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West Virginia Football First Look: Youngstown State

The 2016 game went so well, we invited the Penguins back for a redux.

Youngstown State v West Virginia Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Gameday: Saturday, September 8, 2018

Location: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, WV

Opponent: Youngstown State Penguins

Two years ago, Bo Pelini and his Youngstown State Penguins came into Morgantown, hoping to shock the world the same way they did against Pitt in 2015.

An upset of the West Virginia Mountaineers didn’t happen but the 2016 YSU Penguins were pretty damn good considering they parlayed their season into a national title run before they lost to #5 James Madison 28-14 in the title game. For the season they beat #23 Illinois State, #21 Northern Iowa, #23 Samford, #2 Jacksonville State, #19 Wofford and #3 Eastern Illinois. But that was 2016. The 2017 Penguins finished 6-5 and didn’t make the playoffs. They did put a helluva scare into Pitt, coming back from a 21-point deficit to force overtime.

Ball Throwers: The Penguins are likely to be led by junior quarterback Nathan Mays. Mays played in a total of 8 games last year, starting in 5 of the contests but relinquished the starting position in the last three games after a 35-0 shellacking to #16 Illinois State. Mays threw 4 touchdowns in those 8 games he played in and totaled 905 yards on 66% passing. Mays finished the 2017 season as the leading passer for the Penguins for a team that threw the ball for a grand total of 2,000 yards, after Hunter Wells suffered a shoulder separation that limited him to 4 starts and 6 total games.

NCAA Football: D1 Football Championship
Hunter Wells sacked!
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Ball Runners: Tevin McCaster is a workhorse for Bo Pelini and the Penguins. McCaster finished the year with 1,066 yards rushing on only 221 carries for a healthy 4.8 YPC while scoring 13 times.. McCaster showed enough in the passing game, catching all of eight passes. When the Penguins were able to give McCaster the ball at least 22 times, they were 5-1 in 2017.

Behind McCaster is another all-purpose threat in Christian Turner. Turner combined 997 total yards which means he and McCaster combined for over 2,000 all purpose yards last year. Turner, a freshman in 2017, put up 189 all purpose yards against the Pitt Panthers. I am unable to write a snarky comment about this because well #ESp.

Running the ball is where Bo Pelini wants to make his money. The Penguins totaled 2700 yards rushing last year behind McCaster, Turner and quarterback Nathan Mays. Mays himself proved to be adept at running the ball with 443 yards and 5 touchdowns. Combined, the Penguins have three guys who scored 18 times on the ground.

Pass Catchers: As is almost always the case, a mobile quarterback is not the best passer. Since no quarterback broke 1,000 yards last year, expecting to have a receiver break 1,000 is a pipe dream. Add in that the Penguins have been and are a run-first team under Pelini, seeing the receivers stats isn’t that surprising, however seeing no one break 600 yards is a bit underwhelming. Now comes the scary news for YSU, they lose four of their top 5 receivers from last year. Receivers Damoun Patterson and Alvin Bailey, along with tight end Kevin Rader all graduated. Junior Stefan Derrick tried his hand at the NFL. That leaves running back Christian Turner’s 272 yards as the leading returning receiver.

Redshirt sophomore Samuel St. Surin and Ryan Emans will be asked to provide production at a young age. We will know rather quickly if they are up to the challenge or if they will waddle their way out.

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at West Virginia
Down goes Ruiz!
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Hog Mollies: Unfortunately, Youngstown State is a FCS program and as such, does not receive the same coverage as the FBS teams. Therefore I have absolutely no data to really delve deep into and let you know about the offensive line. I can’t tell if they were good, bad or indifferent last year. I can’t tell you who returns and who graduated. So assume I said something funny sacarstic comments and move to the next section.

Trench Monsters: Senior Johnson Louigene returns at end for the Penguins after collecting 39 tackles and 2 sacks last year, but his partner-in-crime Faszon Chapman, who led the team with 5 sacks along with Donald Mesier, who added 3 sacks, graduated leaving Sherif Bynum, who only played in five games last year to step up and improve on his four tackles.

On the interior senior Savon Smith’s 27 tackles but no sacks will help man the run defense along with senior Lamont Ragland’s 18 tackles but sophomore Justin Metzel who only appeared in two games last year will have to help produce or the Penguins could be in trouble along the interior. Depth along the defensive line is thin with experience; like the Mountaineers the front line starters are solid but behind them could be trouble.

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Pittsburgh
Catching the game-winner
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tackle Makers: Senior Armand Dellovade returns to help man the middle of the field for the Penguins. Dellovade is the leading returning tackler after making 76 stops and collecting three sacks along the way. The Penguins will be without Lee Wright who brought down ball carriers 74 times last year. Junior Cash Mitchell appeared in all 11 games last year starting 3. In those 11 games he had 19 tackles and should be in line for a starting spot. Defensively, the Penguins allowed 173 yards per game on the ground on a 4.5 YPC average. The problem for the Penguins was once teams got inside the redzone they almost always scored, converting 28 of 32 chances (88%) into scores. Pelini’s group however only scored 33 times in 41 chances (80%) when they got inside the redzone.

Pass Defenders: Partly because teams were able to run the ball effectively, partly because of personnel, and partly because they played the Pitt Panthers, the Penguins pass defense last year was very good. YSU allowed only 143 yards per game and held opponents to under 50% completion as a group. The leader for the Penguins was free safety Jalyn Powell who graduated last year. Powell led the team in stops both total and solo. Powell also had the lone interception return last year, taking his pick for 33 yards. The other 4 interceptions were stopped where they were picked.

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at West Virginia
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Junior free safety Kyle Hegedus will be tasked with leading the secondary and should be up to the task as he was third on the team with 74 tackles last year along with an interception, forced fumble, blocked kick and fumble recovery. The Penguins best cover corner Billy Nicoe-Hurst leaves the team after defending 9 passes but cornerback Bryce Gibson defending 7 passes in his freshman season last year returns to help lock down receivers in the back end of the field.

Especially Teams: Senior placekicker Zak Kennedy returns after making 8 of his 13 attempts last year and missing every kick over 40 yards. Junior punter Mark Schuler also returns after punting 41 times last year. Teams averaged almost 12 yards per punt return against the Penguins last year but never broke one for a touchdown. ON the return side, sophomore Jake Coates is set to return punts after returning 19 last year for almost 5 yards per punt. He and teammate Christian Turner will return kicks and hopefully will be able to do better than the 20 yards per kick return they averaged last year.