BYLINE: Chris Logue
It’s that time again where we finally get to look, objectively, at our opponents and it starts this week with an anticipated re-match with a 2015 foe. Yes, Pitt did win that game, closer than desired, but this time around, for growth and the loyalty of fans, it must be a blow-out. But, how does Pitt stack up against this FCS power?
Youngstown State is coming off a season where they went 12-4 and amassed that fourth defeat in the FCS Championship where they fell to James Madison. Still, it is a program reborn under Bo Pelini, who more than doubled their win output in just his second season.
YSU is a senior-laden team (20) that drives on experience and discipline, but now lacks a running back duo that vaulted the Penguins into contention last season. That being said, YSU will trot out a running back that is looking to complete a dream that extends back to high school. If the name Tevin McCaster sounds even the slightest familiar, you’ll know that he grew up and attended high school at New Castle.
His dream was to play at Heinz Field and win, as far as the Panthers are concerned, they want to wash that dream away. The most crucial position on any field is the quarterback, and YSU returns a solid one in Hunter Wells. This will be Wells’ second trip to Heinz Field where he started in 2015 and went 19-38 for 274 yards and a single touchdown – which equates to a 119.3 passer rating.
When asked about his team’s performance in 2015, Pelini said, “I watched the film from that game the other day and maybe I want to burn it.” Continuing, “That was probably as bad as a defensive performance as I’ve ever been around in a while.”
That should give you an idea as to where the main emphasis will be focused; and rightfully so given the ultimate state of the Pitt defensive backfield where Wells will look to pick apart the youth that makes up the grand portion of the secondary. In the time since, it is evident that Pelini has cleaned up some portions of the 2015 effort, I mean he did reach the championship in just his second season at the helm.
If Browne’s arm is as solid as advertised, especially on the deep ball with Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson, Pitt can exploit the main weakness of the Penguins as well, their secondary. While they have experience with two seniors at the corner positions, word out of the YSU camp is that they lack proven polish and strong technique that allow for opposing quarterbacks to eat plentifully, when equipped with a ‘full’ playbook. That alone will provide incredible tailgate-talk leading up to kickoff.
YSU will look to flex its muscles at other areas of the defense where they brought in three FBS transfers that have big-stage spotlight experience. Two of the aforementioned players put in time in the Big Ten – or whatever you want to call the conference now-a-days.
In reading plenty of articles online about the match-up, the one I liked the most was from Brian Batko of the PG. In it, he detailed a fun-fact about how similar the Youngstown State defense is to Alabama’s. You read that right.
“It’s funny, it’s the same exact defense,” Browne said with a chuckle.
Wait, the defense that had three first-round NFL draft picks and who knows how many other future pros? Well, no, but Alabama and Youngstown State both employ a coverage called 4-trio, a popular scheme in college football but one “you don’t see every day,” according to Browne.
So while he’s feeling a bit of deja vu preparing for the Penguins as he did for the Tide, Browne’s also trying to get on level footing with his 43 teammates who got a glimpse of Youngstown State as Pitt’s opening foe in 2015.
If you remember far enough back to that game between Browne’s Trojans and the Crimson Tide, it didn’t fare well as Alabama dispatched the Trojans 52-6 in each team’s opener. Well, here’s to hoping for more on the side of Max.
What offense will we employ? Well, I will refer to a previous comment on a prior article in which the commenter believed we will keep the same playbook as last season under Canada before introducing the Shawn Watson wrinkles in Happy Valley for week two.
My overall grade of the Youngstown State Penguins regarding playing a FBS team is a D+. It might take a quarter for the Panthers to get their feet beneath them on offense, but I believe our young defense will be the champion of the game (yep, I said defense). . Despite framing me as a worry-wart about us being able to handily beat the fighting Pelini’s, I am confident Pitt will exceed my early expectations in the match-up and leading us to a 45-17 victory.
Notes – Reed here now:
Thanks Chris – that is a nice write-up and detailed to boot. For our readers; here is another look at the upcoming game via the Post-Gazette in conversation with a sportswriter from the Youngstown Vindicator.
Here is another P-G piece; Brian Batko’s Q&A from yesterday and here’s one that you all know I endorse heartily – and not just at the end of the season.
Matt: Do you think that if the D doesn’t improve this year that Conklin is gone? I have convinced myself that Duzz brought in Partridge as his DC in waiting….
Brian Batko: I hate to speculate on a guy’s job security, but sure, I’d think Conklin would be the first to tell you that his unit needs to improve. So would Pat Narduzzi. Partridge has been praised a ton since getting here, and his bona fides would make you think he could be in line for a bigger role at some point. Linebackers coach Rob Harley is probably a future DC, as well, whether it’s here or elsewhere.
Honestly – if our pass defense, and overall defense, looks anything like last season’s coming out of the Rice game then I say make the move for a new interim DC right then, if not earlier. Remember – the reason for the season is to win the Coastal division. That starts in earnest after we play Rice (with the exception of the GT game a week earlier).
And here is a question and answer that echoes my constant thoughts about this YSU game on Saturday-
Gary77: I think the Youngstown game will be close and possibly an upset. What are YSU’s strengths?
Brian Batko: Experience, in some ways, Gary. Talent, in others. Hunter Wells is a returning starter at quarterback and a senior. Three offensive linemen are returning starters. But there’s a lot more new faces for the Pens on D.
That’s sort of where the talent factor comes in. Narduzzi mentioned that safety Jalyn Powell is a Michigan State transfer, so Pitt’s coach knows him well. There are some other FBS transfers here and there, and probably a few guys who could’ve gone to a higher level out of high school but didn’t, for whatever reason.
As far as positional go, I think YSU’s QB and receivers could give Pitt some headaches.
So along with Chris’ Pitt 45- YSU 17 win he predicted above I’ll add my thoughts also. This true lack of playing time among our Panther defense, combined with the rather poor talent of returning starters in the backfield, really bothers me and I see that as a possible pivot point of the match. If we can hold their passing game down – and that sure isn’t a given based on what we saw last season and with the players we have in the D’s starting lineup – then I see us winning this game.
But I do not see a blowout on Pitt’s behalf because I think we have some concerns on offense also with a new QB, Bookser out, a rsFR at Center, Ollison coming of a down 2016 showing and most of all losing George Aston which could really impact our run and passing games with Aston’s great run blocking and pass protection missing. so… I think it will be closer than others may do.
Pitt 28 – YSU 21 Closer than we’d like. 28-21 YSU if the staff and team look too much forward to Penn State 😉
If one is interested here are the betting lines for the game from oddsshark.com such as they are – basically Pitt is giving away 15.5 points. But here is something interesting from one betting site:
I can’t find anything that is current that says Browne is “probable” for this game. My advise is to revise your predictions if he doesn’t play my friends.
As to the Roundtable or lack of: Well, Mark K. (PittPT) and I had a great and interesting one hour conversation as we were the only ones who showed up at the Call-In… except for our stalwart caller Pitt-Cocks who checked in to say hello then had to tend to his wife who wasn’t feeling well. Talk about up and down! Six callers one week and two the next. Look – if you feel like you shouldn’t call-in to give others a shot don’t do that – call in anyway and we’ll sort it out before recording.
POV’ers!! Please don’t forget to jump on this link over to our Tailgate page and let us know if you’ll be attending the initial POV Tailgate Extravaganza of not. all are welcome, friends and family of course also. BTW – whatever rain we may have in Pittsburgh on Saturday is likely to hit well after the game starts so the pre-game tailgate should be cool at 67* and dry…
Tomorrow we’ll post our season predictions and I’ll include some prediction subsets to make it interesting. Then I’ll tag it with a unique ID tag so that we can check back on it at regular intervals.
Hail to Pitt!! and let’s light up the Cathedral of Learning on Saturday afternoon!
P/S: This is interesting and I believe every word of it. When I visited my Podiatrist the first thing he asked me was “How long were you in the military?”