By Dan Hiner
The wait is over for some fans of the Youngstown State University football team. The YSU football team held its annual Red-White spring game on Friday night.
The team competed in an inter-squad scrimmage, and the fans in attendance had the first look at YSU head coach Bo Pelini’s team.
“We had a productive spring ball,” Pelini said. “I thought on both sides we saw some good things — like I have throughout the spring — and I saw a lot that we need to get fixed. I saw us being sharp in some areas at times and I saw us being sloppy in some areas at some times. That’s to be expected and we’ll watch the film and see how some guys reacted with the first time in a while being in front of a crowd. I thought overall, spring ball was a success. We got a lot out of it what we needed to get out of it. I think we identified — like I just told the team — we have a lot of work to do.”
Both offenses focus on running the football. Star running back Martin Ruiz continued where he left off at the end of last season — finishing with 116 rushing yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. One young running back showed some potential. Redshirt freshman Tevin McCaster carried the ball 20 times and finished with 87 yards rushing.
Quarterback Hunter Wells completed 6-11 passes for 77 yards and one touchdown. Backup quarterback Ricky Davis played most of the game on both teams. Davis finished 5-14 for 61 passing yards and one touchdown.
“It felt good to get out here and compete again. We compete at practice, but this is more of a game situation,” Wells said. “So it felt good to go out there and give it everything we had as an offense and compete with the [first team] defense.”
The defense needed to improve after last season. YSU finished the 2014 season fourth in scoring defense and total defense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The defense did show improvement in the spring game, but Pelini said he has higher expectations.
“I thought we had some sloppy play in some areas,” Pelini said. “I didn’t think we tackled very well. I thought the first scrimmage we had, we tackled a lot better. Today I saw us stop our feet on contact and some sloppy things where guys bounced off. Fundamentally, I wasn’t very happy with some of the things I saw out there on the field. Everything I saw is correctable.
“It’s about where I thought we were going into the scrimmage. I would have like to see us a little more sharp, but it’s hard to see that when you’re competing against each other because when someone does good, somebody else is doing bad. I thought the competition is good and I saw a lot of guys trying to compete. I thought some guys made some strides today and showed us that they’re ready to help this football team, and I thought some guys didn’t.”
The team has many of its key players returning, but Pelini said he is concerned about the depth of the roster. He said that he’s afraid that some positions “aren’t deep enough to go through a 12-game season.”
“The guys have worked hard. We don’t have a lot of numbers — we didn’t have a lot of numbers coming in,” Pelini said. “I think there’s a big drop, especially at some positions, between the first group, the second group — the guys that are playing — and the backups. In some areas, those areas are too big. So we have to continue to develop our football team. Like I told our guys, spring ball might be over, but we got to enter the next phase of this spring and use it productively to keep getting better as a team because we’re going to need every day going forward to get ready for August.”
Pelini said the team has to improve over the summer. He said the players will need to commit to practicing and improving if YSU wants to have a chance at competing for a Football Championship Subdivision national championship.
“Our expectation, our standard, is to compete for a playoff spot and compete for a national championship. That’s what we came here to do,” Pelini said. “I don’t see any reason if we come together and do the right things, why we can’t make that happen. But it’s not going to magically happen. We’re going to have to put the work in and there’s going to have to be a level of commitment with this group of kids that there hasn’t been in the last four or five years, or whatever it’s been. Our standard is to get back to the playoffs.”