Scouting Report: Week 2

For 30 minutes of the season opener, the Youngstown State football team looked like the one that went to the FCS Championship one year ago. The other 30, not so much.

A feast-or-famine opener ended in heartbreak, with an interception on the final play of a 28-21 overtime loss to Pitt. Week 2 brings a different kind of challenge from the same region.

Robert Morris (1-0), which struggled to a 2-9 finish in 2016, opened the season with a 13-10 last-second victory over a Dayton team picked to finish second in the Pioneer Football League.

While YSU cruised past the Pittsburgh-based Colonials last year, RMU took the Penguins to overtime in 2015 and bring a little momentum to Stambaugh Stadium. Depending on which YSU team shows up after an up-and-down game at Heinz Field could determine how this matchup plays out.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — The final play was tough to swallow for Youngstown State quarterback Hunter Wells. The 6-foot-5 senior played rather well for the first four quarters, surpassing 300 yards and throwing two TDs, but the baffling interception is what lingers in his memory. Still, he showed the poise, accuracy and smarts that sparked YSU’s playoff run last year.

RMU — Junior Jimmy Walker is in his first year with the Colonials after transferring from San Diego State. The former junior-college star was 14-of-29 for 198 yards, one TD and one interception. The 6-2, 215-pound Walker is a pro-style quarterback with limited mobility. While he set passing records at Cerritos Community College (where he played before SDSU), one of them was interceptions in a season.

EDGE — YSU

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — Christian Turner didn’t take long to let people know he could be a special talent. The true freshman caught five passes for 124 yards and two TDs – the second of which tied the game late in the fourth quarter. He averaged 10.7 yards on three carries as well. He and starter Tevin McCaster provide a potentially devastating tadnem for the Penguins. Joe Alessi, a South Range product, is another good back with power and breakaway speed.

RMU — Starter Cole Blake, who led the team in rushing in 2015, missed all of last season with an injury. The 6-foot, 220-pound junior ran for 69 yards on 16 carries in the opener. Sophomore T.J. Neal (5-11, 190) brings a bit more speed than the powerful Blake. Neal ran for 57 yards on 11 carries in the opener.

EDGE — YSU

RECEIVERS

YSU — Numerous receivers got involved against Pitt, but the production of tight end Kevin Rader was the most visible. Making the TE position more a part of the offense was evident in fall camp and could be a nice addition to an aleady potent attack. Wide-out Alvin Bailey caught four passes for 55 yards, and Damoun Patterson remains YSU’s best deep threat.

RMU — The Colonials have a few Division I transfers at wide-out, including 6-1, 195-pound Tavin Allison (Eastern Michigan), who scored RMU’s lone TD against Dayton on a 72-yard catch. Senior Pitt transfer Reggie Green poses matchup problems at 6-3, 225. Nine different players caught a pass against Dayton, so RMU doesn’t rely on a dominant WR.

EDGE — YSU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — Probably the most consistent group from start to finish against Pitt was the offensive line, which rarely allowed pressure and also opened up quite a few holes in the second half. The run game will likely be more of a focal point against RMU, which always puts smiles on the faces of linemen (most of whom prefer run blocking over pass protection). If they can dominate up front, this game could look a lot like last year’s 38-6 matchup.

RMU — The line is probably the biggest question mark for Robert Morris, which has five first-year players starting up front — including four true freshman and one redshirt freshman. They allowed three sacks last week and are facing a much more imposing front four against YSU. Expect them to see plenty of stunts and different looks to try and create confusion up front.

EDGE — YSU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The most magnified area of the team heading into the first game was defensive end, after the Penguins lost two players to the NFL Draft. New starters Johnson Louigene and Fazson Chapman each played well. Chapman had a sack and six tackles, and Louigene had six stops as well. Recent Florida Gator transfer Justus Reed made one of the biggest plays of the game with a strip-sack late in the fourth quarter that set up YSU’s tying score. Boardman native and defensive tackle Wesley Thompson also added a sack.

RMU — Known for its defense, RMU has a some experience up front in its 3-4 scheme. Defensive ends Chris Stanford (6-3, 270) and Derian Smith (6-2, 240). Stanford had 32 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a freshman, and Smith had two sacks. Tackle Amir Fenwick added 34 tackles, three for losses.

EDGE — YSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Lee Wright led the linebackers with 10 tackles, while fellow starter Armand Dellovade added nine. Both had good and bad moments and played better as the game went on. Wright, who missed most of last season because of a suspension, and Dellovade, a junior who has started since he was a true freshman, are arguably YSU’s top two defenders. They’ll need to make a lot more big plays as the year goes on. Cash Mitchell also played well and may have overtaken the outside linebacker spot from Christian Randall-Posey.

RMU — Poland High School graduate Adam Wollet is one of the Colonials’ top players. The 6-foot, 220-pound junior led RMU with 89 tackles. Fellow inside linebacker Joseph Uhatafe (6-1, 235) was second on the team with 81 tackles and added six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. OLB Gerald Ferguson is another impact player. The 6-2, 220-pound senior led Robert Morris in tackles (8) against Dayton and also had a sack and a fumble recovery.

EDGE — YSU

SECONDARY

YSU — Warren native and YSU free safety Jayln Powell led the Penguins with 14 tackles. Strong safety Kyle Hegedus finished with 10. It’s not the best sign to have safeties leading the team in tackles because it means running backs are reaching the third level of the defense. Still, they made sound tackles and didn’t give up any big plays. The younger corners performed admirably in their first collegiate starts as well, mostly keeping a solid Pitt receiving corps under control.

RMU — Robert Morris’ experience on defense continues in the secondary. Safeties Ryan Richards Jr. (6-1, 200) and Drew Allen (6-1, 185) are returning starters. Richards made 51 tackles, two sacks and one interception last year. Allen had 50 tackles, one pick and defensed a team-best five passes. Corner Travon Stott is another quality returning starter. He had 37 tackles (for for losses), one interception and broke up four passes.

EDGE — Even

SPECIALISTS

YSU — True sophomore punter Mark Schuler had another big game. He had a 57-yard boot and pinned the Panthers inside their 20-yard line twice. Place-kicker Zak Kennedy badly missed a 43-yard field goal, and his inconsistencies have to be a slight concern for the Penguins. Christian Turner and Jake Coates are both quick and dangerous as return men.

RMU — Warren Robinson was one of the better kick returners in the FCS last year, taking two back for touchdowns. Punter Adam Check was a preseason first-team al-conference selection. He averaged 37.1 yards per punt last season, and had a strong first game, with a 52-yard boot and setting two kicks inside the 20-yard line. Freshman place-kicker Nick Bisceglia was 2-for-3 on field goal tries in his debut, nailing the game-winner from 26 yards out as time expired.

EDGE — YSU

PREDICTION

Robert Morris is often looked at as a low-level FCS team, and for the most part, that’s the truth, but they do have talent — both with players and coaches.

Based near Pittsburgh, the Colonials often land good football players from the surrounding area. Head coach John Banaszak is a former Pittsbugh Steeler who was part of three Super Bowl championships in the late 1970s. His offensive coordinator, Mike Miller, was a former NFL o-coordinator in 2011-12 with the Arizona Cardinals. So, RMU has some pieces in place.

That said, the Penguins are more athletic across the board, have more depth and experience. If YSU brings the type of focus and physicality it did in the final two quarters against Pitt, the Penguins should win fairly easily. If they don’t, Robert Morris could gain confidence early in the contest and make a game of it because their defense is good enough to compete against YSU.

YSU, 38-14.

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