YOUNGSTOWN - It doesn't take a detective to figure out that the Youngstown State University offensive line is the glue that gels the offense together. And for the experience they bring to the table, it would be hard to top them as a more seasoned group.
The front five of D.J. Main, Chris Elkins, Mark Pratt, Lamar Mady and Andrew Radakovich have started a combined 95 games in their careers, and have started together for the past 76 straight contests.
Because of their experience, and being the only group to ever protect quarterback Kurt Hess, the offense has become the potent weapon for YSU.
In the first two games of the 2012 season, the offensive line has protected Hess - and backup quarterbacks Patrick Angle and Dante Nania - to perfection. There have been very few times were quarterbacks have felt intense pressure and the line has not allowed a sack. They've also given way for the Penguin running game to amass 538 yards in two contests.
But the line always hasn't been like this. It has taken years of building - and hard work - to become the group they are today.
"I think offensive line was, from where we were at from Day 1 until now, it's a compliment to those guys," coach Eric Wolford said. "They've worked hard, they've started to invest more than they ever have in their life. I think in the past, I think they just played offensive line on Saturday, and were just every day guys the rest of the week. I see a different attention to detail on their part."
Like this week preparing for the Albany game. Radakovic, who starts at left tackle, said the line has already been going in on their own to prepare for the Great Danes on Saturday.
"Our whole line has been in on our own to watch film," the senior from Steubenville said. "We're just looking at the players themselves, trying to figure out what they try to do, what they like to do."
That maturity and leadership is a big reason why the unit has become the staple on the team. Another reason the offensive line has made improvements this year is because of the improved play of their defensive counterparts.
"I think we are battle tested because our defense has tested us all of fall camp," said Main, the starting right tackle. "All camp, the defense would put us in hard spots. We would never run over the defense. This defense has changed. They've got us better, and we've got them better."
In last week's victory over Valparaiso, the offensive line was the front line of 59 points for the Penguins. On the other side of the ball, the YSU defense pitched its first shutout since the 2009 season - and the first in the Wolford era. But the third-year coach is insistent he doesn't look at statistics like that, he only cares about one.
"I don't know if they are necessarily caught up in that, we've never been a stats type team," Wolford said. "When I come in on Monday, and talk about the players of the week, I never talk about a statistic. This is a team game. We win or lose as a team.
"(The shutout) isn't a big deal. The biggest statistic if you're going to talk about one is the win or the loss. Whether or not we're singing that fight song in our locker room."
If the Penguins sing the fight song in the locker room for the third straight week, it will be the first time since 2005 the Penguins have opened 3-0 to begin the season.
Kickoff against Albany is at 4 p.m. Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium.