Scouting Report: Week 10

Youngstown State proved that finishing the season out on a high note was more than just talk last week, and who knows, maybe a late push — and a whole lot of help — can open a few eyes on the playoff committee.

The Penguins rebounded from an ugly loss with a resounding 66-24 victory over Indiana State last week. YSU (4-5, 2-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference) must now face a Southern Illinois team (4-5, 2-4) in a similar predicament.

The Salukis have been erratic this season, dominating No. 15 Illinois State, as well as Indiana State, but following those up with back-to-back losses. They’ve been tough at home, going 2-2, with both losses coming by a touchdown or less.

It’s hard to know if the Penguins truly fixed their problems — and there were quite a few — against Indiana State, or if they just overmatched a winless team. A faceoff with the Salukis will help answer that question.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — It’s a good possibility quarterback Hunter Wells returns this week from a shoulder injury that’s basically ruined his senior year. It was thought that Wells, coming off an impressive stretch at the end of last year, could apply for a medical redshirt, but coach Bo Pelini said that’s not a possibility because of NCAA guidelines. Wells played late in the rout over ISU. If Wells doesn’t play, Ricky Davis, coming off a career day, will likely get the start. Davis struggled at first, but now that he’s found a rhythm and the Penguins have tailored the offense to his strengths, he’s playing better.

SIU — Sam Straub, one of the MVFC’s better quarterbacks, was lost for the season two weeks ago after suffering a broken hand. Sophomore Tanner Hearn has taken over, with Matt DeSomer also providing a “Wildcat” offense. After a four-interception game when Hearn was thrown into the fire against South Dakota, he responded by going 13-of-22 for 180 yards, three TDs and one INT last week. He’s not much of a running threat, which is where DeSomer comes in. He had 74 yards rushing last week and also completed 9-of-12 passes for 74 yards.

EDGE — YSU

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — The Penguins finally got their running game going again, rushing for 289 yards and five touchdowns. Tevin McCaster still hasn’t had a big game since early in the season, but Davis’ emergence has helped supplement the lack of consistency from him and Christian Turner. Much of their issues stem from a struggling offensive line.

SIU — Junior Daquan Isom showed a lot of potential as a freshman, earning second-team all-conference honors, but a hamstring injury ended his sophomore year prematurely and he’s been mostly average as a junior. He does lead the Salukis with 491 yards but has just two TDs. His carries have dwindled the last two games, with DeSomer handling more of the load. Isom is dangerous when healthy and can be a threat out of the backfield.

EDGE — YSU

RECEIVERS

YSU — Big plays were aplenty in the passing game, with two different receivers eclipsing 100 yards (Damoun Patterson, 143 and Samuel St. Surin, 125). Alvin Bailey leads the Penguins with 30 catches and also has 397 yards and two TDs. Patterson has 23 grabs for 440 yards and two TDs. Tight end Kevin Rader adds 20 grabs for 256 yards and two TDs. It can be an impressive group when the offense is functioning properly.

SIU — Southern Illinois possesses one of the deepest receiving corps in the MVFC. Four players have at least 30 receptions. Darrell James leads the way with 43 catches, 707 yards and seven TDs. Connor Iwema has 38 grabs, 571 yards and four TDs, and Raphael Leonard has 32 receptions, 488 yards and four TDs. It’s one of the better groups YSU will face this year.

EDGE — SIU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — It had to feel nice for the line to help the offense produce 638 yards (sixth most in school history). While they did allow four sacks — their season total of 35 is one of the worst marks in the FCS — it was a major step in the right direction for a group that’s much-maligned.

SIU — Four of five starters returned for SIU, and the Salukis have been one of the best in the FCS in protecting the quarterback — allowing just seven sacks through nine games. Southern Illinois also ranks fourth in the MVFC with 433.6 yards per game.

EDGE — SIU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The line has endured its ups and downs this year. The Penguins are seventh in the conference with 17 sacks and eighth in run defense (172.7 yards per game). Those numbers certainly are not a direct reflection of the defense, but they’re part of the issues. The inability to consistently pressure the quarterback has forced more blitzes, and that’s led to big plays.

SIU — The Salukis are young and inexperienced up front, with three redshirt freshmen listed as starters. One of those freshman, Anthony Knighton, is having a huge season, with 9.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. It’ll be an interesting matchup against a YSU offensive line that has struggled most of the season. If Davis does start, that could make things more difficult for the SIU front four as they’ll have to worry about him running and throwing.

EDGE — Even

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Linebackers Armand Dellovade and Lee Wright are each coming off big games with eight tackles each. The defense is heavily reliant on the play of the two talented veterans, and they’ve been solid. They’re sometimes asked to do too much, as they’re better run-stoppers than pass-rushers but must help an inexperienced line. Dellovade leads YSU with 66 tackles, and Wright is just one behind with 65. Their combined total of seven tackles-for-loss is a bit disappointing, however.

SIU — Middle linebacker Kyron Watson, a Kansas Jayhawk transfer, is having a great senior year. He’s second on the team with 57 tackles and also has 7.5 TFLs and three sacks. WLB Cody Crider is fourth on SIU with 54 stops. Fellow outside linebacker Airan Reed has been a nice playmaker as well, with five TFLs and 43 tackles. While this group has potential, they struggled — along with the defense as a whole — against Missouri State, giving up five plays of 40 yards or more.

EDGE — Even

SECONDARY

YSU — The secondary enjoyed one of its best games of the season against ISU, with a season-high three interceptions. They had two picks total prior to the big day. There was a breakdown in coverage on a 73-yard TD pass, but overall, it was a solid performance. Safeties Jalyn Powell and Kyle Hegedus continued to play well. Powell, fourth on YSU with 63 tackles, grabbed his first pick. Hegedus is tied for the team lead with 66 stops. Overall, the Penguins are second in the league by allowing 157.9 yards passing per game and just eight total TDs.

SIU — The Salukis’ secondary is a veteran group, but it has been inconsistent. It’s led by strong safety Ryan Neal, a 6-3, 200-pound senior with team highs in tackles (69) and interceptions (3). Fellow safety Jeremy Chinn was an honorable-mention all-MVFC pick and is third on SIU with 55 tackles. He, too, has three INTs. Corner Craig James has a team-best nine passes defensed. Overall, they’ve allowed 16 passing TDs, fourth most in the league.

EDGE — YSU

SPECIALISTS

YSU — Place kicker Zak Kennedy improved to 7-for-11 on field goals with a 19-yarder last week. Punter Mark Schuler was only needed three times against ISU, but his average of 42.3 yards per boot is third best in the conference. The Penguins haven’t had a big return yet, but they’ve been mostly solid in covering kicks.

SIU — Punter Lane Reazin leads the conference by averaging 43.7 yards per kick. He has 11 punts of 50 yards or more. Place kicker Matt Sotiropoulos has struggled, making 3-of-8 field goals with a long of 32. While SIU’s coverage is among the league’s best on punt returns (2.2 yards allowed on average), the Salukis have allowed a 100-yard TD on a kickoff.

EDGE — Even

PREDICTION

Two teams with similar up-and-down seasons square off in what is likely a meaningless game in regards to playoff implications, but seniors on both sides are playing in one of their final games (it’s Senior Day for SIU).

Southern Illinois has been significantly better at home than on the road over the last few years, and the Salukis are the only MVFC team to twice record 400-plus yards of offense since Pelini took over. Still, it’s hard to know what to expect from either team. YSU’s offense has been erratic as it shuffles through multiple quarterbacks, and SIU is now enduring the same issues. The main difference between the two is on defense, where YSU ranks much higher in several categories.

If the Penguins can establish a run game early on, it would go a long way in cementing the gameplan. But if they’re playing from behind and struggling to protect the QB, that opens things up for the unpredictable Salukis.

YSU, 24-20.

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