YOUNGSTOWN - Quarterback Kurt Hess might have said it the best on Tuesday afternoon at Stambaugh Stadium - the Penguins are not happy about the fact that after a 4-0 start that YSU is now sitting at 4-2.
"There is a sense of urgency right now," Hess said. "We haven't really been in this position, at 4-2 since (coach Eric) Wolford has been here. It's something that ... we might be the most miserable 4-2 team out there. But we definitely need to realize we are in a good position right now and we've had some hard losses. There is a sense of urgency and our backs are against the wall and we need to win this game."
After starting the season defeating Pittsburgh, then coming away with a huge win over the University of Northern Iowa, the Penguins have dropped two straight in two completely different ways. Against North Dakota State, the Penguins were outplayed in every facet. This past week against Illinois State, the Penguins blew a 21-point lead to fall to the Redbirds, 35-28.
"Our backs are up against the wall," Hess said. "We need to step up and respond to these two losses, which have been against two very good teams, teams that have been sound and disciplined. We need to realize that we need to get better, but it's time to respond."
There's no time better to respond then with a home game against another tough league opponent. On Saturday, the Penguins will face Southern Illinois, a team that's won two straight league games and comes in to Stambaugh Stadium with a 4-3 (2-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) record.
"This is a big football game for our football team," Wolford said. "They are a team when I came into the league they were the two-time champs, and that's how they are playing right now."
While the Penguins started the season hot and have been cold as of late, the Salukis are on the other side of the spectrum. Southern Illinois dropped its first two contests, against Eastern Illinois and Miami of Ohio, won two against Southeast Missouri State and Missouri State, then lost its first league game to Indiana State. Since that loss, the Salukis are playing their best ball, getting conference wins over Illinois State and UNI.
"It seems like they have put it together and are playing well as a team," Hess said. "They have players that have great ability, and they've been fast ever since I've been here. They're definitely going to be able to make some plays during the game.
"It looks like they've been capitalizing more on them and been putting things together to win football games."
While the Penguins are slumping, hopes are not lost for the FCS Playoffs. Only one team in the MVFC hasn't lost a conference game (South Dakota State), so having two losses doesn't mean the Penguins are out of the picture, but now every game is even more of a must win.
"I just know that this is a big football game," Wolford said. "I don't like to put pressure on our kids. I've made it a point to our coaching staff to make them aware that this is a big game. They are 3-1 in the conference, we are 1-2. I feel like this game here could have playoff implications as far as the way the pecking order shakes out at the end of the year."
The Penguins look to get back on the winning track on Saturday at 4 p.m.