Spring Report #11: Offense and Defense Shine in Blustery Conditions
April 11, 2008
NORMAL, Ill. - While the calendar may read April 11, don't tell that to the Illinois State football team. The Redbirds participated in a 100-play scrimmage during spring drills Friday afternoon on the Hancock Stadium turf in conditions that were more similar to a late-November day in central Illinois: blustery winds out of the west blowing up to 25 miles per hour, and a wind chill that was in the mid-30s.
Despite the weather conditions, the Redbirds were solid all-around during their 11th practice of the spring season, as the day featured several strong individual performances on both sides of the ball.
"I was very pleased with (Friday's) practice," said Illinois State head coach Denver Johnson. "There was a stretch during practice where I thought that the offense was dominating the scrimmage, and then the defense took control of the game. The practice had an ebb-and-flow to it from both sides of the ball, which was good to see. You want both sides of the ball be strong and competitive throughout practice."
Senior tailback Parrish Fisher had a standout performance in the Redbird backfield, as he rushed for two touchdowns during the scrimmage, both off of handoffs from quarterback Preston Earl. Early on in the scrimmage, with the ISU offense taking snaps from its own 15-yard line, Fisher broke through the middle for an 85-yard touchdown. After the line of scrimmage was moved to the opponents' 40-yard line, Fisher again broke through the Redbird defense, this time on the left side, for a 40-yard score.
While the Redbird running game dominated the scrimmage early on, Illinois State's quarterbacks struggled to maintain their control in the stiff wind. The quartet of Earl (5-for-8), senior Kevin Brockway (2-for-8) and redshirt-freshmen Drew Kiel (6-for-13) and Sam Donatucci (1-for-1) completed just 14 of the 30 passes (47 percent) that they attempted during the scrimmage.
Despite their low percentage of completions, the Redbird quarterbacks did make some noise of their own on the day, especially in the air. After his first six passes were incomplete, Brockway finally connected with a receiver, as his pass to junior wide receiver Eyad Salem up the middle cleared the defense for a touchdown. Earlier in the scrimmage, Salem made another great catch up the middle, this time from the arm of Earl.
Around the midway point of practice, the momentum shifted, as Illinois State's defense started taking control. The Redbirds recorded five sacks on the day, two of which came from defensive end Ray Sankey. Brockway was sacked twice, while both Earl and Kiel were each brought down once behind the line of scrimmage.
Another defensive highlight came by way of the duo of linebackers Kyle Siskowic and Tommie Westbrook. Siskowic forced the ball out of Kiel's hands just as the Redbird quarterback was about to make a pass, and then Westbrook picked up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone for a defensive touchdown for ISU.
Friday's practice started with the Redbird kickers getting some work in on point-after attempts, field goals and punts. In the extra-point session, senior Kevin Mazur and sophomore Steven Fetzer were both 3-for-3. Moving the ball back to the 22-yard line for the field-goal drill, Fetzer was 3-for-5 in his attempts, while Fazur managed to put two of his four kicks through the uprights.
The following period focused on the ISU punters. With the strong wind to his back, Bobby Kelsey averaged 52.7 yards per punt, including a perfectly-placed ball on the defense's 2-yard line on his first kick. Levi Dyer followed suit with a 51.7 yards per kick average in three punts, while Mazur averaged 44.0 yards.
Due to inclement weather that is expected in the Bloomington-Normal, Ill., area this weekend, the Redbirds have called off their originally-scheduled Saturday and Sunday practices and will now return to practice Tuesday.