No. 6 Redbirds look to capture share of MVFC championship with a win over South Dakota on Senior Day
NUTS AND BOLTS
Illinois State (8-2, 6-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) looked like it was headed for a shocking loss at the hands of Southern Illinois last week. Losing by a touchdown at halftime, the ’Birds came out fired up, scoring 28 unanswered points to take home a 42-21 win. The Redbirds are looking to clinch at least a share of the Valley Championship for the second straight year, which would be the first time in program history they have won back-to-back conference titles.
South Dakota (5-5, 3-4 MVFC) had their playoff aspirations dashed last week when they could not hang on to an upset bid against South Dakota State, dropping a heartbreaking 30-23 loss. Without a postseason bid to shoot for, the Coyotes are looking to play the role of spoilers against a team it has never defeated, losing four games to the ’Birds since 2011.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
With Senior Day coming Saturday, the Redbirds will be honoring 13 seniors: Nate Bond, Josh Burch, Cam Cooper, Marshaun Coprich, Teddy Corwin, Alex Donnelly, Soniel Estime, Joe Farmer, Pat Meehan, John Nicholson, David Perkins, Adam Pittser and Tre Roberson. All 13 players have put in contributions to the Redbird football program throughout their time at the University.
Ryan Saeger has been solid at quarterback this season, throwing for 1,960 yards and 12 touchdowns so far. Saeger has proven he can handle intimidating enviornments, putting up three touchdowns in the Coyotes’ 24-21 upset on the road at No. 2-ranked North Dakota State on Oct. 17. His performance included an ice-in-the-veins 15-play, 72-yard game-tying drive and a 55-yard drive to set up the game-winning field goal to end the Bison’s MVFC-record 26-game home winning streak.
“There’s a lot going on with Senior Day, we have some great seniors going. Hopefully it’s not our last home game, but it’s the last regular season [home] game. That’ll be an emotional time for those guys and our staff because those players have been a big part of what we’ve done the last couple years. Also, we’re playing for a championship. Everybody’s worked really hard to put ourselves in this position and you want to finish strong.”
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THREE KEYS TO WIN (REDBIRDS)
Twice is nice
The Redbirds are looking to clinch at least a share of the Missouri Valley title with North Dakota State. The Bison would have to drop a game against Missouri State, not likely considering the Bears’ 1-9 record, for the ‘Birds to win an outright title. After winning a share of the Valley crown at Hancock Stadium last year, they are familiar with capturing titles on their home field.
Replacing the best
Starting safety Alec Kocour is going to miss at least month with a broken clavicle he suffered in last weekend’s win. Kocour, who had offseason shoulder surgery and has battled shoulder problems all season, is No. 1 on the team in interceptions (3) and second in total tackles (78). He has been the most consistent Redbird defender in the secondary and was playing at an All-Valley level this season. The ‘Birds will look to either Soniel Estime or Luther Kirk to start at safety. Estime started in place of Kocour, who was battling a concussion, at Missouri State and led the team with 11 tackles.
Get Tre back on track
Quarterback Tre Roberson has been awful lately throwing the ball, and he wouldn’t dispute that claim. Although he has still been getting it done with his legs, it is crucial for him to gain his confidence back with his arm and be able to sling more than just the deep ball to Anthony Warrum.
THREE KEYS TO WIN (COYOTES)
Throw the deep ball
It’s becoming commonplace to rag on the Redbirds’ secondary, but until the unit can start performing consistently and locking down their matchups, that won’t stop. The Coyotes need to hit on a few big plays in one-on-one matchups and beat out safety help over the top.
ISU QB Tre Roberson has struggled lately, and when facing a strong pass rush he has found even more trouble. Although Roberson is an elite dual-threat QB, when he doesn’t have time to throw his accuracy goes out the window. The Coyotes boast one of the best pass rushers in the country in defensive lineman Andrew Van Ginkel, a redshirt freshman who has racked up nine sacks this season which ranks him No. 2 in the Valley and No. 10 nationally. He is also ranked No. 8 in the nation with 17 tackles-for-loss.
True freshman running back Michael Fredrick has done an excellent job replacing Trevor Bouma, who was lost for the season with a broken arm during the Coyotes’ win over North Dakota State on Oct. 17. Fredrick has shined, though, rushing for 143 yards last week against an elite South Dakota State defense that held Marshaun Coprich to just 65 yards in ISU’s loss on Nov. 7.
ILLINOIS STATE 38, SOUTH DAKOTA 24
There’s too much on the line for the Redbirds to come out flat like they did in the first half against Southern Illinois last week.
Illinois State is going to use the momentum from an electric 28-point second half against the Salukis to run through a South Dakota team that is much better than people thought they were going to be this season.
The Coyotes are simply playing for pride at this point and won’t hand the game to the ‘Birds, but ISU should be able to use their ground and pound identity to wear them down in the second half.