ARE YOU READY?! We're just days away from Illini Football and that means it's time for Behind Enemy Lines. Now, Youngstown State doesn't have a SBNation blog so I had to do a bit of research in order to find a willing participant.
Today we're joined by Joe Scalzo, the writer of "Penguin Insider" for Vindy.com. Now for this week's questions:
1. Youngstown State is coming off an 8-4 season, but they've lost 9 starters from that team. What are your expectations for the 2014 season?
I think an 8-4, 7-5 type season is plausible. It's hard to get a good read on this year's team because so many of the players are new, but the Penguins are at the point where they shouldn't ever finish in the bottom half of their conference. Are they good enough to compete for a league title? Probably not.
2. What kind of offense do the Penguins run? Up-tempo, balanced, air-it-out, etc-what should our defense expect?
They've been very multiple in the past -- anything from two tight ends to I-formation to four or five wideouts -- but it's a spread offense at its core. The starting quarterback, Dante Nania, is a decent dual threat, so you'll see a little bit of option and zone read mixed in. The head coach, Eric Wolford, is a former offensive lineman and a former offensive line coach (as I'm sure many Illinois fans know), so it's definitely a run-first spread. Most of Nania's passes will either be quick reads or come off play-action.
3. Staying with the offense, which players should Illini fans be looking out for?
The offense's best player is running back Martin Ruiz, who was the conference's freshman of the year and newcomer of the year last season. His backup, Jody Webb, is also very talented. The offense's strength is in the running game. The top wide receiver will be Jelani Berassa, who tore his ACL two years ago and is finally healthy again.
4. What about players on defense?
Honestly, it's hard to say at this point. Last year's defense was pretty bad, particularly against the run, and there are a lot of new players on that side. One guy who has impressed me is cornerback Kenneth Durden, who transferred from South Florida after getting kicked off the team for marijuana possession. There's a lot of athleticism on the roster but YSU hasn't really had many defensive playmakers in Eric Wolford's four-year tenure.
5. Do you have any other information to offer on YSU?
It's going to be an interesting year. Wolford hasn't yet made the playoffs and that doesn't sit well with this fan base. Plus, Jim Tressel is now the school's president, which kind of serves as a reminder of the team's glory days from the 1990s. On paper, this doesn't look like a playoff team, but I'm prepared for just about anything to happen.
6. What's your prediction for this first ever meeting between the two schools?
I think the Penguins will lose by a couple touchdowns, but they should keep it competitive. They were able to upset Pitt two years ago (albeit with a much more experienced team) and I think Illinois is probably a comparable team to Pitt. YSU got blasted by Michigan State last year, but that was (obviously) a pretty good MSU team. If nothing else, YSU-Illinois should be closer than that.
Thanks again to Joe for taking the time to answer our questions!