No. 15 ISU Set To Open Valley Football Play at WIU
Matt Brown

Matt Brown

 No. 15 Illinois State (3-0, 0-0 MVFC) at Western Illinois (2-1, 0-0 MVFC)
 Date  Saturday, Sept. 12
 Location
 Macomb, Ill.
 Kickoff
 3 p.m. CT
 Stadium
 Hanson Field
 Stadium Capacity
 16,368
 Radio  WJBC/Country Financial Illinois State Radio Network (Dick Luedke - Play-by-Play | Ted Schmitz - Analyst)
 Television  Comcast SportsNet Chicago (Kurt Pegler - Play-by-Play | Boomer Grigsby - Analyst)
 Live Stats  WIU Live Stats
 Game Notes  Illinois State | Western Illinois | Missouri Valley Football Conference

PLAYER TO WATCH
ISU senior quarterback Matt Brown shattered the record books in Illinois State's 54-51 double overtime victory over Eastern Illinois last Saturday. The Marion, Ill., native set Illinois State single-game records for completions (42) and passing yards (473) and tied his career high with five touchdown passes, including the 25-yard game winner to Tyrone Walker in the second overtime period. Brown also rushed for two touchdowns in the victory, making him responsible for seven total touchdowns in the game. Brown's 42 completions also set a new MVFC single-game record.

THE GAME
After posting a perfect 3-0 record in non-conference play, Illinois State (3-0) will open Missouri Valley Football Conference play against in-state rival Western Illinois (2-1) looking to move to 4-0 for the first time since 1967.

THE SERIES
Illinois State and Western Illinois have met 93 times on the gridiron, with the Leathernecks leading the longtime series, 50-40-3, that began in 1904. The two squads have split the last six contests, but prior to that the Leathernecks won five straight games against the Redbirds.

THE COACHES
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbirds (22-14). In his three seasons at the helm of the program, the Redbirds have amassed a 16-3 record at home and put together three-straight winning seasons for the first time since 1998-2000.

Western Illinois: Mark Hendrickson (Northern Iowa, 1982) is in his third season as the head coach at Western Illinois (15-24). He was voted as runner-up for the 2010 Eddie Robinson Award, given to the national 'Coach of the Year', after he helped WIU stage the best turnaround in MVFC history.

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.
  • 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

  • Western Illinois University is located in Macomb, Ill., and has an enrollment of 13,000 students. The Fighting Leathernecks are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and play their home games at Hanson Field (16,368).
  • The Leathernecks return 15 starters and 40 letterwinners from last year's team that finished with a 2-9 overall record and a 1-7 mark (9th) in MVFC play.
  • WIU is off to a 2-1 start in 2012, with wins in the first two weeks against Butler and Indianapolis before being defeated at Iowa State last week. The Leathernecks won the turnover battle, but came up on the short end of a 37-3 decision to the Cyclones, who scored 31 unanswered points to start the game.
  • A pair of talented running backs spark the Leathernecks' offensive attack. Nikko Watson leads the way with 255 yards and a touchdown and Caulton Ray is right behind with 221 yards and two scores.
  • Quarterback Josh Hudson has not put up staggering numbers, but has been a consistent signal-caller for WIU. In three starts this season, Hudson has completed 60 percent of his passes for 323 yards with just two interceptions.
  • Redshirt freshman linebacker J.J. Raffelson leads the Leathernecks' defense with 29 total tackles, including 14 solo stops, and has added 1.5 tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Kevin Kintzel is tied for second in tackles with 17, but leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss.

TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • ISU linebacker Brandon Westphal and Western Illinois' Jeff Lindsey and Jeremy Curry were teammates at Bolingbrook High School in Bolingbrook, Ill.
  • Illinois State freshman cornerback Mike Banks and Western Illinois' Justin Morgan and Chandon Hawkins were teammates at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago.
  • Illinois State wide receiver Scott Kuehn and Western Illinois' Dwight Harris were teammates at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Ill.
  • Western Illinois quarterback Andrew Lantz is an alum of Rockford East, the same high school that Illinois State head coach Brock Spack graduated from.

MAKE THAT THREE
It took nearly four hours and two overtime periods, but Illinois State kept its 2012 record perfect and moved to 3-0 with its 54-51 double overtime victory over Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15). It marked the first time since 1991 that the Redbirds have started 3-0, when the team beat St. Francis (19-17), Akron (25-3) and Southeast Missouri State (42-7) and eventually finished with a 5-6 overall record.

CAN THEY MAKE IT FOUR?
With Illinois State's victory against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15), the team started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1991. If the Redbirds were to pick up a victory against Western Illinois this weekend, ISU will start the season 4-0 for the first time since 1967. That year, the 'Birds started 6-0 under head coach Larry Bitcon and ended the season with an 8-2 record overall.

ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
The 111-year rivalry between Illinois State and Eastern Illinois has produced many memorable moments, but it's doubtful that what happened in the 2012 meeting won't be at the top of the charts for years to come. The Redbirds and the Panthers scored a combined 105 points and needed two overtime periods to decide the 101st game in the fifth-longest series in FCS football. The 105 points scored are the most combined in the series history and each team set a new single game high in points scored.

AERIAL ATTACK
Last season, Matt Brown finished with over 2,000 yards passing for the third-consecutive season but did not record a game with over 300 yards passing. Brown certainly put that behind him and shattered the record books in Illinois State's 54-51 double overtime victory over Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15). The Marion, Ill., native set Illinois State single-game records for completions (42) and passing yards (473) and he tied a career high with five touchdown passes, including the 25-yard game winner to Tyrone Walker in the second overtime period. Brown also rushed for two touchdowns in the victory, making him responsible for seven total touchdowns in the game. His 42 completions also set a new Missouri Valley Football Conference single-game record and his 473 yards passing marked the third-highest highest single-game total in league history.

'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 was ranked No. 15 in The Sports Network Top 25 Poll and the FCS Coaches Poll following its 54-51 upset victory vs. Eastern Illinois (Sept. 5).

BROWN APPROACHING HISTORY
Heading into the season, senior quarterback Matt Brown knew he would likely break just about every passing record in ISU history with an average season. There was nothing average about his 473 yard and five touchdown performance against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15), and that put him on pace to potentially break a few records this week against Western Illinois. Brown needs to attempt 36 passes, throw for 211 yards and throw three touchdown passes to take the top spot in each of those career categories at ISU. He already owns career records for pass completions (733) and completions percentage (64.9).

INTERCEPTIONS GALORE
In 2011, the Illinois State defense recorded just three interceptions in 11 games played. The Redbirds matched that total two weeks ago in a victory at Eastern Michigan (Sept. 8) and recorded their second-straight game with a trio of interceptions in the 54-51 double-overtime victory over Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15). Alex Donnelly, Mike Banks and Ezra Thompson each recorded their first interceptions of the season and Donnelly returned his 30 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to put the Redbirds 7-0 early.

CATCHING EVERYTHING IN SIGHT
Matt Brown threw for a school single-game record 473 yards against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15) and a trio of Redbird receivers with the benefactors of his generosity. Tyrone Walker (142) and Lechein Neblett (132) became the first receiver duo to each post 100-yard receiving games in the same contest since
Sept. 10, 2011, when Marvon Sanders and Walker each achieved the feat. Not to be outdone, Donovan Harden caught nine passes for 94 yards, just missing out on his first 100-plus yard performance, and caught two touchdown passes from Brown in the victory.

UNDERWOOD OVERWHELMS THE PANTHERS
Junior defensive end Colton Underwood had a career day for the Redbirds in their 54-51 double overtime victory over Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15). The Washington, Ill., native set new career-highs with 13 tackles, three sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss against the Panthers. Underwood was also credited with a pair of quarterback hurries, as the Redbirds totaled five sacks and eight TFLs overall. For his efforts, Underwood was named the MVFC Defensive Player of the Week and was tabbed as a College Sporting News All-Star.

NEXT MAN UP
Injuries are a part of the game in football and the Redbirds had to find a new outside linebacker 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 has posted 14 tackles starting in place of Davis. Donnelly had a breakout performance against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15), when he set a career-high with ten tackles and added a tackle-for-loss. The Kirkland, Wash., native also recorded his first career interception, when he hauled in a tipped ball and returned it 30 yards for ISU's first touchdown of the day early in the first quarter.

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 55-51 double overtime win over Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15), the Redbirds improved to 16-3 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.

DOUBLE OT THRILLER
With its victory in double overtime against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 15), Illinois State improved to 6-5 all-time in overtime contests and 3-3 in double overtime games. It marked the first double overtime victory for the Redbirds since Sept. 25, 2010, when they defeated conference foe Missouri State by a score of 44-41. ISU and EIU also played a double-overtime thriller on Nov. 11, 2000, with the Redbirds coming out on top of that contest as well by a score of 44-41.

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).

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.

#DUNNGETTINITDUNN
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.

SECOND-HALF TURNAROUND
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 86.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranks No. 13 overall in the country in that category.