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W. Illinois at YSU

Scouting Report:?Week 8

A dream season is quickly becoming a nightmare for the Youngstown State football team.

The Penguins have lost their first three Missouri Valley Football Conference games and were embarrassed by unranked Southern Illinois last week, 35-10.

YSU (4-3, 0-3) faces a good team to start a turnaround as it welcomes winless Western Illinois (0-7, 0-3) at 2 p.m., Saturday. The Leathernecks are no pushover as they’ve played several teams very close, but they’re currently the cellar-dweller of the MVFC.

YSU is essentially tied for last place in the MVFC. The defense has been scorched in the passing game, and the offense has lost its identity. If things don’t improve soon, it will be another lost season for coach Bo Pelini and the Penguins.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — YSU’s Nathan Mays had a long day against the Salukis. He was basically the Penguins’ only source of offense as the ground game had just 30 yards rushing. That allowed SIU to bring constant pressure and made YSU’s offense one-dimensional. Mays has been banged up all season, but the dual-threat senior still appears to be YSU’s best bet at QB. Backup Joe Craycraft has played in every game this season but with little success.

WIU — Junior Connor Sampson is a first-year starter who has been rather inconsistent. He has just four touchdowns in seven games with five interceptions and a 58-percent completion percentage. He is not much of a running threat, but the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Michigan native is coming off a solid game in which he completed 34-of-50 passes for 270 yards, one TD and one pick.

EDGE — YSU

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — After starting the season with a tremendous trio of running backs, the run game has been shut down the last three games. Joe Alessi still appears to be the best choice with a nice blend of power and speed. He leads YSU with 501 yards on 84 carries. Mays is the next leading rusher, with junior Christian Turner and sophomore Braxton Chapman adding some support as well.

WIU — WIU has tried — and failed — to find a steady running back. Normal starter Deontez Thompson has missed time with injuries and was ineffective when healthy. Fullback Clint Ratkovich is the team’s leading returning receiver, and the senior captain is versatile player with an array of skills that can hurt a defense. Expect to see plenty of motions and jet-sweeps with receivers as part of the running game.

EDGE — YSU

RECEIVERS

YSU — The receivers have had a few more opportunities lately with YSU looking to pass the ball more to loosen up defenses and create some running room. The Penguins have had minimal success. Ryan Emans has come on a bit. He led YSU with six catches last week, and the possession is tied for the team high in grabs with 19. Jermiah Braswell is still the Penguins’ big-play receiver. He is averaging nearly 19 yards per reception.

WIU — Not many teams spread the ball around like Western Illinois. Four players have 15 or more receptions, with George Wahee leading the way at 29. While two other players have more than 20 grabs, WIU has lacked big plays. The best playmaker is Dennis Houston, who is averaging 17.7 yards per catch (17 receptions). The next closest player (among those with 10-plus catches) is averaging 11.7.

EDGE — WIU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The line has regressed over the last few weeks. Granted, YSU is playing better competition than the first four games, but they’ve been pushed around and struggled to deal with stunts and blitzes — giving up nine sacks to SIU. The lack of a run game has allowed teams to dial up all sorts of pressure, and until YSU can run the ball consistently, that won’t change.

WIU — A young line has been at the forefront of WIU’s offensive woes. The Leathernecks are second to last in total offense (308.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (17.6 ppg). They’ve allowed a league-high 29 sacks and are facing one of the better pass-rushing teams in the MVFC. They’re also second to last in rushing, averaging under 100 yards per game.

EDGE — YSU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The front four has played at a high level much of the season. Their production has tapered off a bit since MVFC play began, but most of the big plays have been the undoing of a struggling secondary. End Justus Reed is third in the league in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (11). DE Malik Richmond is fifth in sacks (6), and tackle DeMarko Craig is fourth in TFLs with 10.

WIU — Western Illinois uses a big, bulky line in its 3-4 defensive scheme. The starters average 6-3 and 280 pound, and all three are turning starters. Senior LaCale Johnson (6-5, 28) paces the front with a team-high six TFLs. End Kyle Williams can be a force as well, with a team-high three sacks and 5.5 TFLs.

EDGE — YSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Sophomore Ray Anderson has become one of YSU’s best playmakers on defense. He’s second on the team with 37 tackles. Senior Cash Mitchell is arguably YSU’s hardest hitter and is another playmaker with 7.5 TFLs. The linebackers have played their roles well this year, but with teams passing the ball so well against YSU, their opportunities are limited.

WIU — The Leathernecks are rather inexperienced at linebacker, despite two seniors starters. Neither Tom Rehfeld (a captain) nor Zach Glisan made big impacts as juniors, but Glisan leads WIU with 55 tackles, and Rehfeld is third with 47. Still, WIU is second to last in both rush defense and total sacks (11). That falls on the front seven.

EDGE — YSU

SECONDARY

YSU — The secondary continues to be the Achilles’ heel of the defense. Miscommunications and breakdowns have led to a disastrous situation. Junior Bryce Gibson entered the year as an honorable-mention all-MVFC pick, but he hasn’t played well at all. True freshman Dee Ford has started in his place a few times, but he has had issues as well. Warren G. Harding graduate Troy Jakubec, another true freshman, is on the depth chart for the first time this year and would be the next man up for YSU. The safeties haven’t been a whole lot better as they are the ones communicating the defense, which has been part of the problem, according to Pelini.

WIU — The secondary is a veteran group, but it, too, has had its share of issues. The Leathernecks’ three interceptions are tied for the league low, and the 248.7 yards passing they’re allowing per game is second worst in the MVFC. Still, Eric Carrera is a playmaker at safety (38 tackles, one pick), and corner Marquis Smith has nine pass breakups — third best in the league.

EDGE — Even

SPECIALISTS

YSU — Colt McFadden attempted his fourth field goal of the season, drilling a 31-yard field goal. He is 3-of-4 on field goals this year. Punter Nick DeSalvo made some progress, averaging 39.2 yards per boot. The freshman got off to a bad start but is doing slightly better as of late.

WIU — Junior place kicker Nathan Erickson is 6-for-9 on field-goal tries with a long of 45. Punter Adam Fellner is second in the MVFC with a 42.9-yard average. The Leathernecks have blocked a punt this year and recovered it for a TD.

EDGE — WIU

PREDICTION

On paper, Western Illinois looks like the worst team in the conference. The Leathernecks have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball and have no identity. Yet they’ve hung tough with some excellent FCS teams.

With YSU reeling as of late, WIU will likely enter the game eyeing its first win. YSU needs to dash those hopes early on. The Penguins are in all-out desperation mode and must win to have any chance at reclaiming their season.

On offense, it starts up front. The line needs to win at the point of attack to help establish a run game. Then the secondary has to find a way to get on the same page. If those two things happen, everything else should fall in place.

YSU, 24-14.

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