Anyone who saw the score to Youngstown State University’s much-hyped showdown with North Dakota State University last Saturday probably wondered how these two teams were so closely ranked.
The Bison, returning national champions and the top-ranked FCS school in the country, crushed YSU, 48-7. The Penguins, ranked No. 3 in the nation entering the game, trailed 35-7 at the half and were statistically dominated in every phase of the game. Heck, even their cheerleaders were better.
But, as most coaches will tell you, things are never as bad as they seem, just like they’re never as good as they seem.
Youngstown State, which dropped to No. 8 in the polls, did more to beat itself than the Bison did to win. That’s not to take anything away from North Dakota State, which was clearly the better team, but looking too much into the margin of victory wouldn’t be wise.
Turnovers, a lack of poise and an inability to get off the field on third downs quickly caused this contest to spiral out of control. The fact the Penguins were playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the country (the Bison’s home field is the Fargodome, where the decibel level reached 130 last year and is noisier than a New Orleans Saints’ game in the Superdome) didn’t help either.
The first and most glaring problem was the turnovers. The Penguins turned the ball over three times, and North Dakota State scored 21 points off those miscues. The lack of poise quickly followed as YSU seem shell-shocked by watching their highly touted quarterback, Kurt Hess, struggle for the first time this season.
Hess, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award (the Football Championship Subdivision version of the Heisman), finished 11-of-20 for 117 yards with two picks and one touchdown. He contributed to what was probably the biggest play of the game. With the Penguins driving inside the Bison’s 20-yard line, Hess was intercepted by Marcus Williams, who rumbled 98 yards for a touchdown, giving NDSU a 21-7 lead. Hess, who didn’t have a pick in YSU’s first four games, threw another one later in the first half to help the Bison go up, 35-7, and seal YSU’s fate.
No one seemed to help the beleaguered quarterback either, especially the defense. North Dakota State converted 11-of-15 third downs, and on a day where Hess needed his defense to pick him up, they were nowhere to be found.
But as bad as they looked, and they looked downright wretched at times, some promise should surface from this debacle. The Penguins will certainly be more humble, understanding that if they turn the ball over, they will be defeated – and badly. Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford may have said it best.
“It’s a good lesson – if you turn the ball over, you’re going to get taken to the woodshed,” said Wolford at his weekly press conference.
Another positive was how the Penguins drove the ball early in the game. YSU fumbled on its first offensive play, and after North Dakota turned it into seven points, the Penguins responded with a 10-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. They were on their way to tying things up at 14 before Hess tossed the pick-six to Williams, a blow YSU couldn’t respond from.
As Wolford said, it’s a lesson, one the Penguins better learn from right away because they’re back on the road this week against the 13th-ranked Illinois State Redbirds, and I’m sure there are plenty of woodsheds there, too.