By Nathanael Hawthorne
The 2019 Youngstown State University football season is officially in the books. The Penguins finished with a 6-6 overall record and a record of 2-6 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
While YSU missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, there are accomplishments and improvements within the program.
The most notable improvement was the defensive output. During the 2018 season, the defense forced nine turnovers. This season, however, the Penguins forced 20 total turnovers, with 11 of them being interceptions.
The defense also allowed less points per game (26.8) and less yards per game (339.1).
The offense also had a statistically better season. While the team didn’t earn as many total yards per game as last season, it improved in rushing yards per game (187.4) and passing yards per game (203).
At one point early in the season, the team lead the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards.
Penguins coach Bo Pelini also had a career milestone during the last game of the season, clinching his 100th career win as coach, ending the 2019 season on a high note by beating the sixth-ranked Illinois State University.
According to senior tailback Joe Alessi, clinching Pelini’s 100th win was a proper senior send-off.
“I’ll remember this game for the rest of my life,” Alessi said. “To end my career at Youngstown State and have [Pelini] get his 100th career win is just awesome.”
The 2019 season also marked the emergence of quarterback Nathan Mays, who was sidelined with an ankle injury with only three games left in the season.
Before the injury, Mays posted a 61.1% pass completion rate for 1287 yards in the air. He also had six rushing touchdowns, which is the most on the team.
The game against Illinois State garnered national coverage during the final play. Mays, who had surgery on his injured ankle two weeks prior, was assisted onto the field by teammates to take the final snap of not only the season but of his career as well.
Additionally, six Penguins also earned All-MVFC honors for their efforts on the field.
Junior defensive end Justus Reed earned first-team honors, and junior punt returner Jake Coates and senior defensive end Ma’lik Richmond were both selected for second-team honors. Coates’ selection marks the first time since 2001 a Penguin punt returner was named to either the first or second team.
Senior wide receiver Jermiah Braswell, sophomore offensive tackle Dan Becker and sophomore tight end Miles Joiner were listed as honorable mentions as well.
Richmond and Reed were among the top performers on the defense with 47 and 42 tackles, respectively. Richmond tallied 10.5 tackles for losses, with nine of them being sacks. Reed had 19 tackles for losses with 13 being sacks.
YSU started off hot by posting a 4-0 record against non-conference teams. The last time the Penguins started with such a record was in 2012.
The team suffered three straight losses once conference play started. After some redemption with a win at home against Western Illinois University, the Penguins gave up back-to-back 56-point losses, a first in program history.
Last season, the Penguins finished with a 5-7 record. After finishing with a .500 record this season, Pelini knows what changes need to be made.
“[I] have a pretty good idea to get some things fixed. We’ve got to make some changes here and there,” Pelini said.