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YSU Scouting Report: Week 1

The Bo Pelini era has endured more downs than ups as he enters Year 5 with the Youngstown State football team.

He and the Penguins believe things are going to start looking up again in 2019.

YSU opens the college football season in the FCS Kickoff Classic at 3 p.m., Saturday against Samford. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN and will be played at a neutral site in Montgomery, Alabama.

Both YSU and the Bulldogs have several question marks following the graduation of key players. SU, coming off its eighth straight winning season, lost three All-Americans — including Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Devlin Hodges, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Penguins will welcome their fourth different starting QB in the last four season openers, but no one outside of the locker room knows who it is. Pelini has yet to announce who won the competition between senior Nathan Mays and sophomore Joe Craycraft.

Fans will find that out — and much more — on Saturday.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — Mays may be the favorite to earn the nod considering he has played in several big games over his career, which includes five starts. His poise would seem to be important in a nationally televised matchup. The dual-threat QB has been more of a runner than a passer throughout his career, and it has led to various injuries. Craycraft has good mobility as well, but his strengths are more suited to being in the pocket. He played well throughout camp and showed enough to be named the starter. Either way, YSU simply needs them to be efficient as the Penguins are built around running the ball.

SU — The Bulldogs haven’t named a starting QB either, with juniors Liam Welch and Chris Oladokun competing for the spot. Welch is the only one with any experience, completing 4-for-6 passes for 24 yards and one TD last season. Both are 6-2 and around 200 pounds. The Bulldogs have run a west-coast offense that involves short passes for several years, so accuracy is critical for whoever starts.

EDGE — Even

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — Christian Turner was a third-down and situational running back the last two years, but he will be more of an every-down back in 2019. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior will start in a backfield that will likely feature a couple different backs. Turner had a bit of a down year as a sophomore (179 yards, zero TDs), but his speed, agility and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could lead to a breakout season. Senior Joe Alessi possesses a similar style, but he provides a bit more of a downhill style. Emerging sophomore Braxton Chapman (6-2, 220) could play a role as well after a strong camp.

SU — Sophomore DeMarcus Ware returns after a big freshman year. The 5-8, 190-pound Ware ran for 429 yards and seven TDs on 87 attempts (4.9-yard average) last year. He’s a threat out of the backfield, too, with 27 catches for 156 yards and two TDs in 2018.

EDGE — Even

RECEIVERS

YSU — Last season was a rather pedestrian year for YSU’s receivers. Turner actually led the team with just 24 catches. The good news is the Penguins’ Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, as far as receptions go, return. Samuel St. Surin (21 catches, 299 yards, 1 TD) and Jermiah Braswell (20, 325, 2) are starters and will have to pick up the slack after 6-4 senior Darius Shackelford tore his ACL on the first day of preseason practices. YSU will also look to Miles Joiner, a 6-4, 255-pound tight end who led YSU with four TDs in 2018 and has been a bright spot throughout camp.

SU — Gone is All-American Kelvin McKnight (now with the Denver Broncos). SU does return No. 2 receiver Chris Shelling, a 5-8, 173-pound senior who made 63 grabs for 688 yards and nine TDs last year. The other two starters are fairly new. Robert Adams (6-2, 190) had 19 receptions for 197 yards and one TD, while Montrell Washington snagged 14 catches for 62 yards.

EDGE — SU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The Penguins have some big shoes to fill on the line. Two all-conference performers graduated in center Vitas Hrynkiewicz (now with the Los Angeles Rams) and guard Gavin Wiggins. They got a big boost when Hubbard product Matt Jones transferred from West Virginia University for his senior season. He’ll take over at center. Dan Becker (6-6, 290) is a returning starter at tackle, but most of the other soon-to-be starters have limited or no playing time to this point.

SU — Four of the Bulldogs’ five starters return up front, led by first-team all-conference selection Nick Nixon, a 6-6, 282-pound senior tackle. The line is big (averaging 6-6 and 317 pounds) and their matchup with a powerful YSU front line will be a pivotal one.

EDGE — SU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The line will likely be the strength of the defense — arguably the team. YSU is deep and talented, led by end Justus Reed. If healthy (he’s coming off a ruptured Achilles), the 6-3, 255-pound junior has the size and skill to be an elite pass-rusher. Ma’lik Richmond played on passing downs last year, with three sacks, and he’s an intimidating force at 6-4, 260. Shereif Bynum, another end, was second on YSU with four sacks last year, and he led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss. Tackles Antoine Cook (6-4, 270) and DeMarko Craig (6-1, 265) are new to the positions, but they are talented as well.

SU — The Bulldogs are stout on the d-line as well, with two second-team all-conference picks in DT Justin Foster (6-4, 286) and DE Nelson Jordan (6-2, 253). Foster had eight TFLs and five sacks last year, and Jordan added 4.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks. DE Jalen Nash and DT Armond Lloyd are veterans well.

EDGE — Even

LINEBACKERS

YSU — It almost doesn’t look right without four-year starter Armand Dellovade manning the middle of the defense. YSU does have some familiar faces filling in, with Cardinal Mooney graduate Ray Anderson taking over at middle linebacker. The sophomore started five games last year, making 22 tackles (3 TFLs). Senior OLB Cash Mitchell was fifth on YSU with 35 tackles last year, and fellow OLB Christian Randall-Posey, also a senior, made 30. Both had 2.5 TFLs.

SU — An all-new linebacker corps will likely be busy against what looks to be a run-oriented YSU offense. Tre-Shun Floyd started last year but isn’t listed as one on the SU depth chart. John Staton, who made 27 tackles last year, and Jaleel Laguins, 25 stops, played backup roles last season.

EDGE — YSU

SECONDARY

YSU — A new-look secondary has plenty of potential. Kyle Hegedus returns after missing his junior year with a knee injury. The free safety was a starter as a sophomore and brings a vast knowledge of the defense to the position. SS Zaire Jones transferred from Vanderbilt, where he played in 18 of 24 games as a freshman and sophomore. Corner Bryce Gibson was an honorable mention all-conference pick, and Melvin Jackson beat out incumbent starter DJ Smalls at the other corner. This could be a surprising strength for the Penguins.

SU — Samford has a mix of youth and experience in the secondary. Strong safety Nick Barton, a returning starter, had two interceptions last year. The Bulldogs are big at corner, with Coutrell Plair (6-1), who had one pick in limited time last year, and Christian Matthew (6-4). Free safety Ty Herring led the group with 22 tackles.

EDGE — YSU

SPECIALISTS

YSU — There are several new faces here, with Poland graduate Colten McFadden taking over at place kicker after transferring from Kent State. Nick DeSalvo takes over at punter after Mark Schuler decided to give up football following his graduation. Even the holder, Hegedus, and the longsnapper, Kyle Gregg, are first-year starters. They’ll need to perform well on the fly.

SU — All-conference place kicker Mitchell Fineran made 13 of 17 field goals last year with a long of 46. Punter Bradley Porcellato averaged just 36.4 yards per boot. Washington was one of the primary kick returners last year.

EDGE — SU

PREDICTION

On paper, this seems to be an evenly matched game between two teams with different styles, and it’ll be interesting to see which one wins out in the scorching Alabama heat.

One of the keys for the YSU defense is making stops on third down. SU runs an up-tempo offense, and if they’re able to string together long drives, it’ll wear down the Penguins. It’s just the opposite for the offense, which needs to run the ball effectively to set up a few big passes and eventually impose its will on the Bulldogs defense.

Whichever team can establish — and maintain — that strategy should come out on top.

YSU, 17-13.

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