PLAYER TO WATCH
Senior free safety Ben Ericksen was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week, following his stellar defensive performance in ISU's 31-14 upset win at Eastern Michigan last Saturday. The Greendale, Wis., native recorded the first two interceptions of his career and broke up another pass that was intercepted by Mike Zimmer. He also named one of five players selected as a College Sporting News All-Star for his performance against the Eagles last week.
Off to its first 2-0 start for the first time since 1999, No. 15 ranked Illinois State (2-0) returns home to face its longtime in-state rival Eastern Illinois (1-1) in the Mid-America Classic Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
Today's game renews the oldest FCS football rivalry in the State of Illinois and the 13th-oldest at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level. ISU and EIU have played 100 times, with the first game being played in 1901. The Redbirds have won seven of the last ten games against the Panthers and lead the series, 51-40-9.
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbirds (21-14). 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 Illinois: Dino Babers (Hawaii, 1984) is in his first season as the head coach at Eastern Illinois (1-1). A longtime assistant at several FBS programs, Babers most recently worked as the wide receivers and special teams coach at Baylor, where he worked closely with 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
- 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 Illinois University is located in Charleston, Ill., and has an enrollment of 11,178 students. The Panthers are members of the Ohio Valley Conference and play their home games at O'Brien Field (10,000).
- The Panthers return 19 starters and 42 letterwinners from last year's team that finished with a 2-9 overall record and a 1-7 mark (8th) in OVC play.
- Western Michigan scored 28 unanswered points in the second quarter, as the Broncos pulled away from Eastern Illinois last Saturday for a 52-21 victory. EIU had knotted the score at 14-14 in the first quarter, when junior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hit Chris Wright for an 18-yard touchdown pass, but the second quarter barrage did in the Panthers.
- Garoppolo, who started all 11 games at quarterback for the Panthers last season, moved into fifth placed on the EIU career passing charts, going 15-of-32 for 225 yards last week at Western Michigan. He leads the EIU offense 596 yards passing and six touchdown passes through the team's first two games.
- Junior wide receiver Erik Lora has also been an offensive threat for the Panthers, with two-straight 100-yard receiving games to start the season and 115 yards on five receptions against the Broncos last week. On the season, he leads EIU with 18 catches for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
- The Panthers are led on defense by junior safety Nick Beard, who leads the team with 21 total tackles with a fumble recovery, forced fumble and three pass breakups. Beard is one of seven EIU players with at least 10 tackles through the first two games.
TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT
- Illinois State head coach Brock Spack spent time as an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois under legendary EIU head coach Bob Spoo. From 1987-90, Spack roamed the sidelines in Charleston for Spoo, a fellow Purdue alum, before moving on to become an assistant coach at his alma mater in 1991.
- While a member of the staff in 1987, Spack worked with current EIU head coach Dino Babers when he was an assistant coach with the team. Spack and Babers also worked together later at Purdue from 1991-93.
- EIU defensive tackles coach Dino Kaklis played football at Purdue from 1992-1995, where Spack served as an assistant coach during that time and later as defensive coordinator from 1997-2008.
- Mary Wallace, EIU's assistant athletics director/senior woman administrator, used to be the throws coach at Illinois State.
- ISU President Dr. Al Bowman earned his master's degree in speech-language pathology from EIU.
- ISU's Brandon Westphal and EIU's Alex McNulty and Roosevelt Holliday were all high school teammates at Bolingbrook High School in Bolingbrook, Ill.
- ISU's Rocco Ammons and Will Davis and EIU's Joe Hall and Jason Schuman were high school teammates at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Ill.
- EIU defensive end Pat Wertz transferred to EIU from ISU in the summer of 2010
DOWNING THE OVC
As of late, the Redbirds have been "naughty by nature" when facing members of the Ohio Valley Conference. Illinois State has won 13 of its last 16 games against members of the OVC, including five-straight wins against Murray State and seven out of the last ten versus Eastern Illinois.
PRESSURE UP FRONT
The Illinois State defensive front was considered one of the team's strengths heading into the season, and they proved that they are a group to be contended with against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8). The Redbirds defensive linemen consistently controlled the line of scrimmage and helped the Redbird defense force five turnovers against the Eagles. Senior defensive end Nate Palmer, junior end Colton Underwood and junior defensive tackle Shelby Harris combined for 20 tackles, two sacks and five quarterback hurries. The duo also forced EMU quarterback Alex Gillett into some bad throws and he was intercepted three times in the game.
'BIRDS FLYING HIGH IN THE 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 was ranked No. 15 by The Sports Network in its FCS Top 25 poll and moved up to No. 17 in the FCS Coaches Poll following the team's 31-14 upset victory at Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8). The TSN and FCS Coaches Poll are considered the most respected polls in FCS football.
TALES OF A 111-YEAR RIVALRY
- Oct. 27, 1906 - Illinois State's six-hour bus drive to Charleston, Ill., was only made worse by an 11-6 defeat.
- Nov. 3, 1915 - Both teams fumbled inside each other's 10-yard line in this 0-0 game played at EIU.
- Nov. 11, 1916 - EIU visited Normal, Ill., for the first ever Homecoming game on Illinois State's campus. ISU scored its only points on a 45-yard blocked punt by Ritter in a 24-7 loss.
- Nov. 5, 1921 - ISU rolled to a 42-3 victory in its Homecoming game, as five different ISU players scored a touchdown (Brown, Stewart, Clark, Jensen, Frkyman).
- Nov. 14, 1959 - Illinois State linemen wear gloves for the first time on a snowy, icy day, as Dave Babcock scored the only Illinois State touchdown in a 6-6 tie.
- Sept. 30, 1961 - Illinois State's Keith Reiger's touchdown pass to Bill Monken "probably set an IIAC record for the shortest TD pass: 18 inches" in the Redbirds' 18-0 win.
- Sept. 29, 1962 - Paul Whitmore's 91-yard punt return was the only score in this 6-0 Redbird victory. It still remains the longest punt return for a touchdown in Illinois State history.
- Oct. 10, 1981 - ISU reserve Andy Fladung came off the bench to intercept a school-record four passes in the Redbirds' 25-3 win.
- Sept. 16, 2006 - Marked the first time in the history of the Illinois State-Eastern Illinois series where both teams were nationally ranked. The Redbirds entered the game No. 7 and Panthers were ranked No. 18. ISU trailed, 10-0, after the first quarter, but a 23-point second quarter put the 'Birds in control of a 44-30 win. Pierre Jackson had a career-high 132 receiving yards on six catches.
- Nov. 25, 2006 - Two months after facing each other in the regular season, ISU and EIU met each other in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Division I FCS Playoffs. ISU's Jason Tate (41 yards) and Jesse Caesar (45 yards) each return interceptions for touchdowns in the 24-13 Redbird win.
FBS WOES NO MORE
Heading into Illinois State's game against FBS foe Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8), the Redbirds had lost their last 20 games in a row against FBS opponents. However, the Redbirds finally broke the winless streak with a 31-14 victory over the Eagles to pick up their first win over an FBS foe since defeating Akron, 25-3, on Sept. 14, 1991.
WE'LL TAKE THAT
Redbird head coach Brock Spack is always preaching the importance of forcing turnovers on defense and he was definitely pleased with his team's performance in that category against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8). The Redbirds forced a season-high five turnovers, with three interceptions and a pair of fumbles forced and recovered. Senior safety Ben Ericksen led the way with two interceptions and knocked down a pass that turned into another interception by senior middle linebacker Mike Zimmer. Senior linebacker Evan Frierson also caused a fumble, when he sacked EMU quarterback Alex Gillett and Shelby Harris forced another fumble earlier in the game. The five turnovers are the most for the Redbirds since Sept. 9, 2009, when ISU had six in a victory over Austin Peay (4 INT, 2 FF).
GETTING IT DUNN
Darrelynn Dunn has embraced his role as the starting running back and put up a pair of impressive performances in the first two games for the Redbirds. Dunn had a career day in the 56-14 season-opening 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 Bloomington, Ill., native followed that up by rushing for a career-high 129 yards against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8), and he scored two more touchdowns.
As the two teams headed into the locker room at halftime, the momentum was squarely with Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8) against Illinois State as they held a score of 14-10. However, the halftime adjustments made by the Redbirds turned the tide of the game and led the Redbirds to their first victory over a FBS school since 1991. ISU scored 21 unanswered points in the final two quarters of play and scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half. The Redbirds forced three-straight punts from the Eagles to start the third quarter and that led to a dominating performance that saw the Redbirds hold the Eagles to just three first downs, 22 yards passing and 54 yards rushing over the final two quarters.
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 Dayton in the season opener (Sept. 1) and 103 to FBS foe Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8). ISU is giving up just 68.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks No. 10 overall in the country in that category.
MILLER MAKES AN IMPACT
It didn't take long for junior transfer running back Jonathon Miller to make an immediate impact in his first game for the Redbirds. The Oklahoma transfer, who missed most of the preseason and the first game due to a shoulder injury, scored a 58-yard touchdown on his second carry of the game and finished the day with 81 yards on nine carries in the 31-14 upset win at Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8). Miller's first carry went for eight yards and picked up a first down for ISU and his second came on the next play, when he broke a 58-yard touchdown run to put the Redbirds up 7-0 early in the first quarter. For his efforts, Miller was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week.
Senior Ben Ericksen has been a consistent contributor throughout his career with the Redbirds and he seems to have finally found a home in the ISU secondary. In just his second season playing safety, Ericksen has shown he is a threat in space and proved that with a stellar defensive performance at Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8). The Greendale, Ill., native came up big by intercepting the first two passes of his career and he broke up another that was eventually hauled in by Mike Zimmer for another interception. He also added four tackles in the victory and earned Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts against the Eagles.
NEXT MAN UP
Injuries are a part of the game in football and the Redbirds had to find a new outside linebacker against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8), after senior Austin Davis broke his thumb earlier in the week in practice. Taking advantage of an opportunity, redshirt freshman Alex Donnelly made the most of his chance and finished the game with three tackles and a half TFL in his first career start.
Last season, the Illinois State defense found it hard to intercept opposing quarterbacks and the Redbirds finished the season with just three interceptions in 11 games. This season, it seems the Redbirds may find it easier to pick off passes, as they tied the entire 2011 total in just one game with three against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8) in a 31-14 dominating defensive win. Senior safety Ben Ericksen picked off a pair of Alex Gillett passes in the game and Mike Zimmer corralled the other interception, after Ericksen broke up a pass and tipped it to him.
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.