Host of “The Drae Smith Show”
November 17, 2014
The Youngstown State Football team suffered another crushing November defeat this past Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. The much less-talented Indiana State Sycamores walked into the Ice Castle and defeated the Penguins 27-24 in Overtime. However, it can be argued that it was the Penguins who beat themselves; losing three fumbles and throwing an interception on the first play of OT that set up Indiana State’s game-clinching field goal. Jody Webb had two fumbles and Martin Ruiz one, after hardly ever putting the ball on the ground over the past two seasons. Hunter Wells finally looked like a true freshman quarterback for the first time this season and seemed to be under pressure all day long. The YSU defense continued to have trouble defending the pass on third downs, an issue that has plagued this team throughout the Wolford era. All these short comings converged to occur at the absolute worst time for Eric Wolford and his team. Saturday’s home game was the team’s best opportunity to firmly place themselves in solid playoff position and they did not rise to the challenge. The Penguins (7-4, 4-3 MVFC) now face an absolute must-win in Fargo against the three time defending champions, North Dakota State next Saturday to even have a chance at the playoffs. Given the reality that winning at the Fargo Dome is highly unlikely, Coach Wolford may have lost his job against Indiana State.
In my opinion, Coach Wolford deserves one more season to try and direct YSU back to the playoffs. This is an extremely young, talented football team with a true freshman quarterback who appears poised to become a star next season. Hunter Wells was thrust into the starting role mid-season during conference play; imagine what he can do with the experience he has gained and an entire off-season as the starter under his belt. The team has a ton of talent and experience coming back and was extremely competitive playing in the nation’s top FCS conference once again. I believe this team will be more stable, more experienced and more prepared to make a playoff run next year than they were this season. Coach Wolford has developed an extremely competitive team that is right on the cusp of busting through as a top team the in Missouri Valley and in the FCS nationally. I believe that all it will take is getting over the hump and into the playoffs one time for them to start believing and take the next step. It is also my belief that we sit in a much better position than we did when Eric Wolford was hired in 2010. Also, the Missouri Valley Football Conference is so close, so competitive, that a coaching change could put you at the bottom the conference in the blink of an eye. There would be a period of adjustment, an overhaul of recruiting and presumed massive changes across the board. In a conference with very little margin for error, you could set yourself back and further away from the playoffs than you were before.
However, you simply can not ignore the fact that Wolford’s teams have failed multiple times in big November games with the playoffs on the line. They run the risk of ending the season on a three-game losing streak to miss the playoffs in heart-breaking fashion for the second straight season. The most concerning thing to me is the Penguins were not fired up and ready for the biggest game of their season with everything on the line. I was on the sidelines Saturday with Rookery Radio and there was very little emotion and intensity for a game that meant so much; I believe it is the coach’s responsibility to have the players focused and ready. At some point, the excuses will run out and someone will have to be held accountable for the late season failures. Many people believe that time is now and that Coach Wolford must go if we lose Saturday in Fargo. Many of these people are die hard fans or people close to the program and with the negative momentum growing, I would not be surprised if a change is made. While I would not agree with the decision, there many reasons Athletic Director Ron Strollo and President Jim Tressel could use to validate the move if it is made. According to Joe Scalzo of The Vindicator, Wolford would likely acquire a job coaching Offensive Line at an FBS school if fired; this would make his buyout much less daunting for YSU. Scalzo also said that given Jim Tressel’s connections in the coaching community, he may be able to lure a very capable and experienced coach to come work with him in leading the Penguin football program back to prominence.
All of these factors should make for an extremely interesting off-season if the Penguins lose against North Dakota State this Saturday. YSU has to pull off the upset to have any semblance of a chance at making the playoffs. Coach Wolford and his players believe they deserve a spot if they beat the Bison, but the playoff committee may not feel the same way. Even with a win the Penguins could still be left out of the playoffs, depending on how many teams are selected from the MVFC. That is why the loss against Indiana State last week is so painful; the Penguins had a chance to take control of their future and squandered it away against a team they are better than. Either way, we should reserve our final assessment of this team and the coaching staff until after Saturday’s game. At that point, we should have a much more clear picture of the future for this program and its head coach. The North Dakota State Bison had their 33-game winning streak snapped by Northern Iowa a few weeks ago and are much more beatable than in years past. Even though we won in Fargo in 2011, using the words “daunting” or “tough” to describe the task of winning this game would be a massive understatement. Just remember, if the Penguins do lose and Eric Wolford does get fired, they will look back to the Indiana State loss, not North Dakota State as the proverbial “nail in the coffin”.