YSU Opens MVFC Play With Contest at No. 13 UNI

Kendric Mallory
Kendric Mallory

     The 17th-ranked Youngstown State football team opens Missouri Valley Football Conference play at UNI on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff in the UNI-Dome against the Panthers is set for 5 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Central time. The game is available on WBCB TV, ESPN3, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio.
    YSU (4-0) finished off non-conference play last Saturday with a 45-10 victory over Robert Morris at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins trailed 7-0 before scoring 31 straight points to put the game out of reach.
    Down by a touchdown, QB Nathan Mays scored on a two-yard run on the final play of the first quarter and ignite the YSU scoring run. On the Penguins' next drive, Mays fired a dart to Jermiah Braswell for a 24-yard score. Two quick strike scores took the wind out of RMU. Joe Alessi scored on a 43-yard run then 1:53 later, Jake Coates returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown and just like that YSU was on top 28-7. Colt McFadden made a 22-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
    RMU opened the scoring in the second half with a 36-yard field goal, before YSU closed out the game with rushing scores by Mays (one yard) and Craycraft (seven yards).
    No. 13 UNI (2-2) is coming off a tough 29-17 loss at Weber State. The Panthers trailed 27-3 with 8:30 left in the second quarter before outscoring the Wildcats 14-2 the rest of the contest. WSU scored 17 points in the first 9:17 of the contest to gain the early momentum. Freshman QB Will McElvain threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns and had 105 yards rushing on 16 carries to lead the offense.
    Both of the Panthers' wins have come at home this year beating Southern Utah 34-14 and Idaho State 13-6. They have not surrendered more than 29 points in a game this year.
    YSU trails in the all-time series 22-9, but the team's have split the last four contests. The Guins had one of their more impressive wins in the series last season beating the Panthers 31-10 at Stambaugh Stadium in November. The last YSU victory in the UNI-Dome came on Oct. 23, 1999, a 29-20 triumph. Since that time, YSU has dropped 10 straight contests. However, four of the last five tilts at the UNI-Dome have been decided by five points or less.

 

Quick Notes
• The last time YSU had scored 34-or-more points in four straight games was in 2006.
• All four of YSU's wins have been by more than 20 points to start the campaign.
• The Penguins rank fourth in the FCS in rushing yards per game (296.3) and scoring offense (44.5 points).
• The defense has forced 11 turnovers in just four games. YSU forced a total of nine in 11 games in 2018.
• YSU and Georgetown lead the FCS in turnover margin at 2.25 per game.
• YSU has five players who have rushed for at least 165 yards and have scored a touchdown.
• YSU had a breakout game on punt returns. PR Jake Coates set a school record for punt return yards in a game with 133 on five attempts. The previous high was 127 (six returns) by Robert L. Thompson against UNI on Nov. 20, 1982.
• YSU limited the Colonials to just 48 yards passing and 212 yards of total offense. In the last two games the Guins have held opponents to 117 passing yards and 418 total yards. In the first two games, YSU allowed 573 yards passing and 766 yards of offense.
• QB Joe Craycraft scored the first touchdown of his career on a seven-yard run in the fourth quarter. PR Jake Coates scored on a 63-yard punt return in the second quarter.
• QB Nathan Mays scored a rushing touchdown in his third straight game. In his career he has 885 rushing yards.
• TB Joe Alessi had his second career 100-yard rushing game with 143 yards on 14 carries. 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: YSU 45, RMU 10
    YSU finished off non-conference play last Saturday with a 45-10 victory over Robert Morris at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins trailed 7-0 before scoring 31 straight points to put the game out of reach.
    Down by a touchdown, QB Nathan Mays scored on a two-yard run on the final play of the first quarter and ignite the YSU scoring run. On the Penguins' next drive, Mays fired a dart to Jermiah Braswell for a 24-yard score. Two quick strike scores took the wind out of RMU. Joe Alessi scored on a 43-yard run then 1:53 later, Jake Coates returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown and just like that YSU was on top 28-7. Colt McFadden made a 22-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
    RMU opened the scoring in the second half with a 36-yard field goal, before YSU closed out the game with rushing scores by Mays (one yard) and Craycraft (seven yards).

Last Time vs. UNI
    YSU picked up an impressive 31-10 win over UNI at Stambaugh Stadium on Senior Day last November.
    Against UNI, the seniors produced in all facets in YSU's biggest win over UNI since 1979. YSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back.
    QB Montgomery VanGorder connected with Darius Shackleford for a 62-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Tevin McCaster scored his first touchdown of the game in the second quarter to give YSU a 14-0 lead.
    UNI cut the deficit to 14-7 at halftime before the Penguins struck quickly just 45 seconds into the third quarter on a 29-yard run by McCaster. Later in the quarter, McCaster scored on a one-yard run to put the Guins in front 28-10. PK Zak Kennedy added a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for the final margin.

MVFC Opener Success
    The Guins are 18-4 in Missouri Valley Football Conference openers since joining the league in 1997. YSU had a run of nine straight wins snapped last year in a 45-38 loss at Western Illinois.
    Of the 22 league openers, the Guins are a perfect 11-0 at home while going 7-4 on the road. In first road games of the MVFC slate, the Guins are 11-10 all-time.
    In MVFC openers YSU is 5-0 against Missouri State, 3-0 vs. Indiana State, 2-1 against Western Illinois, 2-0 against Illinois State, 2-0 against Southern Illinois, 2-0 vs. South Dakota, 1-0 against UNI, 1-1 vs. South Dakota State and 0-2 vs. Western Kentucky.

Four Wins By 20 Points
    All four of YSU's wins have been by more than 20 points to start the campaign. YSU defeated Samford 45-22, Howard 54-28, Duquesne 34-14 and Robert Morris 45-10.
    It marks the first time in school history that the Penguins have won four consecutive games by 20 points or more. YSU won four straight by 19 or more points during the 1993 campaign.
    The Penguins are off to their best start to a season since 2012, when they opened the year 4-0. The last time the Guins opened a season 5-0 was in 2000 (6-0).

Turnovers on the Uptick
    The YSU defense has made it a habit of forcing turnovers so far in 2019. YSU has caused 11 turnovers in four games – 4 vs. Samford, 3 vs. Howard, 3 vs. Duquesne and 1 vs. Robert Morris. 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.
    In just four games 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.
    Senior FS Kyle Hegedus intercepted his first pass of the year against Robert Morris.

More INTS in 2019
    The Penguins have intercepted seven passes in four 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.

One-Hit Wonders
    The Penguins have five one-play drives this season. YSU scored on three one-play drives against Howard and had one each against Duquesne and Robert Morris.
    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. And against Robert Morris, Alessi scampered home on a 43-yard touchdown rush.

Impressive Scoring Runs
    The Penguins have gone on big runs to seize control of the game in each of their first four games.
    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.

Pounding the Rock Continues
    The Penguins have one of the most prolific rushing offenses in the FCS. YSU has 1,185 yards rushing, 6.5 yards per carry and is averaging 296.2 yards per contest. YSU is among the leaders in the nation with 17 rushing touchdowns.
    YSU had its most balanced offensive performance against Duquesne. YSU had 180 yards passing and 197 rushing the Dukes. Against RMU, YSU had 257 yards rushing and 137 passing.
    The Guins followed up a 277-yard performance vs. Samford with a 454-yard effort in a win over Howard. Helping out the cause were 78 yard runs by Braxton Chapman and 75 by London Pearson.

Big Day For Coates
    Junior PR Jake Coates had the best game of his three-year YSU career 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.
    Prior to last Saturday, Coates' career-long return was 22 yards against South Dakota State in 2018. Coates now has 55 returns in his career for 324 yards. He now ranks fourth in school history in career punt returns.

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 seven touchdowns on 57 carries and 290 yards.
    Freshman QB Mark Waid made his YSU debut against Duquesne and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns. Joe Craycraft scored on a seven-yard run in the fourth quarter against RMU.
    Nathan Mays has rushing touchdowns in each of the past three games and has four on the season. Mays has five touchdown passes this season - two each in each of the first two games.
    Conor Collins saw snaps in the fourth quarter against RMU. Craycraft made his first career start against the Colonials.

Alessi Making an Impact
    Senior TB Joe Alessi has led the Penguins in rushing each of the past two games. Alessi had a season-high 146 yards on 14 carries. It was the second 100-yard rushing game of his career and first since November 2016 at Missouri State (190 yards).
    In four games this year, Alessi has a team-high 347 yards on 47 carries. In his previous three campaigns, he had 552 yards on 43 carries.

Next Tailback Up
    The Penguins have had a first-team All-MVFC selection at tailback for three straight seasons, but in 2019 its been an impressive tailback-by-committee effort through three games.
    Tevin McCaster was selected first-team All-MVFC in 2018 and earned the nod previously in 2017. In 2016, Martin Ruiz earned first-team honors. The last time a school had a tailback earn first-team honors in four straight years was Southern Illinois from 2000-03.
    This year's group of Joe Alessi, Christian Turner, Braxton Chapman and London Pearson  has a combined 925 yards on 116 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. Alessi leads the Penguins with 33 carries for 201 yards. Chapman and Turner are co-leaders with three touchdowns.

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 four 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 four games, Jones has 19 total tackles and added a fumble recovery against Duquesne.

D-Line Playing Well
    The Penguins had four players start the opener on the defensive line that didn't start a year ago - and all four made their starting debuts against Samford.
    That group of DEs Justus Reed, Ma'lik Richmond and DTs Antoine Cook and DeMarko Craig has been solid so far this season. Reed played sparingly against Robert Morris, but James Jackson and Shereif Bynum picked up the slack. Jackson had four solo stops while Bynum had three tackles and a sack.
    In 2018, Reed missed the campaign with an injury, Cook was a reserve defensive end, Craig redshirted and Richmond was a pass-rush specialist who had three sacks. This year, Richmond already has four sacks. Craig is tied for the team lead with 22 tackles.
    Last year's season-opening starting defensive line was Bynum, DT Wes Thompson, DT Savon Smith and DE Johnson Louigene.

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.
    Colt McFadden had a successful YSU debut kicking a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter and making six PAT kicks. This season he is 22-of-25 on PAT tries and 2-of-2 on field-goal attempts.
    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 strong Trio
    LBs Ray Anderson, Christiaan Randall-Posey and Cash Mitchell give the Penguins good experience at that position.
    Last year, Mitchell led the group with 35 tackles and started seven contests. Randall-Posey finished with 30 total tackles, including 23 solos. He started three games.
    Anderson came on strong at the end of the campaign and finished with 22 total tackles, including 14 solos. He started five games in conference play and 20 of his 22 tackles came against MVFC foes.
    This season, Anderson has 15 tackles, Mitchell has 14 and Randall-Posey has seven. Terray Bryant has 15 tackles as well.

Secondary Has Depth
    The Penguins secondary has stepped up this season. The unit has seven interceptions through three games. Six different players already have an interception. Of those six, four have recorded their first career INT.
    This year, SS Zaire Jones and CB Dee Ford have joined forces with CB Bryce Gibson and FS Kyle Hegedus to be the starters in the secondary. Melvin Jackson moved into the starting lineup against RMU.
    Gibson is a three-year starter, Jones transferred to YSU from Vanderbilt, Ford is a true freshman, Jones is a third-year sophomore and Hegedus is back after missing the 2018 season.
    Hegedus missed the 2018 season with a knee injury. Hegedus had 74 total tackles, 46 solos and two fumble recoveries in 10 starts in 2017.
    DJ Smalls has moved to a nickelback role while reserves Jaelin Madison and John Harper have all seen playing time.
    Ford intercepted the first pass of his career against Howard and returned it for a touchdown, but that was called back because of an illegal blocking penalty.

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, Ohio, and started the final 25 games of his career for the Mountaineers. He started against the Penguins last September in Morgantown.
    Additionally, YSU added junior college transfers Jordan Velez and Jadan Starks.
    Douglas has started the last three 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 who returns from last year is Devon Robinson. Robinson made a pair of starts at right tackle in 2018.
    All three players have started the first four games. Senior graduate transfers Matt Jones and Myles Douglas have combined to make five starts this year.
    Zinni was named the MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week against RMU.

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 after earning their degrees. Joining that group are graduate transfers Matt Jones (West Virginia) and Myles Douglas (Tennessee Tech).

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.
    Additionally, YSU will play seven home games for the first time since 2014.

16 Remain From 2016 Season
    A total of 16 Penguins remain on the roster from the 2016 National Runner-Up team.
    Those players are: Joe Alessi, Jermiah Braswell, Shereif Bynum, Ryan Emans, Norman Fox, Kyle Hegedus, Nathan Mays, Devon McNutt, Malachi Newell, London Pearson, Christiaan Randall-Posey, Darius Shackleford, Samuel St. Surin, Zack Torbert, James Wilson and Jacob Zinni.
    Those that played in the National Championship Game at some point were Braswell, Mays, Alessi, Randall-Posey, Torbert and Emans.

Touchdowns By Current Guins
    The Penguins have 18 players on their roster who have combined for a total of 58 touchdowns. TB Joe Alessi has the most rushing touchdowns with nine while Jermiah Braswell leads the team with five receiving TDs.

    TD Scorers
    Alessi – 10  rush
    Mays – 8 rush
    Turner – 6 -  3 rush / 3 pass
    Braswell – 6 pass
    Joiner – 4 pass
    St. Surin – 4 pass
    Chapman - 3 rush
    Waid - 2 rush
    Emans – 2 pass
    Mallory – 2 pass
    Shackleford – 2 pass
    Pearson – 3 - 1 rush / 2 pass
    Payne – 1 pass
    Craycraft - 1 rush
    Coates - 1 punt return
    Burgett - 1 pass
    Smalls - 1 INT return
    Mitchell - 1 Fumble return

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 141-37 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 27-72.
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.
• 166-28 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 88-10-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 196-16 when leading entering the fourth.
• 90-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.