Scouting Report: Week 10
Another season has suddenly slipped away from the Youngstown State football team — or so it seems.
The Penguins are coming off an embarrassing loss to top-ranked North Dakota State, and their playoff hopes are likely over after falling to 5-4 and 1-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
It’s a longshot, but if YSU wins out, it could qualify for the 24-team FCS playoff. If that’s to happen, it starts with a South Dakota (3-6, 2-3) team that comes in struggling as well.
The Coyotes won their first two MVFC games but have lost three straight, including a surprising 38-34 defeat last week to previously winless Western Illinois. USD does boast a quarterback who leads the league in total yards and scoring.
YSU has a long list of issues to fix, beginning with a defense that has been terribly inconsistent. Starting quarterback Nathan Mays is done for the season after a gruesome leg injury, and leading rusher Joe Alessi is “day-to-day” after also being injured last week.
The Penguins need an MVFC road win in the worst way, something they haven’t accomplished since 2017.
YSU — While losing Mays is a huge loss to the psyche of YSU because of his toughness, experience and leadership, sophomore Joe Craycraft is a very capable QB. He has a slightly stronger arm than Mays, and while he’s not as strong as Mays running the ball, he is elusive and can make plays with his feet. He has played in every game this season (starting one), so that should help with nerves. True freshman Mark Waid played well when filling in for Craycraft, who also suffered an injury last week.
USD — Two-year starter Austin Simmons is instant offense for the Coyotes. The league leader in total offense can beat teams with his arm, completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,448 yards and 21 TDs, and his legs, as he also has 418 yards rushing and four TDs. He does lead the MVFC in interceptions with 12, but if he gets in rhythm, he can torment a defense, especially one with a leaky secondary like YSU.
EDGE — USD
YSU — The Penguins may also be without Alessi, who suffered an undisclosed injury against NDSU. Alessi leads YSU in rushing, and Mays is second, so players such as Christian Turner and Braxton Chapman must step up. Turner started the first five games of the season, but his success has been sporadic. He’s fourth in rushing yardage with 245 yards and three TDs. Chapman, a bigger, stronger back, has 308 yards and four TDs. London Pearson could also see time. While Alessi has been the best back for YSU, there shouldn’t be a major drop off with the other three.
USD — The Coyotes’ Kai Henry has been on a tear the past few weeks, rushing for nearly 300 yards over the past two games. He’s a speedy scatback who is very capable of gashing a defense. While Simmons is the catalyst of the offense, the Coyotes are well balanced and actually run the ball more than they pass. Henry (609 yards) and Simmons (418) are Nos. 1 and 2 in rushing for USD. Canaan Brooks is another viable option and is used frequently.
EDGE — USD
YSU — The receivers had a tough time getting open last week against one of the league’s best secondaries. They need to bounce back against the league’s worst. The Coyotes are giving up 304.3 yards passing per game and have yielded an MVFC-high 23 TDs. Jermiah Braswell is likely eyeing to rebound after being held to one catch for 4 yards last week. He leads YSU in receptions (22), yards (453) and TDs (5). Slot receiver Ryan Emans is a reliable target, and Miles Joiner is quickly becoming one of YSU’s main weapons.
USD — A deep receiving corps is led by junior Caleb Vander Esch (6-1, 200), who is tied for the league-high in receptions with 43. He also has 581 yards and six TDs. Three other players have at least 23 catches. Five players have at least 200 yards receiving, and nine players have caught at least one TD. The depth makes life even harder for opposing secondaries.
EDGE — USD
YSU — The line played admirably against one of the better defenses in the nation. YSU ran the ball for 173 yards and allowed just one sack. Like much of the team, though, the line has been inconsistent. They have played better the last two weeks, and with a new QB and different running backs, they need to keep it up.
USD — South Dakota poses a mammoth offensive line, averaging 6-6 and 311 pounds. The Coyotes have given up 22 sacks to this point — the same amount as YSU — which is a solid mark considering the only one starter returned. Bigger lines have given the Penguins some trouble at times, so their matchup with a stout front four of YSU will be key.
EDGE — Even
YSU — The front four was held in check for the first time this year, not recording a sack. Maybe the defining moment of the game was when standout end Justus Reed had a clean shot on quarterback Trey Lance, who shrugged off the tackle and fired a TD pass. This group is still one of the league’s best, led by Reed, who has 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. DeMarko Craig can be a menace at DT (11.5 TFLs), and Ma’lik Richmond is a steady force at DE (6 sacks).
USD — A deep, talented front three is spearheaded by first-team All-MVFC selection Darin Greenfield. The 6-3, 235-pound senior defensive end leads USD with five sacks and 11 TFLs. Fellow senior Kameron Cline is another consistent contributor with 31 tackles, six TFLs and two sacks. DeValon Whitcomb (6-3, 270) rounds out the line.
EDGE — YSU
YSU — There were plenty of missed tackles to go around last week, and the linebackers have to be included in that mix. They have played well most of the season, so it was likely just a tough week against a tough team. They may be utilized less against a USD offense that passes a bit more than most MVFC teams, and considering YSU has struggled mightily against the pass, there could be more sets with five defensive backs. Cardinal Mooney product and middle linebacker Ray Anderson is second on the team with 44 tackles.
USD — Jack Cochrane leads a young linebacker corps. The 6-3, 230-pound junior has a team-high 79 tackles (third in the MVFC) along with three TFLs, two interceptions and one sack. The MLB is flanked by first-year starters in Jake Matthew and Brock Mogensen. Matthew has 7.5 TFLs and three sacks.
EDGE — YSU
YSU — A beleaguered secondary hasn’t been able to figure things out all season. It was thought with senior free safety Kyle Hegedus returning from a knee injury that kept him out last year that there would be a good mixture of youth and leadership. It hasn’t worked out. He and strong safety Zaire Jones have been caught out of position several times, and the corners haven’t been much better. They’ll be facing the MVFC leader in passing TDs and passing yardage, so it doesn’t get any easier.
USD — One of the only secondaries to endure a worse season than YSU is the Coyotes. They’re giving up more than 300 yards per game and have yielded 23 TDs. They’re coming off a game in which the worst team in the league, Western Illinois, threw for 368 yards and three TDs to earn their first win of the season. They do have nine interceptions, third best in the MVFC.
EDGE — Even
YSU — Place kicker Colt McFadden continued a strong season with a successful 27-yard field goal. He’s 5-of-6 on the season with a long of 43 yards. Freshman punter Nick DeSalvo was replaced mid-game. He had struggled since the start of the season, averaging a league-worst 35.2 yards per kick. Ryan Teminsky took over and averaged 33 on three punts, all fair catches. Despite a costly fumble early in the game against NDSU, Jacob Coates is one of the league’s top punt returners.
USD — Punter Brady Schutt leads the conference and is third in the nation with a 46.1-yard average and has 15 kicks of 50-plus yards. Place kicker Mason Lorber is 8-of-12 on field goals with a long of 44.
EDGE — USD
It’s hard to know what to expect with these two teams. Both had promising starts spiral out of control and have been inconsistent most of the season.
YSU’s playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, at best, so the Penguins will likely either come out fighting for their lives or sulking a season that slipped away. If they can rally the troops, they have the talent to beat USD.
At the same time, the Coyotes are a tough matchup, especially offensively. They possess one of the league’s best quarterbacks, a deep receiving corps and a running back that is finding his stride. That’s not good news for a YSU defense that is struggling.
Then there’s Craycraft, starting for the first time on the road for a YSU team that hasn’t won an MVFC road game in over two years. The Penguins have shown good leadership to this point. We’ll see if it remains.