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Scouting Report: Week 12

For the third time in the five-year tenure of coach Bo Pelini, the Youngstown State football team will end the season without a winning record.

Some fans hope they’ll end the year without Pelini, too.

YSU fell to 5-6 overall and 1-6 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play with last weekend’s 24-17 loss to Indiana State, one of the league’s worst teams. The likelihood of a second-straight losing season has fans clamoring for a coaching change.

Even a win over No. 6 Illinois State (8-3, 5-2) likely won’t be enough to quiet the critics, and a victory won’t be easy. The Redbirds, a lock to make the 24-team FCS playoff, possess one of the best running backs in the country and a top-end, opportunistic defense.

YSU couldn’t get over the hump against the Sycamores, trailing the entire game and falling short on its final drive. The Penguins enter their last game on a three-game losing streak — the second of the year — and are trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2003-04.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — It appears YSU will go with a two-quarterback approach. Sophomore Joe Craycraft started the last two games and has had mixed results. In those contests, he’s completed 29 of 66 passes (44 percent) for 445 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for a team-high 123 yards against Indiana State, including an 80-yard TD. But expect to see more of true freshman Mark Waid. Waid can play as much as he wants and still retain his redshirt. The talented dual-threat QB is expected to be the starter for years to come, so it’s time to see what he can do.

ISU — The Redbirds lost starter Brady Davis for the rest of the year just last week when he suffered a knee injury. Coach Brock Spack announced the news Monday. Spack said two QBs will fill the void, with true freshman Jack Baltz “more than likely” to start, according to reports. Redshirt freshman Bryce Jefferson is their other option. The two are a combined 1-for-4 with two interceptions (one coming last week) on the year. There will likely be some “Wildcat” formations in the mix by a team that runs the ball significantly more than it passes.

EDGE — Even

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — The running back-by-committee approach will likely be in full effect Saturday. Senior Joe Alessi leads YSU in yards (700) and attempts (118), but he has been hampered by injuries. Christian Turner has been inconsistent as a runner but solid out of the backfield. Braxton Chapman has been utilized more because of the aforementioned issues and has been solid, with a 5.1-yard average on 76 carries.

ISU — Senior James Robinson is an All-American who leads the MVFC in rushing with 1,234 yards and is second with 15 TDs. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Robinson brings a downhill running style to a powerful ISU offense. He’s not a major threat out of the backfield, but he has enough speed to score from just about anywhere on the field. Second-leading rusher Jeff Proctor (476 yards) also was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered last week.

EDGE — ISU

RECEIVERS

YSU — True freshman C.J. Charleston came out of nowhere last week to lead YSU with 105 yards on five receptions. The Division V Offensive Player of the Year last year in Ohio, he could be a star in the making. He and Waid could make a nice tandem for years to come. Charleston took the place of leading receiver Jermiah Braswell, who did not play against ISU. He’ll likely return for Senior Day. He and slot receiver Ryan Emans have been consistent performers all season.

ISU — Illinois State lost its top two returning receivers, Andrew Edgar and Taylor Grimes, in the fourth game of the year. Davis and the passing game never recovered as it’s been a struggle for the receivers. True freshman Kacper Rutkiewicz leads ISU with 22 receptions and 418 yards, but he has just one TD. Senior Braxton Haley (6-2, 195) is second with 19 grabs for 212 yards.

EDGE — YSU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The ups and downs of the line mirror the team’s woes. They started off strong, struggled, showed progress and then struggled again. In their defense, they’ve blocked for three different QBs and just as many running backs. Still, they’ve allowed 29 sacks, second worst in the MVFC, and the run game has been wildly inconsistent.

ISU — One of the conference’s best offensive lines is led by monstrous left tackle Drew Himmelman (6-10, 315), a preseason first-team all-conference pick. It’s another big line, averaging 6-6 and 315 pounds. The Redbirds have allowed just 18 sacks (second-best in the league) and have obviously played a key role in Robinson leading the league in rushing.

EDGE — ISU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — Pelini has lauded the D-line all season, and the numbers back his boasting. Junior end Justus Reed has 10.5 sacks (second in the conference), while Mal’ik Richmond is fourth with eight. Reed also has 15 tackles for loss, and freshman DT DeMarko Craig has 11.5. Richmond also leads the group in tackling with 45. Their goal will be to slow down the run.

ISU — ISU deploys a talented front, led by emerging star Romeo McKnight, a 6-5, 260-pound defensive end. He leads the Redbirds with eight sacks and 11.5 TFLs. Steven Podkulski adds another four sacks and five TFLs, and defensive tackle John Ridgeway leads the line with 41 tackles. ISU has MVFC-high 41 sacks, and they come from all over as 10 different players have at least two sacks.

EDGE — YSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Sophomore Ray Anderson, a Cardinal Mooney graduate, has enjoyed a breakout year. He’s second on YSU with 54 tackles and has been a steady presence on the inside. Freshman Griffin Hoak had a strong first game last week and will likely play significant minutes again. The ‘backers will be relied on heavily against the run-heavy Redbirds.

ISU — Illinois State boasts a talented corps of LBs who bring a variety of skills. Dylan Draka has 65 tackles (second best on ISU), while Tuvone Clark is second in sacks with six. Middle linebacker Ty DeForest is one of the Redbirds’ senior leaders. He has 61 tackles, eight TFLs, two sacks and one interception. It’s one of the MVFC’s elite groups.

EDGE — ISU

SECONDARY

YSU — Pelini made major changes in the secondary, starting true freshman Troy Jakubec, a Warren G. Harding graduate, at corner, and freshman Jaelin Madison at strong safety. The defensive backs had struggled all season, so the changes were overdue. The ISU passing game will likely be at a minimum with two young QBs under center.

ISU — Two first-team all-conference picks roam in the ISU secondary. Safety Luther Kirk (6-2, 200) has a team-high 69 tackles, while corner Devin Taylor (6-2, 200) leads Illinois State with three interceptions. The Redbirds have 12 interceptions as a team, third-best in the MVFC.

EDGE — ISU

SPECIALISTS

YSU — Colt McFadden has provided stability to the kicking game, making 6 of 8 field goals with a long of 43. The punting game has been a major disappointment though. YSU ranks 103rd out of 124 teams in the FCS with a net average of 32.5 yards per punt. Both punters are freshmen, so some struggles were expected, but not to this extent. There has been some progress, so hopefully that continues into next season.

ISU — Place-kicker Sam Fenlason is one of the MVFC’s best, making 13 of 16 field goals with a long of 46. Punter J.T. Bohlken is averaging 40 yards per boot. The Redbirds have not scored on a kick or punt return nor have they given one up.

EDGE — ISU

PREDICTION

Pelini has made it known he and the staff have an eye on the future as they are out of playoff contention and thus want to give younger players some experience. That makes a matchup with one of the FCS powers even tougher.

While Illinois State has next to no passing threats, its running game and defense are excellent. Normally, that would be a good matchup for the Penguins, whose secondary has been picked apart, but a young team enduring another losing streak is different.

YSU showed some fight against Indiana State last week as the infusion of youth provided a spark, but the level of competition goes up with the Redbirds. An inspired performance by a vastly talented freshman class isn’t out of the question, but a win is asking a lot.

ISU, 21-17.

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