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Scouting Report: Youngstown State prepares for Incarnate Word in season opener

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes YSU quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw runs the ball during a practice Aug. 12. Crenshaw will potentially start for the Penguins tonight against Incarnate Word.

YOUNGSTOWN — If the countdown to college football season here in the Mahoning Valley felt shorter than usual, you’re not imagining things.

Just five months since completing its spring season in April, Youngstown State will host the Southland Conference’s Incarnate Word tonight at Stambaugh Stadium.

Youngstown State returns nine starters on offense and 10 on defense, but you’ll see some new faces, particularly in the passing game.

Those newcomers will need to catch on quickly, as the visiting Cardinals feature a high-octane offense that averaged 42 points per game in the spring, during which UIW finished 3-3. That figure ranked second in the Southland Conference behind Nicholls State’s 48.71 points per game.

The catch? The Cards gave up an average of 41.83 points — ranking the Incarnate Word defense second-to-last in the Southland. In fact, UIW scored a total of 252 points, and gave up a total of 251 in its six games.

Incarnate Word received 19 votes in the preseason Stats Perform FCS Poll, and represents a formidable foe for YSU as it begins its 40th season at the Ice Castle.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — This was a position that struggled for the Penguins during the spring season, and changes have been made. Prior to fall camp, YSU head coach Doug Phillips declared the position was up for grabs. Now, it’s down to two players: senior Joe Craycraft or redshirt freshman Demeatric Crenshaw.

Craycraft has previous starting experience, including three starts in the spring. Crenshaw, meanwhile, redshirted last season but ascended the depth chart over the course of fall camp.

UIW — Simply put, Cameron Ward is electric. As a freshman, the 6-3, 225-pound quarterback threw for a school-record 24 touchdown passes in just six games. His totals in passing yardage (2,260), completions (183) and total touchdowns (26) each ranked second nationally. All of that earned him the FCS Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in the Division I subdivision, as well as a spot on the Stats Perform Preseason All-America Third Team.

EDGE — UIW

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — Jaleel McLaughlin burst onto the scene during the spring, rushing for 691 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 98.7 yards per game. Christian Turner figures to work into the mix as well after posting 104 yards on 30 attempts last season. Turner also hauled in 11 receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. McLaughlin was named to the Preseason All-MVFC Second Team.

UIW — Though the Cardinals love to pass the ball, Kevin Brown is a serious threat on the ground. The senior carried the rock 74 times in the spring for 775 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 10.5 yards per carry, and also caught 21 passes for 205 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Brown also made the Preseason FCS All-America Second Team for all-purpose.

EDGE — Even

WIDE RECEIVERS

YSU — YSU head coach Doug Phillips said the Penguins wanted to upgrade the receiver position during the offseason. They did so by hitting the transfer portal. Jorge Porterreal and Bryce Oliver, from Lehigh and Kentucky, respectively, will start alongside C.J. Charleston. Sam St. Surin also will work into the mix.

In two seasons at Lehigh, Porterreal caught 163 passes for 2,098 yards and six touchdowns. Oliver, who Phillips described as athletic, had eight receptions for 125 yards and a score at Kentucky.

UIW — One of the Cardinals’ most impressive qualities is their ability to spread the ball to different weapons. Six different UIW receivers had at least 15 receptions through their six games last season.

Robert Ferrel and Darion Chafin are back from an impressive spring campaign. Ferrel grabbed 35 receptions for 474 yards and six touchdowns, all team highs, in the spring, while Chafin added four scores and 373 yards on 27 catches. The Cardinals also added players from the transfer portal here: Trevor Begue (McNeese State) and Taylor Grimes (Illinois State).

EDGE — UIW

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The entirety of YSU’s starting offensive line remains intact from last season. Left tackle Dan Becker was named to the Preseason All-MVFC Second Team. He anchors a group that allowed 15 sacks on 141 passing attempts in the spring — just over two per game. With some continuity between seasons, that number figures to improve.

UIW — Incarnate Word gave up 17 sacks last year, but that figure comes as the Cards threw for the eighth-most attempts (304) last season. Caleb Johnson (LG), Reid Francis (C) and Nash Jones (LT) were named to the Preseason All-Southland Second Team.

EDGE — UIW

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — Preseason All-MVFC Honorable Mention James Jackson headlines a group that got better as the spring progressed last season. After not recording a sack in the first four games, YSU finished the season with eight, including five against South Dakota. Those included one each from Jackson and tackle Chris Fitzgerald, who also will start tonight. Jackson also finished with four TFLs, tied for the team’s second-highest mark.

UIW — Nose tackle Cameron Preston made the All-Southland Preseason First Team after recording 15 tackles and 2.5 TFLs last season. However, the Cardinals are tasked with replacing defensive end Chance Main, who entered the transfer portal after posting four sacks and 4.5 TFLs, both team highs, as well as 22 tackles.

EDGE — YSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Grant Dixon and Griffin Hoak head up one of Youngstown State’s best units. The duo recorded 101 of YSU’s 383 tackles last season. Dixon racked up 55 tackles while Hoak had 46. Dixon also led the team in TFLs with six, while Hoak had four plus a team-high three sacks.

UIW — Kelechi Anyalebechi led UIW with 42 tackles in four of the Cardinals’ six games, while his backup, Isaiah Paul, had 38 tackles and 4.5 TFLs. Brandon Richard, a DB/LB hybrid, contributed 37 tackles and 2.5 TFLs. The Cardinals allowed 215 rushing yards per game a season ago, which should play to Youngstown State’s favor if the trend continues.

EDGE — YSU

SECONDARY

YSU — Most of last season’s ball hawks are back, with the exception of free safety Quincy Lenton, who tore his Achilles toward the end of the spring slate. Sophomore Jordan White will start in his place.

Among the top returners for the YSU secondary is Zaire Jones, who was one of four Penguins to pick off a pass last season. Jones garnered Preseason All-MVFC Second Team honors. YSU’s pass defense was 11th in the nation last year, giving up just 164.6 yards per game.

UIW — Incarnate Word gave up an average of 318.6 passing yards per game last season, a mark that was fourth-worst in the FCS. Sophomore Elliot Davison returns at safety, while the Cardinals added Rashon Davis to the mix through the transfer portal.

EDGE — YSU

SPECIALISTS

YSU — Colt McFadden connected on six of nine field goals (with a long of 41 yards) and 10 of 11 extra points, while Paddy Lynch averaged 39.6 yards per punt. Both are back for the fall slate. The Penguins will insert Alijah Curtis into the punt return spot, while Randy Smith is his backup and also will return kicks. St. Surin is the No. 2 kick returner.

UIW — Carson Mohr was good on five of seven field goals (including a long of 48 yards) and 30 of 31 extra points, and Keven Nguyen averaged 43.1 yards per punt. Ferrel returns punts, while Ce’Cori Tolds is back at kick returner after a campaign in which he scored once and averaged 24.8 yards per return.

EDGE — UIW

PREDICTION

The Penguins will have to start fast and keep pace to stay in this one. With new faces at receiver and potentially at quarterback, that may be tough.

However, this is a UIW defense that’s susceptible to giving up a lot of points, so YSU should be able to move the ball and score. The Cardinals gave up at least 42 points in each of their final three games last season, including an astounding 75 to Nicholls in a 75-45 loss.

Count on the Youngstown State defense to make just enough stops, and for the offense to help pull this one out in a thriller.

YSU, 34-31

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