The two teams have not met since 1981, but ISU has won the last four meetings in the series.
Sept. 4, 2012
PLAYER TO WATCH
Bloomington, Ill., native Darrelynn Dunn had a career day in the 2012 season opener against Dayton at Hancock Stadium. The senior running back set career-highs in carries (25), yards (127) and touchdowns (3) as the Redbirds cruised to a 56-14 victory over the Flyers. The three touchdowns tied the ISU record for rushing touchdowns in an opener and Dunn helped the Redbirds rush for 318 yards on the ground.
Coming off a dominating 56-14 win over Dayton in the 2012 season opener, the No. 18 ranked Illinois State Redbirds will have a tough challenge in front of them when they travel to Ypsilanti, Mich., to face FBS and Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan in a non-conference matchup to be televised live on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
The two teams have met 30 times previously, but have not faced off on the gridiron since 1981. The series is tied 12-12-6, but the Redbirds have won the last four meetings against the Eagles and seven out of the last nine games overall.
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbirds (20-14). In his three seasons at the helm of the program, the Redbirds have amassed a 14-3 record at home and put together three-straight winning seasons for the first time since 1998-2000.
Eastern Michigan: Ron English (California, 1990) is in his fourth season as the head coach at Eastern Michigan (8-29). Last season, English led the Eagles to a 4-4 record in MAC play, snapping a 15-year streak of losing seasons. For his efforts, English was named the MAC Coach of the Year.
- Illinois State was home to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's Defensive Player of the Year each season from 2002-06.
- The Redbirds had at least one player selected in the NFL Draft each year from 2005-07.
- Illinois State was the most improved team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with a multi-year rate APR of 943 following the 2010-11 academic year.
- In each of the past six years, ISU student-athletes have contributed more than 2,000 hours of community service to the Bloomington-Normal area, including a school-record 3,500 hours in 2011-12.
- Redbird student-athletes matched a record with a department-wide 3.15 grade-point average during the fall 2011 semester and spring of 2012, while posting a 3.0 mark in six of the last seven semesters.
THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT
- Eastern Michigan University is located in Ypsilanti, Mich., and has an enrollment of 22,368 students. The Eagles are members of the Mid-American Conference (West) and play their home games at Rynearson Stadium (30,200).
- The Eagles return 17 starters and 44 letterwinners from last year's team that finished with a 6-6 overall record and a 4-4 mark (T-4th) in MAC West play.
- EMU was picked to finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference West Division in the league's annual preseason poll.
- The Eagles had a tough time shutting down the Ball State running attack in the season opener, as EMU fell by a score 37-26 to the Cardinals on the road in Muncie, Ind.
- Senior quarterback Alex Gillett had three touchdown passes and added one rushing TD to lead the way for the Eagles in the defeat. He finished the night 15-of-34 passing for 191 yards and added 81 in rushing yards to lead EMU on the ground.
- The duo of Bryan Pali and Kevin Johnson combined for 33 tackles in the Eagles' loss to the Cardinals last weekend. Pali led the way with 17 stops and added a half tackle-for-loss, while Johnson was right behind with 16 tackles and he also added a half TFL.
TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT
- Eastern Michigan has 14 players from the state of Illinois, while ISU has zero that hail from the wolverine state.
- EMU head coach Ron English was the defensive coordinator at Louisville in 2008, when current ISU athletic director Gary Friedman served as a senior associate athletic director for the Cardinals.
- EMU tight ends coach Tom Burpee was a graduate assistant on the 2008 Louisville staff.
- Wide receivers coach Doug Downing was a football graduate assistant from 1988-1989 at Purdue, where ISU head coach Brock Spack served as the defensive coordinator from 1997-2008.
'BIRDS FLYING HIGH IN POLLS
The Illinois State football team has set up shop in the national polls recently and has little plans of moving out. After heading into the season ranked in both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches Polls in 2012, ISU moved up to No. 18 by The Sports Network in its preseason FCS Top 25 poll and No. 19 in the FCS Coaches Poll following the team's dominating 56-14 victory over Dayton (Sept. 1). The TSN and FCS Coaches Poll are considered the most respected polls in FCS football.
Missouri Valley Football Conference member Youngstown State proved it wasn't a slouch last weekend with an upset win over Pitt and the Redbirds were a point away from knocking off Kansas State to kick off the 2006 season, but FBS opponents have historically given the Redbirds fits. Illinois State is 3-32 all-time against FBS opponents, with the team's last win coming against Akron (25-3) on Sept. 14, 1991. The Redbirds also have wins against Western Michigan (Sept. 12, 1987) and Eastern Michigan (Sept. 19, 1981).
GETTING IT DUNN
Bloomington, Ill., native Darrelynn Dunn felt right at home in the 2012 season-opener at Hancock Stadium and had a career day for the Redbirds in their 56-14 win over the Dayton Flyers (Sept. 1). Dunn set career-highs in carries (25), yards (127) and touchdowns (3) against the Flyers to pace a Redbird rushing attack that amassed 318 yards on the ground on the day. The three touchdowns scored tied the ISU record for individual rushing touchdowns in an opener and the three touchdowns scored are the most for a Redbird player, since Ashton Leggett rushed for four touchdowns against Missouri State on Oct. 15, 2010.
LIKE RUNNING INTO A BRICK WALL
The Illinois State defense was No. 5 in the country last season in rushing yards allowed per game with just over 85 yards given up per game to its opponents. It looks as if the 2012 defense is going to be as equally stingy, as the Redbirds allowed just 54 yards rushing to the Flyers in the season opener (Sept. 1). Dayton averaged just two yards per carry and lost 23 yards rushing on five tackles for loss by the Redbirds.
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The friendly confines of Hancock Stadium have treated Illinois State extremely well over the past four seasons with head coach Brock Spack at the helm of the program. With ISU's 56-14 win over Dayton (Sept. 1), the Redbirds improved to 15-3 at Hancock Stadium under Spack and have won nine out of their last 10 games at home, dating back to 2010. The `Birds have also been victorious in their home-opener the past four seasons.
BIG RESULTS IN OPENERS WITH THE PFL
The Redbirds racked up 501 yards of total offense, including 318 on the ground, and put up 56 points in its season-opening victory over Pioneer Football League foe Dayton (Sept. 1). The 56 points scored in the season opener were the most for the Redbirds since 2005, when they scored the same number against Drake, also a member of the PFL.
Illinois State tailbacks Darrelynn Dunn and Cameron Hunt each had career days in the season-opening victory over Dayton (Sept. 1). Dunn set career-highs in carries (25), yards (127) and touchdowns (3) and
Hunt also set personal bests on the ground, totaling 120 yards on 14 carries, which included an 82-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that tied for the fifth longest in school-history. It marked the first time the Redbirds had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since Oct. 16, 2010, when Ashton Leggett and Erik Smith both achieved the feat against North Dakota State.
Sophomore Lechein Neblett had several quality games for the Redbirds last season as a redshirt freshman and earned his way onto the Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer Team by recording 39 catches for 358 yards. However, Neblett took his performance to a whole new level in the season-opening win over Dayton (Sept. 1), when he caught the first two touchdown passes of his career. Neblett's eight-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and his 14-yard scoring grab from quarterback Matt Brown in the second quarter were the first two scoring plays of his promising career.
The Illinois State football team has shown an affinity for blocking kicks the past four seasons, and that trend stayed true and produced points in the team's season-opening win over Dayton (Sept. 1). With just under six minutes remaining in the game, sophomore defensive back Dontae McCoy blocked a punt for the first time in his career and redshirt freshman Pat Meehan scooped it up and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown. It marked the first blocked punt return for a touchdown since 2010, when Jake Detmers returned one two yards vs. Youngstown State (Nov. 6).
I LIKE TO COMPLETE
Illinois State senior quarterback Matt Brown headed into the 2012 season with just about every passing record in ISU history in near sight. The closest of those records was the school's completion record, which he needed just nine completions against Dayton to set the record. Brown completed his first five passes of the day against the Flyers and broke the school record completion with a completion to running back Darrelynn Dunn. It was the 664th completion of his career, breaking the previous program record held by Kevin Glenn (663). Brown finished the game with 22 completions, giving him 677 in his career.
LITTLE CONCERN HERE
Heading into the season, one of the biggest concerns for the Redbirds was how they were going to replace their entire starting offensive line after the graduation of five seniors from last year's team. After the first game against Dayton (Sept. 1), it seems like those concerns may have been eased as the newly formed line of Josh Aladenoye, Mike Liedtke, Pete Cary, Rocco Ammons and Jermaine Barton played extremely well against the Flyers. The group did not allow a sack in the game and helped Darrelynn Dunn and Cameron Hunt each rush for over 100 yards on the ground, as ISU totaled 318 yards rushing and amassed 510 yards of total offense in the victory.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
ISU's season opening victory over Dayton (Sept. 1) featured several strong debuts from players suiting up in a Redbird uniform for the first time. Phil Dudley, a former Ball State wide receiver, had two catches
for 26 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put ISU up 14-0. True freshman Marshaun Coprich ripped off a 22-yard run on his first career carry and finished with 30 yards overall and redshirt freshmen Will Davis and Pat Meehan each recorded a half tackle for loss in the Redbirds' victory.
AN INFLUX OF TALENT
Since 1993, when the NCAA rules changed to allow FBS transfers immediate eligibility at the FCS level, Illinois State has had 80 players transfer from FBS schools. ISU's FBS transfers on this year's roster include: Josh Aladenoye (Oklahoma), Brian Athey (West Virginia), Marlion Barnett (Washington), Jermaine Barton (Miami), Dominic Clarke (Ohio State), Milton Colbert (Michigan State), Phil Dudley (Ball State), Evan Frierson (Illinois), Shelby Harris (Wisconsin), Mike Liedtke (Western Michigan), Matt Meyers (Iowa), Jonathon Miller (Oklahoma), Nate Palmer (Illinois), Adam Pittser (Wyoming), Adam Rebholz (Illinois), Albert Sparks (Buffalo), Ezra Thompson (Colorado State) and Anthony Williams (Illinois).
LOGJAM IN THE VALLEY
A year after finishing third place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Illinois State football team was selected fourth in the 2012 MVFC Preseason Poll. Defending FCS national champion and co-league champion North Dakota State received the top spot, earning 37 of 38 first-place votes, in the annual poll conducted by league coaches, media and sports information directors. Northern Iowa, which shared the league crown with the Bison last year, was second with 300 points, followed closely by Youngstown State in third (291) and the Redbirds in fourth (287).
REDBIRDS RECOGNIZED EARLY
Despite the team being selected fourth in the 2012 preseason poll, the Redbirds received four 2012 MVFC Preseason Team selections in the annual vote. Senior wide receiver Tyrone Walker, senior linebacker Evan Frierson, senior defensive end Nate Palmer and junior fullback Jordan Neukirch were among 27 MVFC student-athletes listed on the preseason lineup. In addition, senior quarterback Matt Brown was tabbed as a preseason honorable mention selection, signifying he received at least five votes on the ballots submitted.
SMILE, YOU'RE ON CAMERA
Illinois State will have six of its 11 regular-season games distributed by national and regional television outlets, the most in the history of the program. With four broadcasts slated to be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the Redbirds will also appear for the third time on ESPN3.com, as part of an agreement with the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and once on Mediacom, as part of the MVFC Television package.
REDBIRDS NEVER FORGET
For the 38 letterwinners and 13 starters that return for the Redbirds from last season's team, the disappointment from not making the FCS playoffs last season lingers. With Illinois State's 31-7 win over in-state rival Western Illinois (Nov. 5) at Hancock Stadium, the Redbirds picked up their seventh win of the season, the most for the team since they went 9-4 in 2006 on way to a FCS playoff berth and a win in the first round. However, the double overtime loss to UNI in the season finale cost the Redbirds a spot in the playoffs, something they hope does not play out again in 2012.
MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
Each of the four losses for Illinois State was tough to swallow, but the margin of defeat in each of those losses may be even more difficult to comprehend. The Redbirds lost their four contest last season by a combined total of 27 points, with the largest defeat coming by 10 points to the eventual national champion North Dakota State Bison on the road. ISU fell by seven points to Eastern Illinois and Youngstown State and only lost by three points to Northern Iowa in double overtime in the season finale. If one more of those games would have gone the Redbirds' ways, they would have certainly secured a spot in the FCS playoffs for the fourth time in school history.
THIRD TIME IS A CHARM
Illinois State finished the 2012 season with a 7-4 record, marking the team's third-straight winning season. The Redbirds had not put a string of winning seasons together like that since for the first time since 1998-2000, when they made a pair of FCS playoff appearances and won the 1999 Gateway (now Missouri Valley Football) Conference championship.
OFF TO A GREAT START
Fourth-year head coach Brock Spack wanted to make Illinois State a consistent winner when he took over the program, and that is just what he has done. With a 7-4 record in 2011, Spack became the first Redbird head coach to guide his team to three-consecutive winning seasons since Edwin Struck led the Redbirds to six-straight winning seasons from 1945-1950.
FROM WORST TO FIRST
Heading into the 2011 season, ISU head coach Brock Spack challenged his defense to improve its conference and national rankings that ranked near the bottom of both lists. After finishing the 2010 season with a defense that ranked No. 112 out of 117 teams (446.27 ypg), the 2011 Redbird defense finished the season No. 9 out of 120 teams (294.82 ypg). The Redbirds also finished as the best defense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, leading the conference in total defense with 294.8 yards per game given up to opponents.