The IUP Crimson Hawks are soaring after their win four days ago over California in the annual Coal Bowl, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
At his weekly news conference on Tuesday, IUP head coach Curt Cignetti outlined two areas where his team must improve, although they’re faults that weren’t costly in IUP’s 20-7 win, its first against California since 2006.
The two areas are special teams and penalties.
On Saturday, the Crimson Hawks (4-0 overall, 2-0 PSAC West) allowed California to average 28.3 yards on three kickoff returns, misplayed one punt into a 75-yard field-position changer for the Vulcans, had two penalties for 30 yards and had an extra-point kick blocked.
“Our special teams has to improve,” Cignetti said. “Our kickoff coverage, the last two weeks, has been sub-par. We’ve got to get it corrected. We gave up a lot of field position on that punt return, and we had penalties. We had two penalties on special teams. So that’s going to be an emphasis this week to get better.”
As for the penalties, the Crimson Hawks were flagged eight times for 80 yards against California. Two of those eight were 15-yard personal-foul calls. In four games, they have been called for the third-highest total in penalty yardage (337) in the 16-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“The special teams penalties all should have been avoided,” Cignetti said. “We still had two procedures on offense and had a procedure on defense. So we’ve got to clean it up.”
But how do you do that?
“You just address it in the team meeting as a point of emphasis,” Cignetti said.
Oddly enough, there were two other times when IUP was initially called for a penalty, but both times the referee, Brandon Hoover, changed his mind after talking with his crew.
The first one came in the first half, when Hoover signaled a false start violation on IUP right tackle Jorge Vicioso, who jumped before the play. But Cignetti argued to line judge Ralph Livsey that Vicioso jumped because California defensive tackle Blake Bell had crept into the neutral zone. Livsey apparently agreed, because he talked briefly with Hoover, who changed the call to an offsides penalty against Bell.
And then at a crucial point of the fourth quarter, IUP quarterback Mike Box called for a timeout as the play clock was running out. But Hoover threw his flag and signaled for an illegal substitution penalty on IUP for having 12 players on the field. Livsey went to Hoover at midfield and the two talked briefly before the other officials joined in, and Hoover then announced there was no penalty on IUP, and that the Crimson Hawks were charged with a timeout.
On Tuesday, Cignetti explained that fullback Dom Maggio had been lined up in the wrong place before the timeout was called, and the IUP coaching staff signaled for him to shift to the near side of the field. But Maggio got confused, thinking he needed to get off the field, and he ran to the sideline.
Hoover apparently saw Maggio leave the field of play, and likely made the assumption the fullback was leaving because he was the 12th man on the field. The Crimson Hawks actually had 10 men on the field, not 12, when the penalty was called.
“We were waving (Maggio) over because he was lined up wrong,” Cignetti said. “He thought we were calling him out of the game.”
COMING TOGETHER: Cignetti praised the play of the offensive line, which didn’t allow a sack and paved the way for 199 rushing yards, including 167 by De’Antwan “Rocket” Williams.
“I thought the offensive line took a step,” he said. “They played really well as a unit. It was really the first game where our offensive line looked like our offensive line usually looks.”
The offensive line has been a revolving door of players all season. A one-game suspension for guard Nick Carnicella, plus hand injuries to center Matt Sasson and tackle Bruce Atkins made it difficult to get a set five-man lineup. But against California, the front line of Mike Charmo (center), Carnicella and Sasson (guards) and Byron Dovales and Vicioso (tackles) had its best game so far.
“We’ve settled in positionally there, but we’re looking for more improvement there,” Cignetti said. “It does take some time for those guys to play together; of course those guys have been different (almost) every week.”
INJURY UPDATE: There’s mixed news about some of the Crimson Hawks’ walking wounded.
Defensive lineman Akeem Smith, the team’s top run stopper, did not play against California after suffering a high ankle sprain the week before against Seton Hill. Cignetti said Smith will likely return to practice this week and could play this week against Millersville.
Cignetti also said wide receiver Salath Williams, who has not practiced or played in a game yet this season because of a broken foot, might practice this week, but his status for Saturday is uncertain.
Two players with broken hands, tackle Bruce Atkins and linebacker Alexander Berdahl, will not play this week, nor will reserve quarterback Logan Weaver, who has an abdominal injury.
Backup safety Kole Kraut re-injured his surgically-repaired knee during the first half, and Cignetti said Kraut will have an MRI today. His status is uncertain.
QUICK HITS: Some final news and notes:
• Cignetti had special praise for linebacker Dorian Lane, who had nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, against California. Lane has started the past three weeks in place of Berdahl. “I thought he has played exceptionally well since he took over for Berdahl,” he said. “Exceptionally.”
• Cignetti gave his staff Sunday off after the win, and the players were awarded Monday off. “We like to give them a day off somewhere between the fourth and the sixth week of the season,” he said. “Just to let them get away.”
• It wasn’t lost on Cignetti how easily Saturday’s game could have gone the other way. California quarterback Cody Schroeder threw two interceptions in the red zone, and he had two other long passes that would have been big gains dropped by the receivers. “That game could have been a three- or four-score game if we execute in a couple situations,” he said, “but it also could have gone the other way if they make plays on a couple deep balls. It was a hard-fought win against a quality opponent.”