A James Robinson-led rushing attack lifted Illinois State University over Southeast Missouri State 24-6 last week to advance to the next round of the FCS playoffs at Central Arkansas. Here are five things you need to know ahead of the matchup with the Bears:
The two clubs have met just two times before, with the last matchup coming in the 2016 FCS playoffs. In that matchup, the Bears edged ISU 31-24 at home to advance to the next round. This was the last time the Redbirds have made the playoffs under Spack. Outside of that matchup, the two clubs met in 2006 at Hancock Stadium, with the 'Birds edging UCA 18-3.
This is UCA's first playoff appearance under second year head coach Nathan Brown, who served as the team's offensive coordinator from 2014-2017. Prior to that, Brown was considered the most prolific quarterback in UCA history, compiling 25,691 passing yards in four seasons with the Bears. After college, Brown spent a brief stint in the NFL before becoming the quarterbacks coach at UCA in 2009.
With little surprise, the Bears' offense has focused almost solely on the passing game under Brown, as the Bears have averaged over 300 yards passing per game and just around 92 yards rushing. Sophomore Breylin Smith has been the main guy under center, completing 65.8% of his passes for 3506 yards and 31 touchdowns compared to just 13 interceptions. Southland Conference Freshman Player of the Year Tyler Hudson has been Smith's favorite target, snagging 52 passes for 939 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Bears had a very nice season in the Southland Conference, as they finished with a 7-2 overall conference record to be named co-champions of the conference with Nicholls State. UCA last completed the feat in 2017, and have won at least nine games since moving to Division I in 2006-07. Nicholls State took the higher seed of the two squads on selection day after the Colonels bested the Bears 34-14 on Oct. 5 at home. A 34-0 home loss to Southeastern Louisiana State marked the lone other conference loss for the Bears on Nov. 9.
How to Follow
The game, which begins 2 p.m. Saturday in Conway, Arkansas, will be available to watch live on ESPN3. Fans can also listen live on WJBC AM 1230 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. ISU Athletics will also be holding a watch party for the game starting at 2 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena prior to the men's basketball game at 6 p.m. Fans can enter the arena at the north gate to gain access. Fans must have a men's basketball ticket to enter.