Game Preview: Youngstown State

No. 2 Ohio State kicks off its 2008 football season Saturday by hosting in-state foe Youngstown State Saturday at noon. previews the game with notes on the Penguins' new spread offense, key players to watch and a breakdown of what might happen once the ball is finally in the air kicking off the 2008 campaign.

Youngstown State
Saturday, Aug. 30, Noon
Ohio Stadium (102,329)
TV: Big Ten Network
2007 Record: 7-4, 3-3 Gateway Football Conference (New conference: Missouri Valley Conference)
Head Coach: Jon Heacock, 50-31 at YSU

Last year, Youngstown State didn't make the scoreboard operators do too much during its game against Ohio State in Ohio Stadium. The Penguins finished with just six points and 176 total yards on the way to their season-opening loss to the Buckeyes.

While the Buckeyes return nine starters to the defense that gave such trouble to YSU last year, the Penguins have a new weapon: a no-huddle, spread offense installed for the 2008 campaign.

"We gather that they've gone to a new spread offense, so it's a little bit of a guessing game for us," said Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, himself a former Penguin coach. "We really don't know what they're going to be doing because there's a whole bunch of different kinds of spread … so we're preparing as if they can do it all."

That concern was echoed by Malcolm Jenkins, a Thorpe Award candidate at cornerback who said watching film of last year's game against the Penguins might not help the Buckeyes this time around.

""It's hard because half of the film we watched from last year, they probably won't use this year," he said. "It's kind of hard to really know what to prepare for. We haven't seen what they're going to bring to the table. It's kind of going to be pitch and catch. You just try to do what you can."

Of course, it's a little more in-depth than that, but putting a finger on exactly what the Penguins might do could be tough because of some major personnel losses. The most notable departure comes at quarterback, where the Penguins will be missing Tom Zetts, a four-year starter who owns just about every passing record in school history.

Zetts wasn't a flashy passer – he threw for just seven touchdowns as a senior – but he provided consistency and teams knew what was coming with him under center. Now, there are plenty of options for the Penguins.

Junior Todd Rowan will start, but he has little experience and was backed up in camp by dual-threat signal caller Brandon Summers, a former Toledo Rocket who has Division I starting experience. Versatile wideout Ferlando Williams also lined up as a quarterback in certain instances during 2007, including a number of times against Ohio State, and could reprise that role.

That little bit of spread shown last season could give the Buckeyes a hint of what is to come in 2007.

"They ran it last year a little bit more than we thought they would coming into the game," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "We suspected they they'd be pretty much power, but they ran a lot more spread than I guess maybe we suspected they would. They've got some good quarterbacks, some good running quarterbacks."

After tinkering with the offense during the spring, Youngstown State head coach Jon Heacock, Jim's brother, opened camp pleased with the problems his new offense could pose for opposing teams.

"The coaches have done a good job of paring things down and making it much simpler and being able to make it run faster and more efficient," he said. "I think this offense is going to help create some energy as well because it's a no-huddle, it's fast-paced. The defense is going to have to play faster."

Penguin Players To Know
DT Mychal Savage: The wonderfully named defensive stalwart has made quite the impact at Youngstown State after transferring in from Hargrave Military Academy. The captain was a first-team All-Gateway selection each of the past two seasons and added third-team All-America honors last year when he finished with 43 tackles, 4½ sacks and two fumble recoveries.

"One thing about Mike is he can run, and his burst between here and there is quick," Heacock said of his 6-2, 305-pound senior. "He's probably as good as I've been around."

WR Ferlando Williams: A transfer from Georgia Military College, Williams was Gateway Football's 2007 Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-league selection after excelling at three positions during his junior campaign.

The 6-0, 195-pound senior lined up at quarterback for 103 plays and finished the year 2 for 3 passing for 21 yards. He also ran the ball 74 times for 464 yards and nine touchdowns and caught a team-leading 42 passes for 499 yards and two scores.

When asked by the Youngstown Vindicator where fans can expect him to line up during 2008, he had a simple answer: "Y'all will just have to come out and see for yourself."

QB Todd Rowan: The first-year quarterback has a lot to prove in his initial game under center for the Penguins. He has thrown just two passes in his career, and his last extensive action came in 2004 when he was a second-team All-Ohio selection in Division V for Leavittsburg (Ohio) LaBrae.

That's the bad news. The good news is that, as a redshirt junior, the 6-3, 215-pounder has been in the Penguins' system for four years now. He smart, as evidenced by his place on the Gateway all-academic first team, and he's tough, according to Heacock.

"He's a tremendously tough man," Heacock said. "He's worked hard this summer and he's excited about the opportunity. I think he'll do well. If you know Todd Rowan at all, he's got a great personality and I think he'll handle it. He'll be fine."

Ten of the last 11 Penguin quarterbacks making their initial start have won the game.

TE Derrick Bush: The less highly touted of the Penguin tight ends last season coming into the Horseshoe considering the other was former Buckeye Louis Irizarry, Bush ended up posting the more impressive season. The 6-4, 275-pounder was a second-team All-Gateway selection for the second year in a row after continuing his excellent blocking while catching 30 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown.

Series Top Returnees
Ohio State leads the all-time series 1-0 thanks to a 38-6 victory in Ohio Stadium in last year's season opener.

On the Ohio State side in 2007, Maurice Wells ran for 45 yards on eight carries while Brandon Saine had 42 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Chris Wells was held to 46 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Todd Boeckman threw for 225 yards and two scores while completing 17 of 23 passes. Brian Robiskie caught nine passes for 153 yards while Dane Sanzenbacher and Taurian Washington caught touchdown passes. Defensively, Austin Spitler had seven tackles and a sack while Anderson Russell and James Laurinaitis also had seven stops. Ross Homan notched six tackles as well. Lawrence Wilson had a sack and a half tackle for loss before suffering a broken leg that ended his season.

For Youngstown State, Jabari Scott had 26 yards on nine carries. Versatile threat Ferlando Williams did not catch a pass but had seven rushes for 12 yards and completed his only pass for 5 yards. Da'Michael Horne caught three passes for a team-leading 37 yards while Bush caught two passes for 12 yards. Stephen Blose made a 41-yard field goal. Defensively, linebacker Roshon Simons had 12 tackles while Mychal Savage had six stops, including a half tackle for loss.

Game Breakdown
When Ohio State has the ball: One thing to keep in mind about Youngstown State is that Jon Heacock's side made quite an impression on Ohio State last year even though the Buckeyes racked up more than 400 yards of offense. Robiskie called the Penguins one of the most physical and aggressive teams the Buckeyes played a year ago, a fact that was confirmed by tight end Rory Nicol.

"I can remember they blitzed a fair amount," Nicol said. "They brought some pressure off of the edges that got us a couple of times. I know one thing, they want to stuff the run, and there's going to be one extra body in the box all the time."

The Penguins had success slowing the run a year ago, most notably in slowing Beanie Wells. During the past year, Wells has become known as a player who has quite a fire in his belly. If that's truly the case, he'll want to make up for last season's struggle against the Penguins, after which he told reporters that his head wasn't in the game for whatever reason. Keep in mind that he's a different back – as far as his ability to let the game come to him – than he was last year, when he was dropped in a number of short-yardage situations during which he tried to bull through the line. It's hard not to imagine the big back from Akron ripping off some big runs before giving way to his talented cast of understudies.

Of course, even with Wells having an off day in 2007, the Buckeyes were rarely challenged on the way to a comfortable win. It would be hard to expect anything different this time around. As for the Penguins defense, some talented players return but there are a number of challenges that must be overcome. The team must replace a number of players at key positions such as defensive end, linebacker and safety, and some of the returning starters either were only part-timers in 2007 (all of the cornerbacks) or have been passed on the 2008 depth chart (DT Torrance Nicholson).

When Youngstown State has the ball: It's difficult to predict what the Penguins' offense will be able to bring to the table given that the team is breaking in a new quarterback for the first time in four years. Quarterback Todd Rowan has the full confidence of the coaching staff, but it's hard to expect a player who has made only two passes in his collegiate career to excel against the No. 2 team in the nation. Backup Brandon Summers is a Toledo transfer with some talent who might also get a chance to break down the Buckeyes through the Penguins' new spread. Williams was a hit at the Division I-AA level but didn't do much against the Buckeyes last season. The Penguins would be wise to try to get him away from Malcolm Jenkins, if possible.

Leading the way will be a solid offensive line led by an experienced right side in possible All-America candidate Brad Samsa at center, senior Nhemie Theodore at right guard and four-year starter Tyler Booth, who is returning from a medical redshirt year, at right tackle. Those players will give the Penguins a fighting chance, but it's hard to imagine the team will have much more luck than it did last season when it couldn't top 200 yards of total offense with a four-year starter at quarterback. Unfortunately for Rowan, the skill positions lack proven depth other than Williams and Derrick Bush, especially with top 2007 tailback Kevin Smith not listed on the depth chart. The good news is the work the Buckeyes will get in against the Penguins' spread offense, one of many on the docket in '08, will be invaluable.

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