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Scouting Report: Week 4

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State quarterback Mark Waid, left, and running back Jaleel McLaughlin, center, provided an offensive spark for the Penguins last week.

It wasn’t a victory, but Youngstown State’s 30-22 loss to Southern Illinois felt better than most defeats.

The Penguins went toe-to-toe with the No. 11-ranked team in the country and held a lead for most of the game. That was a major step in the right direction, especially for an offense — and a team — searching for its identity.

Arguably the toughest schedule in the FCS doesn’t get any easier as YSU faces No. 8 South Dakota State at 3 p.m. today. The gauntlet of Missouri Valley Football Conference teams YSU played to this point were ranked No. 1, No. 4 and No. 11. The Jackrabbits don’t make life any easier.

SDSU possesses one of the MVFC’s top offenses, led by true freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski. He ran for two scores — including an 80-yard touchdown — and threw for two more in last week’s 45-10 win over Western Illinois.

YSU is coming off its best offensive performance of the year, as running back Jaleel McLaughlin ran for 124 yards and two TDs. Mark Waid played the entire game at QB after splitting time the first two games, and it appears the Girard High School graduate could be the longterm starter. His first start on the road will be a big challenge.

QUARTERBACKS

YSU — Waid’s passing numbers haven’t been great, and he completed just 10-of-22 passes for 94 yards in the loss to SIU. However, YSU was plagued by drops, and Waid did piece together several long, sustained drives. He ran for 73 yards and a touchdown and made key plays on third down (YSU was 12-of-19 last week). Junior Joe Craycraft, who was rotating at QB with Waid prior to last week, has an undisclosed leg injury, so Waid will likely play the majority of the game once again.

SDSU — Gronowski (6-3, 200) was named the league’s offensive player of the week for his performance against Western Illinois. He completed 12-of-19 passes for 178 yards and two TDs and ran for 120 and two TDs. He leads the conference in TD passes (6) and is averaging 233 passing yards per game. His scrambling ability gives defenses fits as he can make big plays with his feet or his arm.

EDGE — SDSU

RUNNING BACKS

YSU — It only seemed like a matter of time before McLaughlin took over at running back. His speed and quick cuts set him apart from the other backs. However, his size (5-9, 175) won’t allow him to play the whole game, so the Penguins are going to need more production from fellow RBs London Pearson and Christian Turner.

SDSU — Junior Pierre Strong was a preseason first-team all-MVFC pick. The 5-11, 210-pound back has been one of the league’s best since his freshman year, and he’s another major threat on the Jackrabbits offense. Freshman Isaiah Davis (6-1, 220) had the best game of his young career last week, running for 118 yards and one TD on nine carries. It’s a potent backfield that gives a young QB a security blanket.

EDGE — SDSU

WIDE RECEIVERS

YSU — Drops really hurt YSU in its loss to Southern Illinois. C.J. Charleston made his first appearance after an undisclosed injury kept him out the first two weeks, so jitters or inexperience may have played a role. The bottom line is the Penguins desperately need some big plays from the receiving corps, especially down the field. The longest pass play of the season is 33 yards. There needs to be a consistent downfield threat. Tight end Jake Benio leads YSU with seven catches for 64 yards.

SDSU — A pair of twins lead the South Dakota State receiving corps. Jaxon Janke has team-highs in catches (15), yards (258) and TDs (3). Jadon Janke follows with nine receptions, 199 yards and one TD. Both are big targets at 6-3 and 6-2, respectively. Tight end Zach Heins is a monstrous target (6-7, 260) and adds five grabs for 90 yards. Strong is a threat out of the backfield as well.

EDGE — SDSU

OFFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The line showed massive improvement in the loss to Southern Illinois. The running game was consistently effective, and Waid had time to pass for much of the game. There have been a lot of moving parts with a young, inexperienced group, so if they can settle in and show some consistency, it would be a huge step forward for the YSU offense.

SDSU — An offense that leads the league in total offense (415.3 yards) is powered by a veteran offensive line. Three of SDSU’s five starters return from 2019. They’ve allowed five sacks and paved the way for a running game that is averaging 180 yards per game.

EDGE — SDSU

DEFENSIVE LINE

YSU — The sudden transfer of defensive end Antoine Cook was a bit startling. While Cook only had six tackles, he was looked at as a team leader and was a solid performer up front. His backup is redshirt freshman Dylan Wudke (6-4, 245), who has four tackles. DeMarko Craig Jr. returned last week and should get better the more he plays. YSU better hope so because the Penguins have yet to register a sack and face a up-and-coming dual-threat QB.

SDSU — For the second straight week, one of the league’s top defensive ends comes into the game without a sack. Junior Reese Winkelman (6-4, 245), a first-team preseason all-MVFC pick, has six tackles this year. He’s one of four returning starters. Defensive end Quinton Hicks leads the line with nine tackles. The 6-3, 240-pound sophomore is a pass-rushing specialist.

EDGE — SDSU

LINEBACKERS

YSU — Linebackers Grant Dixon and Griffin Hoak have been consistent tacklers through three games, and they’re Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in tackles with 25 and 24, respectively. The Penguins have had some struggles stopping the run as team’s are averaging 212 yards rushing per game, but that’s more of a collective problem than it is on the linebackers.

SDSU — SDSU’s linebackers are led by preseason first-team all-MVFC pick Logan Backhaus, who leads the Jackrabbits with 22 tackles and four tackles-for-loss. He’s also good in coverage, with four interceptions in 2019. First-year starter Preston Tetzlaff is second in tackles with 19 and also has a pick on the season.

EDGE — Even

SECONDARY

YSU — The secondary had its first big breakdown of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Corner Keyon Martin was beat for a game-winning TD in the fourth quarter. That shouldn’t overshadow how well the secondary has played to this point. YSU is third in the conference in allowing 130 passing yards per game, and has yielded only two passing TDs. To his credit, Martin had an interception earlier in the game that led to a TD.

SDSU — South Dakota State’s secondary returned three starters, including senior corner Don Gardner. He is third on SDSU with 15 tackles and also has two TFLs and two pass break-ups. Safety Joshua Manchigiah has nine tackles and a pick, while fellow safety Michael Griffin has 12 tackles. The Jackrabbits have allowed more than 200 yards passing per game but just three TDs.

EDGE — Even

SPECIALISTS

YSU — The punting was definitely better than in Week 2. Paddy Lynch and Nick DeSalvo have shared time and have almost identical averages at 38.3 and 38.0, respectively. That’s second to last in the conference. Colt McFadden made his first field goal of the year, a 36-yarder, as he’s now 1-of-2. The Penguins could use a boost from the return units. Warren John F. Kenned graduate Jake Coates is one of the best punt returners in the MVFC.

SDSU — Place kicker Cole Frahm (6-5, 225), a Nebraska transfer, has made 3-of-4 field goals with a long of 39. Punter Ben Dinkel is averaging 41 yards per punt. South Dakota State has not returned nor given up a punt or kick return for a touchdown.

EDGE — SDSU

PREDICTION

The Penguins appeared to take a big step as a team last week in a close loss to Southern Illinois. The defense made plays when the offense needed it to, and the offense did the same for the defense. That complimentary football is a sign of chemistry and cohesion.

Now, can YSU do that on the road against one of the nation’s best teams? It’s not out of the question. The Penguins have been in every game this season despite a brutal schedule. The Jackrabbits might be the best team YSU has faced to this point, boasting a balanced offense and a veteran defense.

The Penguins must again start fast to instill some confidence into a young team facing another tough road test. The offense needs to build off last week’s performance and add some explosive plays, and the defense will have to rattle a young QB.

An upset is possible, but YSU still needs more time to develop.

SDSU, 27-13

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