Breaking it down: UI-Youngstown State

Breaking it down: UI-Youngstown State

Beat writer Matt Daniels goes in-depth on the projected starters for Illinois and Youngstown State

QUARTERBACKS

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

12    Wes Lunt    6-5    225    So.    Rochester

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

3    Dante Nania    6-0    195    Jr.    Greensburg, Pa.

Edge: Illinois. Both signal-callers are making their first start with their respective teams. The buildup for Lunt’s debut with the Illini, which started the moment he transferred to Illinois more than 14 months ago from Oklahoma State, is finally here. How well he handles the expectations, not to mention the Penguins' defense, will finally get put to a test. Chances are Lunt passes the test. Extremely well.   

RUNNING BACKS

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

6    Josh Ferguson    5-10    195    Jr.    Naperville

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

29    Martin Ruiz    5-11    195    So.    Port Tampa, Fla.

Edge: Illinois. The talk of elite Big Ten running backs doesn’t usually include Ferguson. This is the first opportunity for the all-purpose back to show last season’s success wasn’t a fluke. He has two straight games of at least 100 rushing yards and could become first back since Mikel Leshoure hit the mark in five straight games during the 2010 season to extend the streak past two consecutive games. Ruiz, however, is dangerous, after rushing for 1,094 yards and 15 TDs last season.

WIDE RECEIVERS    

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

8    Geronimo Allison    6-4    195    Jr.    Tampa, Fla.

9    Martize Barr    6-0    195    Sr.    Washington, D.C.

19    Justin Hardee    6-1    195    Jr.    Cleveland

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

4    Andre Stubbs    5-7    170    Jr.    Maple Heights, Ohio

2    Christian Bryan    5-10    190    Sr.    Irwin, Pa.

80    Andrew Williams    6-4    190    Jr.    Bowman, S.C.

Edge: Even. Untapped potential in Allison brings about the intrigue of him having a dominating afternoon against the Penguins. Or a nonexistent one. Barr and Hardee are the two veteran wideouts Illinois has, but neither proved last season they are capable of becoming the guy for the Illini. Stubbs, Bryan and Williams, on the other hand, combined for 81 receptions and 1,060 yards in 2013. But they don’t have Lunt throwing the ball to them.

TIGHT ENDS

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

11    Matt LaCosse    6-6    250    Sr.    Naperville

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

44    Nate Adams    6-5    250    Sr.    Newark, Ohio

Edge: Illinois. Jon Davis isn’t listed, but expect the versatile Davis to see just as much, if not more, playing time than LaCosse. LaCosse and Davis have much more confidence going into this season opener based on the productive season the duo had last year (combined 45 catches for 445 yards, 5 TDs). Adams, who played at Newark Catholic, the same high school as Illinois backup QB Chayce Crouch, isn’t a slouch, though. He had 15 catches for 225 yards and four TDs last fall.  

OFFENSIVE LINE

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown

68    Simon Cvijanovic    6-6    310    Sr.    Cleveland

74    Michael Heitz    6-5    310    Sr.    Vermont

52    Alex Hill    6-3    315    Sr.    Slidell, La.

69    Ted Karras    6-4    310    Jr.    Indianapolis

75    Pat Flavin    6-7    300    Jr.    Lisle    

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

55    Trevor Strickland    6-7    300    Jr.    Clyde, Ohio

77    Dylan Colucci    6-6    320    So.    Latrobe, Pa.

65    Stephen Page    6-4    295    Sr.    Newton Falls, Ohio

67    Brock Eisenhuth    6-5    335    So.    Johnstown, Pa.

61    Justin Spencer    6-5    295    Fr.    Indiana, Pa.

Edge: Illinois. Heitz, Cvijanovic, Karras and Hill have all started more games in their respective career than the projected starting five have combined for in their time with the Penguins. The four Illini boast a combined 94 starts between them, with Flavin the only one who hasn’t started. Colucci, Page and Spencer will all start their first game for the Penguins against the Illini, and Strickland, responsible for making sure Nania’s blind side is protected, was a tight end and defensive end during the 2012 season.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

58    Kenny Nelson    6-6    250    Jr.    Detroit

44    Austin Teitsma    6-2    290    Sr.    Glen Ellyn

93    Teko Powell    6-3    305    Jr.    Miami

90    DeJazz Woods    6-3    255    Sr.    Tampa, Fla.    

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

59    Terrell Williams    6-3    250    Jr.    McKeesport, Pa.

92    Octavius Brown    6-0    300    Sr.    Trenton, S.C.

93    Emmanuel Kromah    6-2    280    Jr.    Trenton, N.J.

7    Desmond Williams    6-1    250    Sr.    Compton, Calif.

Edge: If the embattled defensive front for Illinois wants to build confidence and inflate some numbers, this is the game to do so. Going against an inexperienced offensive line like Youngstown State has could lend itself to totals this unit might be hard-pressed to match the rest of the season. Illinois will likely play between eight to 10 guys on the defensive line by the time the final whistle blows. Kromah is one Penguin to watch after he managed four sacks last season.  

LINEBACKERS

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown

43    Mason Monheim    6-1    235    Jr.    Orrville, Ohio

52    T.J. Neal    6-1    235    So.    McKeesport, Pa.

9    Earnest Thomas    6-2    210    Sr.    Orchard Lake, Mich.

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown

22    Dubem Nwadiogbu    6-2    235    Jr.    Lawrenceville, Ga.

40    Jaylin Kelly    6-1    235    So.    Washington, Pa.

91    Mike Palumbo    6-1    230    Fr.    Hermitage, Pa.

Edge: Illinois. The top two returning tacklers for Illinois fall in this group. Thomas is poised for a possible superb season in his move from the secondary to the STAR position he’ll occupy. Monheim isn’t the flashiest of linebackers, but he knows the defense almost better than any other Illini. Neal is making his first start, but just needs to stay steady like he was during training camp. The Penguins are inexperienced at this position, with each making their first start today.

SECONDARY

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown    

2    V’Angelo Bentley    5-10    190    Jr.    Cleveland

21    Zane Petty    6-1    205    Sr.    Corning, Calif.

3    Taylor Barton    6-1    215    So.    Orlando, Fla.

27    Eaton Spence    6-0    185    Jr.    Belle Glade, Fla.

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown

27    Nate Dortch    6-0    170    So.    Fort Myers, Fla.

26    Jameel Smith    6-0    200    So.    Miami

8    Donald D’Alesio    6-0    190    Sr.    Youngstown, Ohio

1    Julius Childs    6-0    180    Sr.    Los Angeles

Edge: Illinois. Spence started every game last season for the Illini, with the other three starting at least five games. Nabbing a few passes from Nania for interceptions would do wonders for the confidence of this group. Bentley and Barton each had one interception last season, but that was it. Keep an eye on Dortch. He’s playing in his first game for the Penguins after spending the past two seasons at Miami before transferring to Youngstown State.

SPECIALISTS

Illinois

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown

17    Taylor Zalewski (kicker)    6-3    220    Jr.    Orland Park

18    Justin DuVernois (punter, holder)    6-1    190    Sr.    Plantation, Fla.

54    Zach Hirth (long snapper)    6-4    220    So.    Eureka, Mo.

2    V’Angelo Bentley (returns)    5-10    190    Jr.    Cleveland

24    Darius Mosely (returns)    5-11    190    So.    O’Fallon

Youngstown State

No.    Name    Ht.    Wt.    Class    Hometown

17    Joey Cejudo (kicker, punter)    6-4    205    Sr.    Chino Hills, Calif.

3    Dante Nania (holder)    6-0    195    Jr.    Greensburg, Pa.

43    Nathan Gibbs (long snapper)    6-1    230    Sr.    Chino Hills, Calif.

21    Sidney Sandidge (kickoff returns)    6-2    205    Fr.    Amherst, Va.

20    Jody Webb (kickoff returns)    5-9    175    So.    Toledo, Ohio

2    Christian Bryan (punt returns)    5-10    185    Sr.    Irwin, Pa.

Edge: Illinois. All Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford has to do is watch film of what Bentley did on a kickoff against Southern Illinois last season. Or on a punt return against Ohio State. If Bentley can find some space in the return game, hold onto your popcorn. Zalewski and DuVernois are veterans. Same for Cejudo, who went 6 of 8 last season in field goal attempts, but missed two from more than 40 yards. This is an area Illinois has improved in under Tim Beckman, and one the Illini hold an advantage in against the Penguins.  

COACHES

Illinois    

Name    At UI        Overall    

Tim Beckman    6-18, 3rd year    27-34, 6th year        

Youngstown State

Eric Wolford    24-21, 5th year    24-21, 5th year

Edge: Illinois. Wolford has coached some superb offensive linemen before at Illinois. Helped the Penguins knock off Pittsburgh during the 2012 season opener. An 8-4 season like the one Youngstown State put together last year doesn’t quite remind Youngstown State fans of the glory days Jim Tressel had. But Beckman is coaching for his job this season. No way he lets his third Illini team lose the program’s first-ever game against an FCS opponent.  

PREDICTION

Illinois 41, Youngstown State 20. Dave Wilson’s single-game passing record is safe. Lunt might top the career-best 416 passing yards Nathan Scheelhaase threw for in last season’s opener against Southern Illinois. If you’re Bill Cubit, though, you want Lunt out of the game and on the bench by, at the very latest, the midway point of the fourth quarter. To rest. Get ready for Western Kentucky. The Illinois offensive coordinator will have his wish granted. Lunt performs admirably in his first start, Ferguson picks up where he left off and the defense, while not exactly inspiring boatloads of confidence, makes the stops when necessary.













  

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