No. 18 Penguins Travel to Southern Illinois In Key MVFC Tilt

DeMarko Craig Jr.
DeMarko Craig Jr.

    The 18th-ranked Youngstown State football team travels to Southern Illinois for a key MVFC contest on Saturday. Kickoff at Saluki Stadium is set for 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central time. The game is available on WBCB TV, ESPN+, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio.
    YSU (4-2, 0-2) dropped a hard-fought 38-28 decision to third-ranked South Dakota State last Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins led 14-3 at halftime and 21-9 late in the third quarter before the Jackrabbits rallied for the victory.
    After falling behind 3-0, two Nathan Mays touchdown runs gave the Penguins a 14-3 lead. Mays scored on a 28-yard scamper in the first quarter before adding a one-yard plunge in the second quarter. Early in the third quarter, SDSU's Don Gardner returned an intercepted Mays pass 42 yards for a touchdown. However, YSU answered right back as Mays connected with Joe Alessi for a 45-yard score.
    Leading 21-9, the Penguins were outscored 29-7 in the final 15:40 as the SDSU offense caught fire. J'Bore Gibbs scored on a two-yard run before connecting with Cade Johnson on an 81-yard scoring toss. C.J. Wilson's 13-yard run gave the Jackrabbits a 31-21 advantage with 6:13 left. Joe Craycraft found Miles Joiner on a 17-yard scoring toss to get YSU within 31-28, but Gibbs scored on a 62-yard run in the final minute.
    Southern Illinois (2-4 and 0-2) lost a tough 21-7 contest to Illinois State last Saturday evening at Saluki Stadium. Trailing 14-0, SIU pulled within a touchdown on a 74-yard run by Romeir Elliott early in the the third quarter. But ISU answered with an 11-play, 95-yard drive capped off by a six-yard run by QB Brady Davis to go back on top by two touchdowns, 21-7. SIU had two drives in the final quarter advance inside the ISU 25-yard line, but neither produced points.
    The Penguins own a 17-12-1 lead in the all-time series, including wins in the past three contests. YSU picked up a 17-14 win over the Salukis last season and in 2017, the Penguins won 28-20 in Carbondale. YSU has won seven of the past nine contests and three of the four meetings played at Saluki Stadium since 2011.

Quick Notes
• The defense has forced 12 turnovers in just six games. YSU forced a total of nine in 11 games in 2018. The Guins have a takeaway in every game this season.
• TB Joe Alessi is one yard shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for his career. Alessi has 999 yards on 115 carries for an average of 8.7 yards per rush. He had his first career receiving touchdown against SDSU.
• QB Nathan Mays had two rushing scores in the loss to SDSU. Mays scored on runs of 28 and one yard in the defeat. It was the second time this year he had two rushing scores in a game (vs. RMU).
• DE Justus Reed registered two sacks against SDSU. Reed now has seven sacks in five-and-a-half games of play this year. Last year's team leader had six.
• Also registering sacks against the Jackrabbits were DeMarko Craig and Ma'lik Richmond. Richmond now has five sacks on the season while Craig has four sacks.
• The Penguins threw for a season-high 267 yards vs. South Dakota State. YSU had thrown for a best of 239 at UNI the previous week. In the contest against SDSU, Mays threw for 176 yards and Joe Craycraft passed for 91 yards.
•  Alessi had his second career 100-yard rushing game with 146 yards on 14 carries vs. Robert Morris. His other 100-yard performance was in November 2016 at Missouri State.
Braxton Chapman had 132 yards rushing and London Pearson had 126 vs. Howard on Sept. 7. It was the 35th time in school history that YSU had multiple 100-yard rushers.

Last Time Out: SDSU 38, YSU 28
    YSU dropped a hard-fought 38-28 decision to third-ranked South Dakota State last Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins led 14-3 at halftime and 21-9 late in the third quarter before the Jackrabbits rallied for the victory.
    After falling behind 3-0, two Nathan Mays touchdown runs gave the Penguins a 14-3 lead. Mays scored on a 28-yard scamper in the first quarter before adding a one-yard plunge in the second quarter. Early in the third quarter, Don Gardner returned an intercepted Mays pass 42 yards for a touchdown. However, YSU answered right back as Mays connected with Joe Alessi for a 45-yard score.
    Leading 21-9, the Penguins were outscored 29-7 in the final 15:40 as the SDSU offense caught fire. J' Bore Gibbs scored on a two-yard run before connecting with Cade Johnson on an 81-yard scoring toss. C.J. Wilson's 13-yard run gave the Jackrabbits a 31-21 advantage with 6:13 left. Joe Craycraft found Miles Joiner on a 17-yard scoring toss to get YSU within 31-28, but Gibbs scored on a 62-yard run in the final minute.

Last Time vs. SIU
    YSU picked up a come-from-behind 17-14 win over Southern Illinois last October at Stambaugh Stadium.
    YSU led 3-0 on a Zak Kennedy field goal before the Salukis took a 7-3 lead on a five-yard touchdown run by D.J. Davis in the second quarter. The Penguins pulled within one at halftime on a 24-yard Kennedy field goal. With 10:57 remaining, SIU QB Matt DeSomer extended the lead to 14-6.
    However, the Penguins didn't wilt. Down eight, YSU moved 76 yards in 14 plays and pulled within two points on a one-yard touchdown run by Tevin McCaster. On the two-point conversion, Montgomery VanGorder hit Zach Farrar on a slant to tie the contest at 14 with 4:36 left.
    The YSU defense forced a quick three-and-out, and, following a short punt took over at the SIU 39. The Penguins moved to the Salukis' 13-yard line, and, with the ball at the 17, Kennedy came on to kick the game-winning field goal from 34 yards with just 26 seconds remaining.

Four Wins By 20 Points
    All four of YSU's wins have come by more than 20 points. YSU has defeated Samford 45-22, Howard 54-28, Duquesne 34-14 and Robert Morris 45-10.
    It is the first time in school history that the Penguins won four consecutive games by 20 points or more. YSU won four straight by 19 or more points during the 1993 campaign.

Turnovers on the Uptick
    The YSU defense has made it a habit of forcing turnovers so far in 2019. YSU has caused 12 turnovers in six games – 4 vs. Samford, 3 vs. Howard, 3 vs. Duquesne and 1 vs. Robert Morris and UNI. In 11 games in 2018, the Penguins caused just nine turnovers.
    Until the first three games of this year, the last time the Penguins forced three-or-more turnovers in consecutive games was back in 2002.
    Already this season, the Guins have intercepted seven passes, which newly eclipses the total from each of the past two seasons combined. YSU had three interceptions in 2018 and five in 2017.

More INTS in 2019
    The Penguins have intercepted seven passes in six games this year. YSU had three in 11 games a year ago and had just five in 2017. The Guins equaled their 2018 total in the season opener vs. Samford with three INTs.
    The three interceptions against the Bulldogs were the most interceptions in a single game for the program since Sept. 26, 2009, at Indiana State.

Multiple-QB Attack
    The Penguins have played four quarterbacks this season with three having rushing touchdowns - Nathan Mays, Joe Craycraft and Mark Waid. The trio has combined for nine touchdowns on 88 carries and 361 yards.
    The contest at UNI is the only time this year YSU did not employ a multiple-QB system.
    Freshman QB Mark Waid made his YSU debut against Duquesne and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns. He also played against SDSU. Joe Craycraft scored on a seven-yard run in the fourth quarter against RMU. Craycraft has passing scores against SDSU and Duquesne.
    Mays has rushing touchdowns in four games and has six total on the season. Mays has eight touchdown passes this season - two each in each of the first two games and two more at UNI.
    Conor Collins saw snaps in the fourth quarter against RMU. Craycraft made his first career start against the Colonials.

Mays Is A Gamer
    After being questionable following an injury on the last play of the game at UNI, QB Nathan Mays battled back to start for the Penguins against South Dakota State.
    Mays completed 14-of-24 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 58 yards on 13 carries and scored twice. He had a 28-yard run in the first quarter to give the Penguins a 7-3 lead and added a one-yard score in the second to increase the lead to 14-3. His touchdown pass in the third quarter gave the Guins a 21-9 advantage.

Sacks On The Rise
    YSU had four sacks against South Dakota State to bring the Penguins' total to 19 through six games. The Penguins recorded just 18 in 11 games last season. DE Justus Reed leads the team with seven sacks and has played just five-and-a-half games. In 13 career games played, Reed has an impressive 12 sacks.
    Last year's sack leader was Savon Smith and he had six while starting all 11 contests. Additionally, YSU has 45 TFLs this season after registering just 51 in 2018.

Alessi Now A Pass Catcher
    In his first 40 games with the Penguins, tailback Joe Alessi had not caught a pass.
    In the last two games, Alessi has four receptions for 62 yards. He had his first career reception against UNI on Oct. 5. Last Saturday against South Dakota State he caught three passes for 55 yards. Included in that was a 45-yard touchdown reception, the first of his career.
    Additionally, Alessi has 999 career rushing yards on 115 attempts, an average of 87 per rush.

One-Hit Wonders
    The Penguins have six one-play drives this season. YSU scored on three one-play drives against Howard and had one each against Duquesne, Robert Morris and UNI.
    Against Howard, Joe Alessi scored on a 40-yard touchdown run, Braxton Chapman raced 78 yards for a score and London Pearson ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run.
    In the win over Duquesne, Joe Craycraft threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Pearson. Against Robert Morris, Alessi scampered home on a 43-yard touchdown rush. At UNI last Saturday, Nathan Mays connected with Jermiah Braswell on a 75-yard touchdown pass.

Big Days For Coates
    Junior PR Jake Coates has had the best two games of his YSU career recently.
    He was named the MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week in the win over Robert Morris. Coates set a school record with 133 yards on five returns. He had a touchdown return of 63 yards and additional returns of 22 and 33 in the contest.
    At UNI, he had five returns for 41 yards, including a 25-yard return.
    Prior to the RMU game, Coates' career-long return was 22 yards against South Dakota State in 2018. Coates now has 60 returns in his career for 365 yards. He now ranks tied for second in school history in career punt returns (60) and sixth in yards (366).

Cashing In
    Senior LB Cash Mitchell finished with 10 total tackles and seven solo stops against South Dakota State. Mitchell also had 1.5 TFLs in the contest.
    Mitchell has 29 total tackles on the campaign, 20 of which are solo stops. He had five stops at UNI, four of which were solos.
    For his career, he has 83 tackles, 51 solos.

Now We're Cooking
    Sophomore DT Antoine Cook led the Penguins with seven total tackles against UNI. Cook was credited with three solo stops and four assists vs. the Panthers.
    Cook had a sack for an eight-yard loss in the first quarter and ended the game with 3.5 TFLs for 14 yards in losses.
    For the year, Cook has 19 total tackles - 10 solos and nine assists. It was the second sack of his career and the first since the 2018 season opener against Butler.

Braswell Stepping Up
    Senior WR Jermiah Braswell leads the team with 17 receptions, 319 yards and three touchdowns. He is also averaging a team-best 18.8 yards per reception.
    Last Saturday vs. SDSU, he caught four passes for 53 yards. Previously he caught a career-long 75-yard touchdown reception against UNI on Oct. 5. Earlier in the year he caught a 24-yard touchdown against Robert Morris and a 38-yard touchdown vs. Howard.
    For his career, Braswell has 44 receptions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns.

Scoring Runs in Victories
    The Penguins have gone on big runs to seize control in each of their four victories.
    Against Samford, YSU trailed 7-0 before scoring 31 unanswered points. In the contest vs. Howard, the Guins went a on 48-7 scoring run which included a 21 straight points and then 27 consecutive points. In the win over Duquesne, YSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead and went on to win by 20. YSU trailed Robert Morris 7-0 before scoring 31 consecutive points.

Alessi Making an Impact
    Senior TB Joe Alessi has led the Penguins in rushing each of the past four games. Alessi had a season-high 146 yards on 14 carries in the win over Robert Morris. It was the second 100-yard rushing game of his career and first since November 2016 at Missouri State (190 yards).
    In six games this year, Alessi has a team-high 447 yards on 72 carries. In his previous three campaigns, he had 552 yards on 43 carries.

Keep Up With The Joneses
    The Penguins have had solid performances from newcomers Matt Jones (West Virginia) and Zaire Jones (Vanderbilt).
    Matt Jones has started all six games at center for the Penguins and helped anchor an offense that is amongst the nation's leaders in rushing.
    Zaire Jones had quite a debut against Samford recording two interceptions and five total tackles. Jones was the first Penguin since LeRoy Alexander had two picks in a game since 2015 (Pittsburgh). That was also Alexanders'  YSU debut. In six games, Jones has 29 total tackles, including 17 solo stops.

D-Line Playing Well
    The Penguins defensive line has seen all four starters step up so far this season.
    The group of DEs Justus Reed, Ma'lik Richmond and DTs Antoine Cook and DeMarko Craig - all first-time starters in 2019 - have combined for 95 total tackles (52 solos), 26.5 TFLs and 17 sacks so far this season.
    DT Antoine Cook was the latest to step up with a career-best performance recording seven tackles, three TFLs and a sack at UNI. Against Duquesne, Craig had seven tackles and a sack. In the win over Howard, Richmond had eight tackles and sack while Craig had two sacks and seven tackles and Reed had four tackles and a pair of sacks. Reed opened the season with a three-sack performance vs. Samford. Against SDSU, Reed had two sacks and two other solo tackles.
    In 2018, Reed missed the campaign with an injury, Cook was a reserve, Craig redshirted and Richmond was a pass-rush specialist.

McFadden Times Three
    The Penguins added Kent State transfer Colt McFadden in the spring, and that last name is very familiar to YSU Football fans.
    His father, Paul, played for the Penguins from 1980-83, while his brother Connor, was with the program from 2013-16. Both his father and brother were placekickers.
    This season, Colt McFadden has made two field goals and is 28-of-31 on PAT tries.
    Paul McFadden finished his career with 240 points making 52 field goals and 78 PATs. He earned notoriety for being a barefoot-style kicker. Connor McFadden played a big role in YSU's playoff run in 2016. In the quarterfinals against Wofford, he converted a PAT kick in overtime.

LBs Have Deep Numbers
    LBs Ray Anderson, Christiaan Randall-Posey and Cash Mitchell give the Penguins good experience at that position.
    Anderson has 29 total tackles this season after recording 22 a year ago. Mitchell, had a career-best 35 tackles last season and this year has 29 with 7.5 TFLs. Terray Bryant (16) and Christiaan Randall-Posey (11) have combined for 27 tackles this year.
    Last year, Mitchell led the group with 35 tackles while Randall-Posey finished with 30 total tackles, including 23 solos. He started three games. Anderson came on strong at the end of the campaign in 2018 with 20 of his 22 tackles came against MVFC foes.

Secondary Has Depth
    The Penguins secondary has stepped up this season. The unit has seven interceptions through six games. Six different players already have an interception. Of those six, four have recorded their first career INT.
    This year, leading the way are two players who didn't play for YSU in 2018 - SS Zaire Jones and FS Kyle Hegedus.
    Jones transferred from Vanderbilt and ranks second on the team with 29 total tackles and has a team-best two interceptions. Hegedus missed the 2018 campaign with a knee injury, and has a team-leading 32 total tackles, including 21 solo stops and one interception.
    Five other secondary members, Dee Ford (16) and Melvin Jackson (14), Jaelin Madison (14), D.J. Smalls (14) and Bryce Gibson (12) have double digits in tackles this season. Smalls, Gibson and Ford have interceptions this year.

O-Line Transfers
    YSU added a pair of graduate transfers to bolster the offensive line in 2019. The Penguins picked up center Matt Jones, who was a two-year starter at West Virginia, and Myles Douglas, who started every game in 2017 at Tennessee Tech.
    Jones is a native of nearby Hubbard and started the final 25 games of his career for the Mountaineers and started against the Penguins last September in Morgantown.
    Jones has started every game at center while Douglas has started the last five games at right guard.

Becker, Zinni Anchor Line
    The most veteran YSU players on the offensive line are sophomore LT Dan Becker and senior LG Jacob Zinni.
    Becker started the first nine games at left tackle in 2018 and played in all 11 contests. Zinni started the final two games of the year at guard. In 2017, Zinni started the first five games at right guard. The only other lineman to previously start a game at YSU last year is Devon Robinson. He made a pair of starts at right tackle in 2018.
    All three players have started the first six games. Senior graduate transfer Matt Jones has started all six games this year while Myles Douglas has made five starts.
Team of Graduates
    The Penguins have an impressive amount of college graduates on this year's squad. QB Nathan Mays, WR Ryan Emans, OL James Wilson, DB Sam McGuigan and DB Kyle Hegedus are all in graduate courses at YSU.

Schedule Rarities in 2019
    For the first time since 2004, the Penguins will not play an FBS team during their schedule. YSU is playing an all-FCS schedule for the just the second time in school history. The lone other time the Guins had a slate full of FCS opponents was back in 1983.
    From 1989 through 2004 the Guins hosted a Division II program in all but one season (1993). From 1984 to 1988, the schedule was full of FBS opponents as the Penguins played a total of 12 games vs. upper-level foes. YSU played FBS Cincinnati in 1981 and 1982, the first two years it was an FCS program. YSU is playing seven home games for the first time since 2014.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 141-38 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 27-73.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 168-21-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 144-18 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 166-29 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 88-11-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 196-17 when leading entering the fourth.
• 90-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next
    The Penguins start a two-game homestand with a tilt against Western Illinois on Oct. 26. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.