bo Pelini is very nearly 3-0 through the non-conference portion of his first season at Youngstown State.
The former Nebraska coach, who landed on his feet in his native Youngstown, Ohio, has guided the Penguins to consecutive wins – after an 8-point loss to Pittsburgh – heading into a bye week this weekend. Then comes the Missouri Valley opener Oct. 3 at the University of South Dakota.
Like many coaches across the conference – 8 of the 10 teams have a bye this week – Pelini took the opportunity Tuesday to evaluate his team after non-conference action, and called his Penguins a “work in progress.”
“We have the potential to be a good football team,” Pelini said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Pelini was hired last December to catapult Youngstown State back into the national picture after former coach Eric Wolford – 31-26 in five seasons – was never really able to take the Penguins to that next step (read: playoffs).
For now, though, Pelini said he is concerned about incremental progress.
“I think we’re making some progress,” he said. “We’re cleaning some things up as move along, but we’re nowhere near where we want to be yet.”
Even in the 45-37 loss at Pittsburgh, Youngstown State gave itself a chance. After getting within one possession late in the fourth quarter, the Penguins forced a three-and-out, but then turned the ball over on downs.
The next two games for the Penguins were home games against FCS teams from the state of Pennsylvania: A 21-14 overtime win over Robert Morris and a 48-3 rout last weekend over Saint Francis. Both of those last two opponents were run-first teams, but against Saint Francis, the Youngstown State defense held the Red Flash to 77 rushing yards on 33 carries. The Penguins, meanwhile, ran for 302 yards.
Put another way: Youngstown State has some momentum.
“We played cleaner; played better,” Pelini said. “We’re still working through some different personnel things, finding out who gives us the best chance to win.”
Asked if he has had a chance to look at USD yet in advance of that Oct. 3 game in Vermillion, Pelini said he hasn’t gotten that far yet.
“We’re really concentrating on us; doing a lot of self-scout things,” he said.