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Return to Glory: YSU Penguins Ready to Build on 2023 Success

Youngstown State Penguins
© Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Youngstown State Penguins made great strides in reclaiming their past glory in 2023 after returning to the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 2016.

Boasting a top 25 offense and one of the best rushing defenses in the FCS last season, coach Doug Phillips is looking to build off his best season since taking over the Penguins in 2020. The Penguins have improved their win total every year under Phillips and have the potential to compete for national champions on an annual basis like the YSU teams of the 1990s.

Penguins Return to Prominence

Youngstown State demonstrated its potential on a national level in 2023 after finishing the season ranked No. 21 in the FCS Rankings Coaches Poll and ranked No. 19 in the FCS Stats Perform rankings

The Penguins clinched a playoff berth for the first time in seven years after finishing the season 8-5 and a more than respectable 5-3 record in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Penguins lost just once at Stambaugh Stadium last season and set a program record with 245.8 passing yards per game. A record set by program legendary quarterback Ron Jaworski back in 1972. The Penguins scored 40 or more points in six contests, scored 30 or more points in six consecutive games and was No. 16 in scoring, averaging 32 points per game. The Penguin offense finished No. 23 in total offense, averaging 410.2 ypg.

Although the defense allowed nearly 350 yards per game in 2023, the Penguin rushing defense was stout, allowing just 102.2 ypg. The rush defense was ranked No. 10 in the country and was the Penguins lowest ypg average since 1998.

Lost Production

As the Penguins gear up for Spring 2024, they will face significant challenges on the offensive side of the ball with the departure of record-setting quarterback Mitch Davidson.

Davidson's remarkable stats speak for themselves: averaging 237.54 passing yards per game, completing an impressive 69.57 percent of his passes, and boasting a passer rating of 158.31, with 24 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. Davison was was No. 4 in passing yards (3,088) and No. 11 in passing touchdowns and No. 8 in passing efficiency in the FCS.

YSU will also have to find replacements for their top two rushers from the previous season. Tyshon King, who rushed 187 times for 1,038 yards and scored 9 touchdowns, and Dra Rushton, with 682 yards on 163 carries, will be sorely missed.

On the receiving end, the departure of Bryce Oliver leaves a void in the passing game. Oliver's stellar performance last season, with 64 receptions for 978 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 15.28 yards per catch, leaves a significant gap to be filled.

Defensively, the Penguins bid farewell to key contributors in defensive linemen Lee Devin and Dylan Wudke. With Devin and Wudke accounting for 5 and 4 sacks, respectively, their absence will be felt on the defensive line.

Returning Production

While the Penguins face the challenges of replacing key players on both sides of the ball, there are opportunities across various positions for up-and-comers to make their mark on the program.

In the quarterback room, sophomores Beau Brungard, Bryce Schondelmyer and Max Blanc, alongside hometown product Brady Shannon, are ready to compete for the starting role, each bringing their unique skills and determination to the field.

In the backfield, the Penguins look to cultivate talent and depth with redshirt freshman Da'shaun Whatley and sophomore Cephis Harris. While relatively unproven, these young tailbacks possess raw talent and untapped potential, eager to make their mark and contribute to the team's offensive firepower.

On the defensive side, seniors Troy Jakubec and Jaylen Castleberry, aim to build upon their previous performances and lead by example in the secondary. While their individual statistics may not be eye-catching, their experience and leadership qualities will be invaluable in guiding the younger players and elevating the overall defensive unit's performance.

Youngstown State Penguins
© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

2024 Outlook for Penguins

As Youngstown State embarks on the journey ahead, the focus will be on growth and development, both individually and collectively.

With a mix of experienced veterans and emerging talent, including Schondelmyer, the Penguins are poised to embrace the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead, with the ultimate goal of building upon their foundation and achieving success on the gridiron.



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