Wildcats hope to freeze Penguins in game three


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) hands the ball off to running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) during the No. 20 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Florida football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. UK won 26-16. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Fresh off the heels of a win over then No. 12 Florida in Gainesville, now No. 9 Kentucky sets its sights on its annual FCS opponent with this year’s sacrificial lamb being the Youngstown State Penguins.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has scheduled at least one FCS opponent every year of his tenure at UK, dating back to 2013, with a single exception of the 2020 Covid-19 conference-only season.

While Wildcat fans may be used to the likes of Tennessee Martin, Eastern Kentucky and most recently Chattanooga, Youngstown State is a team Kentucky has never played during the entire history of either program.

The matchup is not one born out of proximity like those before it, but rather one of personal connection with both Stoops and associate head coach Vince Marrow hailing from Youngstown, Ohio.

While a fun matchup for personal reasons, there is little doubt in the minds of the masses that the Penguins are merely fodder for Stoops’ team to develop.

Finishing last season 3-7 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC), Youngstown States only managed to defeat Incarnate Word and upset both Southern Illinois and Missouri State, both of whom eventually made the FCS playoffs, though neither managed to get any farther than the second round.

This season the Penguins have started 2-0, conquering Duquesne 31-14 and Dayton 49-16, the former of which has yet to defeat a Division-1 team through three games.
Youngstown State starting quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw is currently averaging 192 passing yards per game with a total of 384, going 25-46 from the field with five touchdowns.

Crenshaw also has displayed a willingness with the ball, not too dissimilar from Kentucky starting quarterback Will Levis, with the Penguin starter having attempted 19 rushes for 71 gained yards, though unlike Levis he tends not to succeed, with an average of just 2.9 yards per carry. That said, Crenshaw has recorded a rushing touchdown, one of only two rushers to do so.

Looking at true rushers, the Penguins have relied mostly on Jaleel McLaughlin, who has attempted 33 rushes for 338 gained yards, nearly tying that of total passing yards, with an average of 10 yards per carry. He has also ran four touchdowns into the endzone.

McLaughlin has also shown an ability to receive the rock, catching three passes for 61 yards and a touchdown, an average of 20.3 yards per reception.
Though he doesn’t quite amass McLaughlin numbers, the Penguins have also put a lot of faith into Dra Rushton, who has attempted 16 rushes for 114 gained yards, an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

On the receiving end, Bryce Oliver has emerged as a favorite target of Crenshaw, catching 10 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, while Max Tomczak has amassed five receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown.

All in all Youngstown currently averages 40 points per game in the 2022 season, a little more than Kentucky’s current average of 31.5 points per game, though the competition level has been quite different.

Allowing 15 points per game, Youngstown State’s defense has secured five sacks for a total of 23 yards, something Kentucky may have to watch out for with the offensive line struggling at times this season.

One other factor that may hinder Kentucky is that Youngstown State has only allowed an average of 53 rushing yards against them, a poor sign for a Wildcat running back room that has failed to establish itself in the absence of starting back Chris Rodriguez Jr.

On the plus side, Youngstown has allowed an average of 204 passing yards against it, a good sign for a Kentucky offense built around Levis and his arm strength.

All in all, even with Youngstown’s somewhat favorable statistics, the level of competition has to be taken into account and the success of the Penguins has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Better FCS teams than Youngstown have fallen prey to worse FBS teams than Kentucky, though the Wildcats’ 2021 matchup with Chattanooga may have inspired hope in the Penguins that anything is possible.

Kentucky and Youngstown State are scheduled to tip-off at noon EST on Saturday, Sept. 17, with the game airing live on the SEC Network.