Here come the Red Birds. Both teams are 5-2. Both have lost to an FBS opponent. Illinois State was boat rushed by Wisconsin 38-0 to open the season. They couldn’t run the ball against the Badgers (57 yards in 26 carries for 2.2 YPC). They snuck by Valparaiso 28-21 (yes this is the Pioneer League team we beat 64-0 last year). More concerning was that they only rushed for 129 yards in 36 attempts for 3.4 YPC. Big question marks were in my mind at this time as to how bad is this offense?
They next played a big rival, Eastern Illinois. They handled them 35-7, but the stats were all pass and no run again. The Red Birds only gained 86 yards in 26 carries. The D was stellar holding EIU to just 40 yards in 38 attempts and a stingy 127 total yards. They did what a MVFC team should do to Eastern, they bullied them.
They opened MVFC play with a hard fought 19-14 loss to Southern Illinois. This was an even up battle. ISU had 323 total yards to Southern’s 322. SIU could run the ball better 158 yards to 80, so the time of possession fell in their favor roughly 33 to 27. Next they beat UNI 23-21. They blossomed on offense to go over 400 total yards (409) with 154 coming on the ground. More importantly they controlled the clock 35 minutes to 25.
Their offense went back to sleep against USD only gaining 264 yards with 84 on the ground (34 attempts for 2.5 YPC). Other than the opening loss to Wisconsin, Spack has his boys playing championship level defense week by week.
ISU sputtered on the road at the Sycamores blowing a 1st quarter 20-0 lead, but hanging on for a 27-21 win. The Red Bird offense produced 479 total yards with 199 coming on the ground. Time of possession was also theirs at 34 minutes to 26.
Ron, you opened with telling Bison Nation to take a deep breath. Let’s get to that. At 5-2, the Herd hasn’t been in this position mid-season since 2015 after losing to USD (and losing Carson) and falling to 4-2. Yes, that team rebounded by playing stellar defense the rest of the year, nursing along Easton Stick until Wentz came back for the Natty and the Herd beat Jacksonville States best team.
I got the score wrong for my SDSU preview with my “gut reading” for the game, but not the results. This team found away to lose for the second time. We also have two bad games with USD and the Sycamores. I don’t believe the program is in a down turn, but their ability to show up big is still out to question. Losing Eli and Cole for this team is the same as losing Wentz in 2015. Our defense is out of sync in the run game.
The Herd faces three losable games in the last four regular season games, this Saturday with ISU, on the road versus SIU and home against UND. Going into Saturday, can we stop ISU’s improved run game? Can we stop making critical mistakes and find our tradition of being a “big play” team? I believe this is a trap game. During our run of Championships, Spack has never beaten the Herd (0-10). Are the Bison just “thinking” the ship will right itself? The weekly Sagarin has the Bison a 15 point favorite. My gut is telling me otherwise. Until further notice, this team has to earn back my trust. I am calling it a tossup. Go Bison!