Penguins Begin Two-Game Road Swing at South Dakota

Josh Burgett
Josh Burgett

   The Youngstown State football team plays the first contest of a two-game road swing at South Dakota on Saturday. Kickoff at the DakotaDome is set for 3 p.m. Eastern Time/2 p.m. Central Time.  The game is available on WBCB TV, ESPN+, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio.
    YSU (5-4, 1-4 in the MVFC) dropped a 56-17 decision to North Dakota State last Saturday evening at Stambaugh Stadium. NDSU erupted for 21 points in the first and second quarters and the Penguins lost quaterback Nathan Mays for the remainder of the season with a leg injury.
    Following a YSU fumbled punt, NDSU capitalized four plays later on a nine-yard run by Trey Lance. Lance then connected with Christian Watson on a 69-yard touchdown pass to put the Penguins in a 14-0 hole. Josh Babicz followed with a pair of 6-yard touchdown grabs and Dimitri Williams' four-yard scoring run put the Bison on top 35-0 with 2:35 left in the half.
    YSU got on the scoreboard on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Joe Craycraft to Miles Joiner. But NDSU's Kobe Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. In the second half, Colt McFadden kicked a 27-yard field goal and third-string quarterback Mark Waid scored on a 27-yard run while NDSU added a pair of touchdown runs.
    South Dakota (3-6 and 2-3) is coming off a 38-34 defeat at Western Illinois. The Coyotes have dropped three straight games since opening league play with wins over Indiana State and Missouri State. Against the Leathernecks last Saturday, South Dakota jumped out to a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter. WIU scored the next 17 points to take a 24-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. The lead changed four times in the final 7:50. South Dakota led 34-31 with 1:24 remaining but Western's Clint Ratkovich scored on a nine-yard with just 34 seconds left to give WIU its first win of the season.
    YSU leads the all-time series with the Coyotes by a 6-1 margin. The Penguins picked up a 29-17 victory over South Dakota last season. Two of three contests played at the DakotaDome have gone down the final minute. Two years ago, the Guins lost 31-28 on a last-second field goal. In the other two contests, YSU won 31-3 in 2015 and 38-34 in 2013. The Guins have scored 28 points in each of the three contests at USD.

Quick Notes
• Head Coach Bo Pelini goes for the 100th win of his career this Saturday at South Dakota. Pelini owns 67 career wins at Nebraska and 32 with the Penguins.
• YSU's defense has forced 16 turnovers in nine games. YSU forced a total of just nine in 11 games in 2018. Against WIU, the unit forced three fumbles.
• TE Miles Joiner caught a touchdown pass in his second straight game. He hauled in a 23-yard pass for a score vs. NDSU.
• QB Mark Waid came on in the second half and gave the Penguins a spark. Waid led a pair of scoring drives and capped off his night with a 27-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter.
• The Penguins have won two of the three all-time meetings against the Coyotes at the DakotaDome.
• DE Justus Reed has registered a sack in three of the last four contests. Reed leads the team with nine sacks and 13 TFLs.
• The Penguins have scored 45-or-more points in four games this season. On two occasions, YSU has scored at least 54 points.

Last Time Out: NDSU 56, YSU 17
    YSU dropped a 56-17 decision to North Dakota State last Saturday evening at Stambaugh Stadium. NDSU erupted for 21 points in the first and second quarters and was never threatened in the contest.
    Following a YSU fumbled punt, NDSU capitalized four plays later on a nine-yard run by Trey Lance. Lance then connected with Christian Watson on a 69-yard touchdown pass to put the Penguins in a 14-0 hole. Josh Babicz followed with a pair of 6-yard touchdown grabs and Dimitri Williams' four-yard scoring run put the Bison on top 35-0 with 2:35 left in the half.
    YSU got on the scoreboard on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Joe Craycraft to Miles Joiner. But NDSU's Kobe Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. In the second half, Colt McFadden kicked a 27-yard field goal and third-string quarterback Mark Waid scored on a 27-yard run while NDSU added a pair of touchdown runs.

Last Time vs. South Dakota
     YSU picked up a solid 29-17 victory over South Dakota last year at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins jumped out to a 22-0 lead and used an interception return for a touchdown by D.J. Smalls to seal the win.
    The Guins came out hot taking advantage of a turnover to take on 6-0 lead on a seven-yard run by Tevin McCaster. YSU extended its lead to 12-0 when McCaster scored again, this time on a 12-yard pass from Montgomery VanGorder. A two-yard touchdown run by VanGorder pushed the Penguins' lead to 19-0 at the end of the first quarter.
    Midway through the second, Grant Gonya's first career field goal extended the lead to 22-0. The Coyotes pulled within 22-10 after three quarters before Smalls intercepted an Austin Simmons pass and raced 65 yards for a touchdown with 6:19 remaining. South Dakota added a score late for the final margin.
    YSU held the ball for 40:10 of the game.

Five Wins By 20 Points
    All five of YSU's wins have come by more than 20 points. YSU opened the year with four straight wins of at least 20 points - Samford 45-22, Howard 54-28, Duquesne 34-14 and Robert Morris 45-10. It marked 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.
    YSU defeated Western Illinois 59-14 last Saturday for its fifth win of the season.

Turnovers on the Uptick
    The YSU defense has made it a habit of forcing turnovers so far in 2019. YSU has caused 16 turnovers on the season – 4 vs. Samford, 3 vs. Howard, Duquesne and Western Illinois and one against Robert Morris, UNI and Southern Illinois. 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 eight passes, which newly eclipses the total from each of the past two seasons combined. YSU had three interceptions in 2018 and five in 2017.

Sacks On The Rise
    YSU had three sacks against Western Illinois to bring the Penguins' total to 24. The Penguins recorded just 18 in 11 games last season. DE Justus Reed leads the team with nine sacks. In 15 career games played, Reed has an impressive 14 sacks.
    Ma'lik Richmond has been a major contributor as well with seven sacks this season. Richmond had three sacks in 2018.
    Last year's sack leader was Savon Smith and he had six while starting all 11 contests. Additionally, YSU has 63 TFLs this season after registering just 51 in 2018.

More Interceptions in 2019
    The Penguins have intercepted eight passes 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. That trio has combined for 10 touchdowns on 123 carries and 445 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 had eight rushes for 79 yards and a touchdown against North Dakota State. Craycraft has three passing touchdowns and one rushing.
    Mays had rushing touchdowns in four games and finished with six total on the season. Mays had a career-best 13 touchdown passes this season.
    Conor Collins saw snaps in the fourth quarter against RMU and WIU. Craycraft made his first career start against the Colonials.

Waid's Future Bright
    Freshman QB Mark Waid was forced into duty vs. North Dakota State when injuries knocked Nathan Mays and Joe Craycraft out of the game.
    Waid performed well rushing for 79 yards on eight carries, including a 27-yard touchdown run. He completed 5-of-10 passes for 51 yards in the second half.
    Waid has played in three games this year and can play in one more to save a year of eligibility.

Joiner Stepping His Game Up
    Sophomore TE Miles Joiner has seen increased production since MVFC play started. Joiner had four receptions entering league play, but since has caught 15 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
    He has touchdown grabs against South Dakota State, Western Illinois and North Dakota State in league action.
    Joiner caught a season-high five passes for 81 yards against SDSU. He had three catches for 88 yards against Duquesne, including a season-long 58-yard reception.
    For his career, he has 31 receptions for 498 yards and seven touchdowns.

Mays Battled for YSU
    After battling injuries throughout the month of October, senior QB Nathan Mays' YSU career came to end last Saturday against NDSU.
    For his career, Mays played in 33 games for the Penguins from 2016-19. He started 14 games in his YSU career. He finished with 977 yards rushing on 247 attempts and had 10 touchdowns. He completed 199-of-324 passes for 2,629 yards and 20 touchdowns.
    As a redshirt freshman he came to help lead the Penguins to a come-from-behind 14-10 win over UNI.
    As a junior in 2018, he battled through injuries to play in the final four contests. In 2017, he started five games and played in eight.
    He had his top statistical season of his career in 2019 completing 91-of-149 passes for 1,287 yards and 13 touchdowns. He rushed for 311 yards on 88 attempts and had six scores.

Alessi Now A Pass Catcher
    In his first 40 games with the Penguins, tailback Joe Alessi had not caught a pass.
    In the last five games, Alessi has nine receptions for 113 yards. He had his first career reception against UNI on Oct. 5. 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 1,243 career rushing yards on 148 attempts, an average of 8.4 per rush. He has two 100-yard games this season and had a best 156 yards vs. Western Illinois.

One-Hit Wonders
    The Penguins have seven one-play drives this season. YSU scored on three one-play drives against Howard and had one each against Duquesne, Robert Morris, UNI and WIU.
    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, Nathan Mays connected with Jermiah Braswell on a 75-yard touchdown pass. Against WIU last Saturday, Braswell caught a 40-yard pass from Mays.

Record Season For Coates
    Junior PR Jake Coates is having one of the best seasons by a punt returner in school history. Coates has returned 26 punts for a school-record 319 yards this season, an average of 12.3 per return.
    Coates' nine-yard performance against NDSU helped him surpass Dave Roberts who had held the mark with 317 since 1992.
    Coates 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 vs. RMU. He had a touchdown return of 63 yards and additional returns of 22 and 33 in the contest.
    Against WIU, he had a career-long 81-yard punt return. It was the fourth-longest in school history.
    He ranks second in school history in career punt returns (70) and third in yards (483).

Braswell Stepping Up
    Senior WR Jermiah Braswell leads the Penguins in all three receiving categories. Braswell has 22 receptions for 453 yards and five touchdowns. He is also averaging a team-best 20.6 yards per reception.
    Against Western Illinois, he caught two first quarter touchdown passes. He had a 40-yard score and a 54-yard touchdown. It was the first multi-touchdown game of his career.
    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 49 receptions for 924 yards and nine touchdowns.

Reed A Difference Maker
    DE Justus Reed has made an impressive return after missing the 2018 season with a torn Achilles tendon.
    Reed has 30 total tackles this season which includes 12 TFLs and nine sacks. He has sacks in five of eight games and had another negated by a questionable targeting call vs. Duquesne that forced him to miss the first half against Robert Morris. With YSU leading big at halftime against RMU he saw limited action. He started the season with a three-sack performance against Samford.
    In 2017, Reed showed flashes of being a difference maker with 15 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and five sacks as a pass-rush specialist. He played in seven games during his first year at YSU.

Richmond Making a Difference
    Senior DE Ma'lik Richmond is making the most of his first year as a starter.
    Richmond, who had a career-best nine tackles at Southern Illinois, has 38 total tackles this season, highlighted by seven sacks. He has eight tackles for loss this year.
    Richmond had two sacks against the Salukis and finished with eight solo stops.
    Entering the season, he had 29 career tackles and three sacks in 16 games played through a two-year span. Of his 14 career TFLs, 10 have been sacks.
Alessi Having Breakout Year
    Senior TB Joe Alessi has led the Penguins in rushing in six of the last seven games.
    He had a season-high 156 yards on 13 carries against Western Illinois. His previous season best was 146 yards on 14 carries against Robert Morris. He has three 100-yard rushing games in his career. The other came in November 2016 at Missouri State (190 yards).
    This year, Alessi has a team-high 691 yards on 105 carries. In his previous three campaigns, he had 552 yards on 43 carries.

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 140 total tackles (77 solos), 36.5 TFLs and 23 sacks so far this season.
    DE Ma'lik Richmond was the latest to have a career-best performance. At Southern Illinois, Richmond had nine total tackles, including eight solo stops. He had three TFLs and two sacks vs. the Salukis.
    DT Antoine Cook had a career-best performance recording seven tackles, three TFLs and a sack at UNI. Against Duquesne, Craig had seven tackles and a sack. Reed opened the season with a three-sack performance vs. Samford. DT Wes Thompson started against North Dakota State.
    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 five field goals and is 38-of-41 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 44 total tackles this season after recording 22 a year ago. He had a career-best eight tackles at Southern Illinois. Mitchell, had a career-best 35 tackles last season and this year has 33 with 7.5 TFLs. Terray Bryant (25) and Randall-Posey (24) have combined for 49 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.

Scoring Runs in Victories
    The Penguins have gone on big runs to seize control in each of their five 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.
    Last Saturday, the Penguins were tied with Western Illinois 7-7 before erupting for the next 52 points in the victory.

Secondary Has Depth
    The Penguins secondary has stepped up this season. The unit has eight interceptions and six different players have an interception.
    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 has 44 total tackles and is tied for the team-lead with two interceptions. Hegedus missed the 2018 campaign with a knee injury, and has 43 total tackles, including a team-high 30 solo stops and two interceptions.
    Five other secondary members, Jaelin Madison (26), Bryce Gibson (23), Dee Ford (21), D.J. Smalls (21), and Melvin Jackson (15) have double digits in tackles this season. Smalls, Gibson and Ford have interceptions this year.

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 nine games. Senior graduate transfer Matt Jones has started all nine games this year while Myles Douglas has made eight starts.

Touchdowns By Current Guins
    The Penguins have 18 players on their roster who have combined for a total of 75 touchdowns. TB Joe Alessi has the most rushing touchdowns with 12 while Jermiah Braswell leads the team with nine receiving TDs.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 142-39 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 27-74.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 169-21-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 145-18 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 167-29 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 88-11-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 197-17 when leading entering the fourth.
• 90-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next:
    YSU is back on the road when it visists Indiana State next Saturday. Kickoff at the Memorial Stadium for the contest between the Penguins and Sycamores is set for 1 p.m.