YOUNGSTOWN - To say that the Youngstown State University Penguins have their backs against the wall might be the understatement of the year.
To say that every game from here on out is a must win, well that statement is obvious if the Penguins want any chance of making the FCS Playoffs, which sitting at 4-3 seems almost out of reach.
"No doubt this is a playoff game for us this week," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "Record wise, we are 4-3, we have four games left. Eight wins, can probably get in... 7-4, going to depend on who you beat and who you didn't. Really, if we want to be in, this is a playoff game."
While some naysayers might laugh at the thought of the once 4-0 team making it to the playoffs, if YSU can win the last four games of the season - all against Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents - the Penguins still have an outside shot. However, if they don't snap their three-game losing streak this week against South Dakota State, the season might be done for the Penguins.
"Without a doubt, this is Week 1 of the playoffs for us," free safety Donald D'Alesio said. "We know we can't afford to lose another game. We know more than ever that we need a win."
Playing at South Dakota State this Saturday will have a playoff feel, as the Jackrabbits have a 3-1 record in the conference and a 5-2 mark overall. In recent years, SDSU has had a stronghold over the Penguins, as the Jackrabbits are 4-0 in the last four meetings, including last year, when the Penguins lost to SDSU, 35-28.
To be able to come away from Brookings, S.D. with a victory, means the YSU offense has to step up from the past few performances. The normally potent Penguin offense has been shut out in the second half in the past three contests, 55-0. The last time YSU scored in the second half was on Sept. 22 against UNI.
"The breakdowns we have had have been on plays that we have ran since the first day I've been here," Wolford said. "That's why I feel like sometime we are pressing. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on you to do well, to make a play and you're trying to do too much instead of just taking what's there.
"Specifically, it's a lack of execution. I can't put it any simpler than that. We got the plays, we have to execute them. They aren't brand new ball plays. We just have to execute them."
With that being said, Wolford and the team know that all three phases need to play a complete game on Saturday. Only then will the Penguins get back on the winning side.
"I think we all know how good we can play when we all play offense, defense and special teams like we all know how," D'Alesio said. "We've seen how good our offense is when they play good, and last week we showed how good our defense can play when we play like we know how. We know special teams we have to pick it up in some phases. We know how good we really are. That's our confidence for this week."
The Penguins will try and put that all together - and get back on the winning side the of the ball - Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be aired on WFMJ.