Redbirds Open Valley Football Play on the Road at YSU
Eric Brunner

Eric Brunner

Sept. 13, 2011

 Illinois State (1-1, 0-0 MVFC) at Youngstown State (1-1, 0-0 MVFC) | Youngstown, Ohio
 Date  Saturday, Sept. 17
 Location
 Youngstown, Ohio
 Kickoff
 3:00 p.m. CT
 Stadium
 Stambaugh Stadium
 Stadium Capacity
 20,630
 Radio  WJBC 1230 AM, FM 93.7 (Dick Luedke - Play-by-Play | Ted Schmitz - Analyst)
 Live Stats  YSU Live Stats
 Game Notes  Illinois State | Youngstown State | Missouri Valley Football Conference

PLAYER TO WATCH
Senior defensive tackle Eric Brunner was a force in the middle of the Redbird defense last Saturday night in the team's win 52-21 win over Morehead State. The Greendale, Wis., native set a new career high with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and tied a career best with two sacks against the Eagles. Brunner finished the game with seven tackles in all and was also credited with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry.

THE GAME
Illinois State (1-1) will open the Missouri Valley Football Conference portion of its 2011 schedule, when the Redbirds head to Youngstown, Ohio, to face off against the Youngstown State (1-1) at the Ice Castle. Both teams are coming off decisive victories last week and will be looking to get off to good start in MVFC play.

THE SERIES
The Redbirds and the Penguins will face off for the 21st time, with the all-time series knotted at 10-10 all time. ISU evened up the series with a dramatic, come-from-behind 41-39 win in the conference finale over YSU in 2010. In all, 11 games in the series have been decided by seven points or less and ISU is 4-6 in games played in Youngstown.

THE COACHES
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his third season as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbirds (13-11). With ISU's 27-23 win over Eastern Illinois in the 2010 season finale, the Redbird coaching staff led by head coach Spack became the first staff at ISU to post back-to-back winning seasons in its first two seasons at the helm in over 60 years.

Head Coach Brock Spack | ISU Coaching Staff

Youngstown State: Eric Wolford (Kansas State, 1994) is in his second season as the head coach at Youngstown State (4-9). Prior to taking over at YSU, Wolford, a Youngstown native, spent the 2009 season as the running-game coordinator and offensive line coach at South Carolina working under legendary head coach Steve Spurrier.

THE PROGRAM

  • 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.
  • In each of the past five 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 2009-10.
  • Redbird student-athletes matched a record with a department-wide 3.13 grade-point average during the fall 2009 semester, while posting a 3.0 mark in six of the last seven semesters.

THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • Youngstown State University is located in Youngstown, Ohio, and has an enrollment of 15,194 students. The Penguins are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and play their home games at the Stambaugh Stadium (20,630).
  • The Penguins return 40 letterwinners and 15 starters from last year's team that finished with an 3-8 overall record and a 1-7 mark in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
  • The Youngstown State offense had a record-setting performance last weekend in a 77-13 rout over Valparaiso in the 2011 home opener. The Penguins set school records for points scored (77), margin of victory (64 points), points in a quarter (35 in the first), points in a half (63 in the first), total offensive yards (657), touchdowns scored (11), extra points (11), rushing touchdowns (eight, tied the record) and touchdowns in a quarter (five in the first).
  • Junior tailback Jamaine Cook leads a balanced rushing attack for the Penguins. Cook has rushed for 202 yards on 32 carries and scored two touchdowns in the team's first two games. However, he has a lot of help as Jordan Thompson had 10 and nine-yard touchdowns on the ground, Adaris Bellamy scored on 34 and 13 runs, Torrian Pace had a 13-yard score and Parnell Taylor found the end zone on a two-yard carry last weekend against Valparaiso.
  • The YSU defense is a balanced one, with three players having at least 12 tackles on the season. John Sasson leads the way with 17 total stops, with Jeremey Edwards right behind with 14 tackles. Josh Garner currently ranks third with 12 tackles.

TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • Pete Cary (Turpin H.S.) and Youngstown State's Jordon Thompson (Lakota West H.S.) and David Hampton (Winton Woods H.S.) are all from Cincinnati, although they went to different high schools.
  • Otis Merrill (Glenville H.S.) and Youngstown State's Jamaine Cook (Midpark H.S.) and Santiago Mason (Warren Harding H.S.) are all from Cleveland, although they went to different high schools.
  • ISU offensive line coach George Barnett and Youngstown State head coach Eric Wolford, defensive line coach Tom Sims and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo all spent time as coaches at Illinois. Barnett served as a graduate assistant coach for the offensive line in 2004, while Wolford was the run-game coordinator and offensive line coach during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
  • Youngstown State Assistant Media Relations Director Jamie Hall worked as a graduate assistant in the Illinois State Athletics Media Relations Office in the mid-1990s. Hall received his master's degree from ISU in 1996.
  • Current Illinois State graduate assistant D.J. Haurin is a Youngstown native.

LIKE RUNNING INTO A BRICK WALL
Opponents have found it very difficult to get anything going in the running game against the Redbird defense through the first two games of the season. The Redbirds have allowed just 15 rushing yards to opponents in 2011, thanks in part to a -48 rushing performance by Morehead State last week. With a rushing defense average of 7.5 yards-per-game, the Redbirds currently rank No. 1 in FCS football in that category.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED???
Youngstown State fans in attendance at last year's conference finale at Hancock Stadium may still be asking that question, after Matt Brown led the team on a three-play, 69-yard scoring drive with just 22 seconds on the clock to pick up the 41-39 win over the Penguins. Brown was sacked for a four-yard loss on the first play of the drive and then found Marvon Sanders for a 33-yard catch that put the ball at the YSU 40 yard line with just eight seconds left. Following a timeout, Brown aired out a 40-yard strike that found Tyrone Walker in the end zone for the game winner with less than a second left on the clock.

SACK MASTERS
The 2010 Illinois State defense recorded just 12 sacks in 11 games, but the 2011 Redbirds nearly eclipsed that mark with a total of eight sacks in the victory over Morehead State. With those eight sacks, ISU tied its third-best sack performance of all-time and recorded its most sacks since 2005, when the team had nine against Northern Iowa. Defensive lineman Eric Brunner and Colton Underwood recorded two sacks each and Shelby Harris, Evan Frierson, Nate Palmer and Bryce Kiser each tallied one for the Redbirds.

TWO FOR THE SHOW
With the Redbird defense scoring on a team safety and a Ben Erickson fumble recovery for a touchdown against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 1), followed by a Nate Palmer fumble recovery for a touchdown against Morehead State (Sept. 10), Illinois State has tallied defensive points in back-to-back games to open the season for the first time since the 1992 campaign. In 1992, the Redbirds scored on an interception return for a touchdown by Don Martin in their opener against Southwest State, followed by a team safety in their second game at Northern Illinois (9/12/92).

THAT'S A BIG NEGATIVE
Morehead State found it very difficult to get anywhere on the ground against Illinois State (Sept. 10) and thanks to eight sacks, the Redbirds held the Eagles to -48 yards rushing in the game. That performance was the second-lowest by an opponent in school history, and the best rushing defense performance for the Redbirds since 2004, when St. Xavier set the school record with a -55 rushing yard performance. Had it not been for a couple of late runs by the Eagles, the Redbirds might have eclipsed that mark and set a new standard up front.

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Illinois State junior quarterback Matt Brown made the most of his work against Morehead State (Sept. 10) and tied a career-best with five touchdown passes in the 52-21 victory. The Marion, Ill., native needed just 12 completions to pass for 286 yards and those five scores, with three falling into the hands of fellow junior Tyrone Walker. With those numbers, Brown now ranks No. 6 in the country in passing efficiency with a mark of 176.80 and is 23rd overall in total offense with 260 yards-per-game.

IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY
When Darrelynn Dunn played for Bloomington High School, he participated in several games at Hancock Stadium. After spending two seasons at Iowa Central Community College, Dunn made his return to ISU's home field in a big way against Morehead State (Sept. 10). The Bloomington, Ill., native carried the ball six times for 70 yards (11.7 avg.) and scored his first touchdown as a Redbird, when he scampered 25 yards for the game's final touchdown in the fourth quarter.

WALKING INTO THE END ZONE
Junior wide receiver Tyrone Walker made all three of his catches count in Illinois State's 52-21 victory over Morehead State (Sept. 10) at Hancock Stadium. The Indianapolis, Ind., native scored touchdowns on all three of his receptions against the Eagles and finished with 120 yards receiving overall. The three touchdown receptions tied a career high for Walker and he recorded over 100 yards receiving for the seventh time in his career. Walker had touchdown receptions of 10, 46 and 64 yards to lead the way for the Redbirds.

SPREADING THE RED
Illinois State's offense was a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone at Eastern Illinois (Sept. 1) and scored on its only red zone opportunity against Morehead State (Sept. 10) to stay perfect on the season. The Redbirds scored two touchdowns on two short carries by Ashton Leggett, and Nick Aussieker converted on the team's third red zone chance with a 25-yard field goal in the third quarter against the Panthers and Tyrone Walker hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass against the Eagles. Last season, the Redbirds went 28-for-37 (76 percent) in the red zone and scored touchdowns 49 percent of the time.

NEWCOMER ATTACK
Transfers Evan Frierson and Nate Palmer have each made immediate impacts in their first two games at Illinois State. The pair of Illinois transfers combined for 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three tackles-for-loss in their debut at the FCS level against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 1). Frierson led the Redbird defense with 11 tackles, including six solo stops, one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss and Palmer registered four tackles, including a half sack and half tackle-for-loss. Against Morehead State (Sept. 10), the duo combined for two sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss to lead the way for the Redbird defense.

ESTABLISHING THE RUN
The Redbirds averaged just over 130 yards-per-game on the ground in 2010 and head coach Brock Spack made it a priority to bolster and improve the running attack in 2011. Based on the results from the first two games of the season, that number should go up dramatically as the team is currently averaging 187.5 yards per game. The Redbirds amassed 152 yards on the ground against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 1) and 223 yards on the ground in the home opener against Morehead State (Sept. 10).

THE IMPENETRABLE FORCE
The Illinois State offensive line was talked about all offseason as a potential area of strength for the Redbirds and after its performance through the first two games, one could see why. The offensive line unit of Cody White, Nick Bledsoe, Cal McCarthy, Rocco Ammons and Keenan Wimbley led the way for a rushing attack that recorded 152 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and 395 total yard of offense against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 1) and helped the Redbirds post 518 yards of total offense against Morehead State (Sept. 10). The unit has also kept quarterback Matt Brown upright in the two contests and has only surrendered one sack and five tackles-for-loss.

IT STARTS UP FRONT
Defensive pressure is a must and in order for the team to be affective in its pursuits, the defensive front has to be able to get pressure on its own. In the team's win over Morehead State, the defensive line seemed to be in the backfield all night long. Led by Eric Brunner's two sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss, the defensive line wracked up seven sacks and nine of the team's 17 tackles-for-loss.