Scouting Report: Week 10
A team that handed Youngstown State a backbreaking loss one year ago has the chance to do it again as the Penguins’ playoff hopes are again hanging by a thread.
Southern Illinois rolls into Youngstown with a 3-6 record (1-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference), but five of the Salukis’ losses came by a touchdown or less. SIU edged the Penguins in overtime last year, 38-31, and if they upset 15th-ranked YSU today, the Penguins could be on the outside looking in come selection Sunday.
Southern Illinois is coming off its first MVFC victory, edging South Dakota, 35-28. The Penguins were handily defeated by North Dakota State, 24-3. YSU will likely need to win its last two games to secure a playoff spot, starting today.
YSU — The quarterback craziness likely will continue today as YSU again looks to find someone to solidify himself as the starter. Hunter Wells started his second game last week. Since stepping in for injured starter Ricky Davis (concussion), Wells is 31-of-53 for 323 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Davis was in concussion protocol earlier in the week but could return. Freshman Nathan Mays is another option as he’s played sparingly for the last three weeks.
SIU — The Salukis made a bit of a surprising move by benching senior Josh Straughan in favor of sophomore Sam Straub, but it worked. Straub threw for 339 yards, two TDs and snapped SIU’s five-game losing streak. Straub brings more of a dual threat (he ran for 68 yards and one TD last week), but this will be his first road start, and it comes against the best pass-rushing team in the MVFC.
EDGE — SIU
YSU — While Martin Ruiz is putting the icing on a brilliant career with 742 yards and seven TDs in his senior season, his longtime counterpart is struggling. Senior Jody Webb is having a dreadful final season. A first-team all-conference pick in the preseason, Webb has just 340 yards rushing and has yet to score a TD. His absence has coincided with YSU’s continued offensive struggles. Tevin McCaster is taking several of Webb’s carries as he is second on YSU with 390 yards and five TDs.
SIU — Starting tailback Daquon Isom has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury and it’s hard to know when he’ll return. He’s a three-way threat (running, catching, kick returning) when healthy. Cameron Walter took over in his absence, rushing for 277 yards and three TDs on 61 carries. Jonathan Mixon adds a team-high seven TDs and 159 yards on 51 carries.
EDGE — YSU
YSU — This would be a good week for this group to get going. YSU is last in the conference in practically every passing and receiving category, but the Salukis have surrendered a league-high 25 passing TDs and are allowing 275 yards through the air per contest. It’s been a rough year for YSU’s wideouts as Darien Townsend leads the team with 19 catches for 289 yards and two TDs.
SIU — Connor Iwema has stepped up as the Salukis’ top target after an injury-plagued sophomore season. He has 37 catches, 460 yards and four TDs. He’s one of six players with at least 20 catches. The distribution is what makes SIU so hard to defend. Billy Reed is another top target, with 31 grabs for 346 yards and three TDs.
EDGE — SIU
YSU — The line has been solid most of the season, but protecting the quarterback has been a bit of an issue as of late. Ten of the 18 sacks given up by YSU came in two games. In its defense, the line has had to block for four different QBs. The Penguins are rushing for 221.6 yards per game, second best in the league.
SIU — The SIU line is the driving force behind the league’s second best offense, averaging 459.9 yards per game. The Salukis have done most of their damage through the air, but they have a nice mixture in the red zone (16 rushing TDs). The line has been a bit susceptible to the pass rush, allowing 25 sacks (fifth worst in the MVFC).
EDGE — Even
YSU — The one sack recorded by YSU last week was its least amount since Week 2. The line has been tremendous all year, led by defensive ends Derek Rivers and Avery Moss. That duo has registered 18 (nine each) of the Penguins’ league-high 34 sacks. Tackle Savon Smith has five sacks and has had a great sophomore season.
SIU — Southern Illinois is rather young up front, with one returning starter in Khari Waithe-Alexander. The junior end has five sacks and 6.5 tackles-for-loss. Tackle T.J. Beelen leads the front four in tackles with 29.
EDGE — YSU
YSU — Sophomore Armand Dellovade leads the Penguins in total tackles (61) and solo stops (41). He’s been a steady force in the middle of YSU’s defense. Seniors Jamar Pinnock and Jaylin Kelly have played more as the season has gone on, but their playing time could be limited because YSU often uses five or even six defensive backs.
SIU — Senior Chase Allen is an all-conference selection who led the team with 120 tackles last year. He has the size of a lineman (6-4, 241) and the athleticism of a linebacker. He leads SIU with 57 tackles. Markese Jackson is another returning starter on the weak side.
EDGE — Even
YSU — The secondary has been stellar for a second straight year under coach Bo Pelini. This unit leads the league in opponent’s completion percentage (48 percent) and yards (1,475). Senior safeties Jameel Smith and LeRoy Alexander are second and third on YSU in tackles, with 51 and 41, respectively. They each have two interceptions as well. Smith was injured last week but could return today. Corner Kenny Bishop leads YSU with eight pass break-ups.
SIU — Southern Illinois is young and inexperienced in the secondary, with safety Jefferson Vea the only returning starter. He’s the Salukis’ second-leading tackler with 49 stops. Fellow safety Jeremy Chinn is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two. Corner Roman Tatum has six pass-breakups.
EDGE — YSU
YSU — Place-kicker Zak Kennedy came out of the game last week with a thigh injury shortly after missing a 34-yard field goal. He’s had his issues of late, missing five of his last eight attempts. Nate Needham is his back-up. He missed a 29-yard field goal last week. Punter Mark Schuler is averaging 42.7 yards per kick, second best in the MVFC. Darien Townsend leads the conferrence in punt return average at 18.6.
SIU — Matt Sotiropoulos has made 5-of-7 field goals, while long-distance place-kicker Austin Johnson is 3-of-8, with a long of 51. Punter Lane Reazin is averaging 38.7 yards per punt. The Salukis have yielded one punt return for touchdown, but they have not returned a kick or punt for a score.
EDGE — Even
This is an interesting matchup between two teams with varying styles. The Penguins rely on one of the FCS’ best defenses, while SIU boasts one of the conference’s best offenses, averaging 31 points per game.
While the Salukis have nothing to lose as they’re out of the playoff picture, YSU’s season is on the line. The key for the Penguins, as it has been for several weeks now, is finding an offensive rhythm. YSU has to create a passing threat. The running game has been good, and the defense will keep them in just about any game, but the offense has been downright anemic. That must change — starting today.