The Illinois State football squad (8-3, 5-2) enters the final regular season matchup looking to improve upon its playoff resume as it travels to Youngstown State. Here are five things you need to know about the Redbirds’ matchup with the Penguins:
Entering the final week of the season, both teams will be without their starting quarterback due to injury. ISU’s Brady Davis suffered a season-ending left ACL tear in last Nov. 16’s 17-12 win over Missouri State. Redshirt sophomore Bryce Jefferson and freshman Jack Baltz will split time at the position in Davis’ absence. The two combined to throw three passes (two of which were interceptions) without a completion against Missouri State. Meanwhile, the Penguins have been without senior quarterback Nathan Mays for the past two weeks after he suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle in a Week 9 loss to North Dakota State. Since then, sophomore Joe Craycraft has filled in, completing 29 of 63 passing attempts for 427 yards and four touchdowns in the past two weeks. He also has thrown two interceptions and has been sacked eight times.
This is the 29th meeting between the two squads, with the most recent contest coming last season, which ended in a 35-28 ISU win on senior day to conclude the regular season. Overall, the Redbirds have won four of the last five games in a series that dates all the way back to 1979. They have also won the last two meetings between the two clubs.
Big Ten coaching history
Both teams boast coaches who have Big Ten Conference coaching experience in the contest in ISU’s Brock Spack and YSU’s Bo Pelini. Spack played four seasons at Purdue before spending 14 seasons as an assistant coach with the Boilermakers in different time period from 1984 to 2008. His time at Purdue included 12 seasons as the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator from 1997 to 2008 before becoming ISU’s head coach in 2009. Pelini, on the other hand, spent some time with three Big Ten programs. After playing four seasons at Ohio State, Pelini joined the Iowa staff as a graduate assistant in 1991. In 2003, he was hired as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator and interim head coach. Following the 2003 season, a coaching turnover forced Pelini to leave Nebraska to coach at Oklahoma and LSU. Pelini returned to Nebraska as the head coach of the Cornhuskers from 2008-2014, leading them to a 67-27 record before his firing. This is Pelini’s fifth season at his native hometown Youngstown, Ohio.
Red zone defense
The ISU defense has been a major key to ISU’s success so far this season, as the Redbirds rank near or at the top in multiple defensive categories in the Missouri Valley Football conference. One of the more impressive stats that the ’Birds lead the MVFC in is red zone defense, as the Redbirds have allowed scores in just 52.8% (19 for 36) of the times their opponents have reached the red zone this season. In fact, these red zone defensive stats rank first in the FCS. Overall, the Redbirds have allowed just 13 touchdowns and have snagged six turnovers in 36 red zone trips by opponents.
How to follow
The game, which begins 11 a.m. Nov. 23 in Youngstown, Ohio, will be available to watch live on ESPN+ to paid subscribers. Fans can also listen live on WJBC AM 1230/93.7 FM or follow along online at goredbirds.com. Sports Editors Blaine Lewallen and Jake Sermersheim will be live tweeting the game from @Vidette_Sports on Twitter. Live tweets can also be found on ISU football’s Twitter page, @RedbirdFB, throughout the game.