Illinois State Hits the Road Saturday for MVFC Battle at Ind. St.
Illinois State will open its Valley Football Conference season at 11 a.m. Saturday at Indiana State
Oct. 3, 2008
PLAYER TO WATCH
Junior running back Geno Blow has only played once against Indiana State, but it was a memorable day, not only for Blow, but for the Illinois State football program. On 23 attempts, Blow rushed for 122 yards in Illinois State's 69-17 homecoming win over the Sycamores in 2007. As it turns out, Blow was one of three Redbird running backs to reach the 100-yard rushing total. Rafael Rice rushed for 182 yards and Cortes Rice added 110 yards. It marked the first time in Redbird history that three players ran for 100 or more yards in the same game. Blow enters Saturday's game as the Redbirds' leading rusher (225), but he has not rushed for 100 or more yards in a single game this season.
Illinois State enters Missouri Valley Football Conference play with its first league matchup against Indiana State, which is also starting conference play for the first time this season. The Redbirds are coming off their second bye week of the season and have only played three times in the first five weeks of the football season. Indiana State has lost 19-straight games dating back to the 2006 season, while Illinois State has averaged 60.3 points scored in the last three meetings against the Sycamores.
Today is the 60th meeting between the two programs. Illinois State has enjoyed recent success in the series by winning nine of the last 10 meetings, but the Redbirds own the slightest edge all-time against Indiana State (29-28-2). The Redbirds have won four of the last five games played in Terre Haute, Ind.
THE COACHESIllinois State: Denver Johnson (Tulsa, 1981) is 67-59 (.532) in his 12th season as a head coach, and 46-48 (.489) in his ninth season with the Redbirds. At Illinois State, Johnson is 26-28 against the Missouri Valley Football Conference, 20-20 versus non-conference opponents, 28-18 at home, 18-30 on the road, 1-1 in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs, 13-26 versus ranked opponents and 8-2 against Indiana State.
Indiana State: Trent Miles (Indiana State, 1987) is in his first season at his alma mater. In his first head coaching position, Miles has posted an 0-4 record with the Sycamores.
THE PROGRAMIllinois 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 three years, ISU student-athletes have contributed more than 2,000 hours of community service to the Bloomington-Normal area.
Redbird student-athletes posted a school-record 3.05 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) during the fall 2007 semester.
THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTIndiana State is located in Terre Haute, Ind., and has an enrollment of 10,568. The Sycamores are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Sycamores return 13 starters, including seven on offense, from a team that posted a 0-11 record last season.
Indiana State was picked to finish last in the preseason Valley Football poll. The Sycamores had one student-athlete named to the preseason team, as offensive lineman Jack Byrne received honorable mention honors.
The Sycamores scored their first touchdown of the season at the 9:21 mark of the first quarter against Southeast Missouri State, Indiana State's fourth opponent. The Sycamores rank last in FCS football in scoring offense by averaging 6.8 points per game.
Indiana State ranks No. 114 nationally in scoring defense by allowing 40.5 points per game.
TIES WITH THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTIllinois State's Jonathan St-Pierre (Quebec) and Indiana State's Bill McGrath (Saskatchewan) both hail from Canada.
Indiana State assistant media relations director Mike Williams earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from Illinois State while working in the Redbird Athletics Media Relations Office.
Indiana State assistant coach Edmund Jones is the father of Illinois State transfer sophomore cornerback E.J. Jones. The elder Jones earned his master's degree in physical education from Missouri Valley Football Conference member Western Illinois.
Indiana State's Verlain Betofe and Illinois State's Kyle Siskowic are both from San Diego.
Indiana State head coach Trent Miles played for the Sycamores from 1983-86. During that time, Illinois State posted a 3-1 record against Indiana State with the only loss coming in 1984.
Illinois State's Drew Kiel (Columbus) and Jayme Comer (Brownsburg) are both from the state of Indiana.
ILLINOIS STATE IN LEAGUE OPENERS
Illinois State is 3-6 in the Denver Johnson-era (2000-present) in Missouri Valley Football Conference openers. The Redbirds have lost four of their last five league openers, including a 23-13 setback against Northern Iowa last season. Since joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 1985, ISU is 9-14 in league openers.
NEEDING A COUGH SUPPRESSANT
ISU's opponents may think that the Redbirds are a little sick this year, judging by the number of times they have coughed the ball up on offense. Illinois State ranks 114th out of 118 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams in turnover margin, owning a -1.67 turnover margin. Illinois State did little to help that stat against Eastern Illinois, as the Redbirds turned the ball over a total of five times, three of which led to 13 EIU points.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE CENTURY ... WELL, ALMOST
It's been a while since the Illinois State football team last opened its season with four of its first five games on the road - 99 years to be exact. The year was 1909, and Illinois State, under the direction of head coach George Binnewies, opened its season with four-straight games away from Normal, Ill., with games at Wabash (L, 0-27), Illinois Wesleyan (T, 0-0), Bradley (W, 5-0) and Lombard (L, 0-12). ISU finished 2-3-2 that season. The only other time that Illinois State has opened a season with four of its first five games on the road occurred in 1912, but that year was an anomaly, as ISU played only five games total.
THIS KID DOESN'T KIEL UNDER PRESSURE
With Kevin Brockway's recurring chin injury, redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Kiel has had to be ready at a moment's notice. In his four full drives leading the Redbird offense in Brockway's absence, Kiel has led Illinois State to three touchdowns. He also completed the last 15 yards of Brockway's final drive at Murray State with another Redbird touchdown. Kiel was not available in the Eastern Illinois game, after undergoing appendectomy surgery three days prior to the game.
ISU has produced at least one All-American player in 22 of the last 25 seasons. Over the last eight seasons, 30 players from 12 different positions have been honored. Kye Stewart was an All-America selection in 2007.
Illinois State has opened the Missouri Valley Football Conference season twice in Terre Haute, Ind., and both of the previous meetings have resulted in a Redbird loss. Illinois State opened the Valley football season at Indiana State in 1992, but the Redbirds fell 12-7. Then in 2004, the Redbirds suffered a 41-38 overtime loss to the Sycamores.
Since 2005, the Redbirds have had reasonable success on the road. In the last 18 games away from Normal, Ill., the Redbirds own a 10-8 mark.
THE DEAD PERIOD
For the Illinois State defense, the dead period was the third quarter against Eastern Illinois. During that quarter, the Panthers had nine offensive plays that resulted in zero total yards. EIU didn't have a whole lot more success in the second quarter, after collecting 64 yards of total offense.
MOVING THE STICKS AND SCORING SIX
With Eyad Salem's 15-yard touchdown catch on Illinois State's opening possession against No. 20 Eastern Illinois, the Redbird football team found the end zone on its first drive for the first time this season. Traditionally, that's a good thing, as the Redbirds own a 21-9 record during the Denver Johnson-era when scoring on their first possession.
THE THREE DEGREES OF ST-PIERRE
While Jonathan St-Pierre is in his third season with the Redbirds, he has already walked across the stage to receive two degrees, a bachelor's in economics from Illinois State and a bachelor's degree in business administration from Miami (Fla.). The Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, native is on pace to finish with three degrees by the time he leaves ISU in 2009. He is currently working on his master's degree in economics and is on target to have it completed in May 2009. In addition to three degrees, St-Pierre was also selected in the second round of the 2008 Canadian Football League Draft by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
IT'S IN THEIR BLOOD ... THE NFL, THAT IS
Your upbringing plays a central role in the type of person you grow up to be, and in the case of three current Redbirds, their upbringing as collegiate football players includes NFL ties. Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Kiel's uncle, Blair Kiel, had a seven-year career in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, after starring at Notre Dame. Cornerback Kelvyn Hemphill also comes from an NFL bloodline, as his father, Darryl Hemphill, was drafted by the New York Jets and played one season with the Baltimore Colts. In addition, quarterback Preston Earl is the son of former Chicago Bear fullback Robin Earl.
Illinois State was tabbed to finish eighth in the recently expanded nine-team Missouri Valley Football Conference, but the last time the Redbirds were projected to finish second-to-last in the conference race, ISU made a run at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. In 2005, the Redbirds were voted to finish seventh (in the then-eight-team league) on media day, but ISU finished with a 7-4 mark, including a 61-35 victory at then-No. 1 Southern Illinois; and a 38-3 win over then-No. 13 Northern Iowa.
LOOKING TO BE MORE HANDS-ON
For the first time in three seasons, the Illinois State defense did not score a touchdown in 2007. The Redbird defense only touched the ball 38 times in the form of 23 pass deflections, six interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Through three games this season, the Redbird defense has already touched the ball 15 times with 10 pass breakups, one interception and four fumble recoveries. In the Denver Johnson-era, the Redbirds have posted four seasons without a defensive touchdown and all but one season (2002) resulted in a losing campaign.
The Illinois State offense has scored 28 points in the first quarter this season, which is the highest scoring quarter for the Redbirds. However, ISU has followed this effort with only seven points in the second quarter, the lowest output for a quarter.
|| ABOUT THE OFFENSE|
Under head coach Denver Johnson, Illinois State has produced the single-season record holder in both rushing and receiving, along with the No. 1 career receiver, the No. 2 career passer and the No. 2 career rusher.
Illinois State has scored at least one touchdown in every game dating back to Nov. 20, 2004 (37 straight).
Under Johnson, ISU has rushed for at least 200 yards 39 times, including 25 times since 2003.
During the same time, the Redbird offense has totaled 21 games with 500 or more yards of total offense and 15 games with 300 or more passing yards.
ISU's 2007 team missed perfect offensive balance by just 43 yards (2,237 passing and 2,194 rushing).
THIRD-AND-25th IN THE NATION
If a football team is going to be successful, one thing that it must do is convert on third-down opportunities. That's exactly what Illinois State has been doing this season, as the Redbirds rank first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and 25th in the nation in third-down conversions. Illinois State has produced a first down 44.2 percent of the time off a third-down opportunity this season.
WHAT'S THE RUSH?
For the Illinois State football team, this question may need to be changed to "Where's the rush?" for this season. After three games, the Redbirds have failed to produce a 100-yard rusher, something they were known for doing quite frequently last season. This marks the first time since a three-straight game period between Oct. 30 and Nov. 13, 2004, that ISU has failed to produce at least one 100-yard rusher in three-straight games. The same feat also occurred in 2001, with the Redbirds failing to have at least one 100-yard rusher in four-straight games from Sept. 29 to Oct. 20, 2001.
WATCH YOUR BACK!
The ISU offensive line has allowed its quarterback to be sacked eight times thus far in three games, which ranks 88th in the nation at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level and eighth out of nine teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Unfortunately for ISU, improving in this category could be challenging with starting left tackle Chris Riley sidelined with a right shoulder sprain.
NO NEED TO SHARE
The Illinois State football team has been stingy when it comes to keeping the ball in its possession in games this season. So stingy, in fact, that the Redbirds rank 12th in the nation and second in the conference in time of possession (TOP) at 33:42 per game. Western Illinois is the only Valley Football team to hold on to the ball longer this season, as the Leathernecks' 36:25 TOP ranks fourth at the FCS level.
The football seems to be gravitating toward junior wide receiver Eyad Salem. He has led the Redbirds in receiving in each of the first three games. In his last six games for the Redbirds, dating back to last season, he has recorded 37 catches for 526 yards, while scoring five touchdowns. With his seven catches for 105 yards, Salem is the only receiver to post 100 yards receiving against the Eastern Illinois defense.
ROURKE IS ON THE MONEY
Jake Rourke set a career-high with four catches against Eastern Illinois, but for the senior wide receiver, it has always been about quality, not quantity. Of Rourke's four catches, two resulted in a first down. That's kind of been the trend throughout his Illinois State career. For his career, Rourke has 37 career catches, 25 of which were "money" catches, or first-down grabs.
|| ABOUT THE DEFENSE|
Illinois State returns eight starters from a defense that ranked No. 102 last season nationally among 116 teams. The Redbirds allowed 427.9 yards per game, including 230.1 yards per game rushing. The ISU rushing defense ranked No. 110 nationally.
Assistant coach David Ross enters his first season as the defensive coordinator at Illinois State and his third with the Redbird staff.
In the Denver Johnson-era, the Redbird defense has held its opponent without a touchdown seven times, but only once in the last two seasons.
A POSITIVE TURNED NEGATIVE
For the first time since a 27-24 season-opening loss to Drake Aug. 30, 2007, Illinois State held an opponent's offense to under 100 yards rushing during a 25-21 loss to Eastern Illinois Sept. 20. Ironically, both of those games resulted in fourth-quarter losses for ISU, as Drake scored 14 points in the final 15 minutes to upset the Redbirds last season, while EIU came back from 11 points down to start the fourth quarter last Saturday in a 25-21 win over Illinois State. The Drake loss also marked the last time that Illinois State lost a game that it led after three quarters.
THE WRIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB
Sophomore transfer linebacker Paul Wright made his first-career start last Saturday against Eastern Illinois, filling in for the injured Tommie Westbrook at the weak-side linebacker position. Wright performed admirably in the game, as he recorded nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one bass breakup and one quarterback hurry.
THE DRIVE STOPS HERE
The Illinois State defense is allowing just 14 first downs per game this season, the 12th-fewest first downs per game average in the nation. That's a vast improvement for a defense that allowed an average of 21.5 first downs last season.
PAPER OR PLASTIC, IT DOESN'T MATTER
The Redbird defense has been denied getting to the opponents' quarterback in two of the three games this season. With zero quarterback sacks at Marshall and against Eastern Illinois, the Redbirds rank tied for No. 97 nationally with only one quarterback sack per game. ISU posted three quarterback sacks at Murray State.
GIVING THE OPPONENT A HARD DOSE OF THE THIRD-DEGREE
Opposing offenses have practically been having their Miranda Rights read by the Illinois State defense in the first three games of the season. The Redbird defense has allowed only nine first downs in 40 third-down situations. The 22-percent success rate has Illinois State ranked No. 3 nationally in the FCS in third-down conversion defense.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE2002 - Boomer Grigsby (LB) - Third
The Buck Buchanan Award is presented annually by The Sports Network to the nation's best NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) defensive player. When acquiring a list of potential candidates, or a watch list, Illinois State is as good of place to start as any. Since 2002, the Redbirds have had one player finish in the top-five of the Buck Buchanan Award voting in each season. Even though Illinois State hasn't been able to claim the top honor, a Redbird has finished second twice and third twice. Here is a list of ISU's Buck Buchanan Award finalists:
2003 - Boomer Grigsby (LB) - Second
2004 - Boomer Grigsby (LB) - Third
2005 - Brent Hawkins (DE) - Second; Cameron Siskowic (LB) - 13th
2006 - Cameron Siskowic (LB) - Fifth
2007 - Kye Stewart (LB) - Fourth
WHO'S GOT NEXT?
For the last six seasons, the Missouri Valley Football Conference's top tackler has worn an Illinois State uniform. Three-time league defensive player of the year Boomer Grigsby set the stage by leading the conference in stops in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Former Redbird linebacker Cameron Siskowic followed suit with back-to-back tackle titles in 2005 and 2006, and Kye Stewart led the league last season with 131 stops. Kelvyn Hemphill hands been the odds-on-favorite after leading the Redbirds in stops in each of the first three games of the 2008 season. He ranks No. 8 nationally and No. 1 in the Valley with 38 tackles.
|| ABOUT THE SPECIAL TEAMS|
Under head coach Denver Johnson, Illinois State has scored four touchdowns on special teams, with two punt returns, including Tom Nelson's 82-yard return this season at Murray State, and one each via blocked punt and kickoff return. The Redbirds also have one extra-point return during that time.
The Redbirds have blocked 23 kicks since 2000.
A FULL NELSON
Well, it was almost the full length of the field, when senior Tom Nelson returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown at Murray State. It was Illinois State's first punt-return touchdown since Joe Walkins ran in a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown against Youngstown State Oct. 23, 2004. Nelson's punt return also marked the fourth-longest in Illinois State history and the second-longest to be returned for a touchdown.
A TWO-HEADED KICKING MONSTER
It's atypical, but after three games, it working. After the first three games of the season, the Redbirds are perfect in their kicking game, splitting the uprights on all of their extra-point (10) and field-goal (one) tries. However, it was the work of two kickers, not just one. Sophomore Steven Fetzer is handling the majority of the extra-point duties, while newcomer Zach Kutch, a transfer from Auburn, is serving as the field-goal kicker. Kutch has also added one PAT.
MAKING PR WORK FOR YOU
Entering Saturday's game at Indiana State, the Redbirds, thanks to their PR (punt return) practitioner Tom Nelson, rank No. 1 nationally in the FCS in punt return average. The Redbirds, and Nelson, are averaging 24.3 yards per game. Since Nelson has accounted for all of ISU's punt returns, the Redbird senior also ranks No. 1 individually in punt returns.
CLOSE THE DOOR, YOU'RE LETTING ALL THE RETURNERS IN!
The ISU kickoff and punt return teams have struggled so far this season to close the gap and not allow big gains on kickoff and punt returns. The Redbirds rank 77th in the nation in kickoff return yardage defense, having allowed opponents an average of 21.54 yards per return. On the punting side, opponents are running the ball back 13.00 yards per return, which ranks ISU tied for 87th in the nation in punt return yardage defense.
ONE-AND-DONE (THUS FAR)
Through three games this season, Illinois State has attempted just one field, a successful 22-yard kick by Zach Kutch against Marshall Aug. 30. This continues a trend for the Redbirds, as they converted just 7-of-10 field goal attempts last season, which marked the fewest made field goals by ISU since 1998 (three).
FISH-ING FOR KOR YARDS
Senior tailback Parrish Fisher has been a force so far this season on kickoff returns. The Richardson, Texas, native is averaging 24 yards per return, which includes 133 return yards Sept. 20 in ISU's 25-21 loss to Eastern Illinois. For his one-plus-year career with the Redbirds, Fisher is averaging 18.3 yards per kickoff return.
KELSEY GETS HIS KICKSKelsey ranks No. 5 in school history with a 39.7 career punting average.
Illinois State's Bobby Kelsey is in his final season with the Redbirds. Kelsey started his ISU career as a field-goal kicker, but has evolved into one of the conference's top punters, and he handles the kickoff duties as well.
He has accumulated 4,248 yards on 107 punts during his career, including 77 yards on one punt earlier this season at Murray State, his career long.
Last season, the Redbirds ranked No. 23 nationally in kickoff return defense. ISU allowed 18.38 yards per return on Kelsey's 59 kickoffs in 2007.
Not only does Kelsey pin the opponent with his kickoffs, he's also willing to go downfield and make the tackle. Kelsey has posted 24 tackles as a Redbird, including 16 solo stops.
REDBIRD ALL-ACCESS EXCLUSIVE: Illinois State at Indiana State | 11 a.m. Saturday
Through the Eyes Of ... Kevin Brockway | QB