By Jeff Brown
The Youngstown State University football team came into Saturday’s opening contest of the 2015 season against the University of Pittsburgh hoping to, once again, shock the world and defeat an Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for the second time in school history, as they did back in 2012 when the Penguins beat the Panthers 31-17.
This time around the Penguins were unable to complete the upset falling 45-37 to the Panthers in YSU head coach Bo Pelini’s debut.
The Penguins controlled the pace on their opening drive, marching straight down the field on a nine-play 60-yard drive that resulted in a field goal giving the Penguins a 3-0 lead just minutes into the game.
The offense would struggle to get much going for the rest of the first half, as the Penguins were dominated in the trenches. YSU quarterback Hunter Wells faced constant pressure from the Pittsburgh defense all afternoon, and was sacked five times. Wells was eventually forced out of the game with an injury with 19 seconds left in the game, but is not expected to miss any time. Wells finished the game 19-38 for 274 yards.
“I guess you could say I was under a lot of pressure, but being a quarterback you got to be expecting that. I mean that’s part of the job,” Wells said.
YSU starting running back left the game in the first quarter with a thigh bruise injury and did not return. Ruiz’s replacement, junior Jody Webb, ran for a team-high 142 yards on 17 carries with two scores, but was held in check for majority of the afternoon. Most of Webb’s yards came on a 75-yard touchdown run with just under five minutes remaining.
“Jody’s a great player and I think everyone knows that. Martin goes down and Jody has to be ready,” Wells said. “ He’s a great player. He brings a nice spark to the offense and he’s a dangerous player.
However, Pittsburgh’s running game would take over from there, dominating the Penguins in the trenches — rushing for a team total of 325 yards. Pitt’s star running back James Connor torched the Penguins in the first half rushing for 77 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns before leaving with an apparent knee injury. Redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison was the leading rusher for the Panthers with 212 yards on 16 carries and reached the end zone twice. Ollison’s 212 yards is the most single game rushing yards for a freshman in Pitt history.
“We did it to ourselves. We missed assignments here and there. Filling late in the run. They didn’t show us anything to spectacular that we didn’t see before,” junior safety LeRoy Alexander said.
Alexander was one of the few bright spots on the Penguins defense. Alexander had two interceptions on the day, one of which was returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
Despite only losing by a touchdown to an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, Pelini is still not satisfied with his team’s performance.
“There are no moral victories,” Pelini said. “That doesn’t exist in my world. We were capable of winning that football game. I fully expected to win that football game, but that didn’t happen and it’s on to the next one.