On to Week 7…the midpoint of season. Everyone has played 5 games so far and has 6 left…all are MVFC games until the playoffs start.
Disclaimer: For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’ve been a Western Illinois fan for over 20 years. I will do my best to be relatively unbiased, but I know that it’s impossible for me to be completely so. You’ll also notice that I generally will write a little more about my Leathernecks due to my familiarity with the team.
For reference, I use the AGS poll numbers for rankings.
So, here are the games this week:
2:00 PM – #16(T) Illinois State (4-1, 2-0) at Southern Illinois (2-3, 0-2)
2:00 PM – Indiana State (0-5, 0-2) at #3 South Dakota (5-0, 2-0)
2:00 PM – Northern Iowa (2-3, 1-1) at #8 South Dakota State (4-1, 1-1)
3:00 PM – Missouri State (1-4, 0-2) at #10 Western Illinois (4-1, 1-1)
6:00 PM – #2 North Dakota State (5-0, 2-0) at #7 Youngstown State (3-2, 1-1)
All games listed in Central time and all games on ESPN3.
— Valley Football (@ValleyFootball) October 9, 2017
#16(T) Illinois State at Southern Illinois (Homecoming)
- Illinois State lost at Northern Arizona, 37-16
- Southern Illinois lost at South Dakota State, 49-14
History: The Redbirds and Salukis have played each other 79 times going back to 1929. SIU holds the series lead 40-36-3, but ILSU has won the last 7 meetings, including a 31-26 Redbird win at Carbondale last year.
Illinois State had been doing pretty well this season, going undefeated against a pretty easy schedule up until last week, when NAU’s offense burned the Redbirds for 37 points. Illinois State, in general, is pretty good at stopping the run, currently leading the FCS in run defense. They have had trouble giving up passing yards, with NAU’s Case Cookus throwing for 380 and 3 TDs against them last weekend. LB Tyree Horton leads the defense in tackles with 35, including 5 for loss (2 sacks) and a forced fumble + recovery. S Mitchell Brees has 2 INTS returned 35 yards, and 1 forced fumble and recovery. The offense goes heavy to the passing game, with WRs Spencer Schnell and Christian Gibbs getting the majority of catches, and both over 68 ypg receiving. QB Jake Kolbe is averaging 258 ypg and has 7 TDs so far, but also 5 INTs.
Southern Illinois has struggled this year, but to be fair, they’ve played a couple of tougher teams than ILSU has, with games against FBS Memphis, and playing UNI and SDSU so far this season (vs ILSU’s games against MSU and INSU and no FBS game), so they might be a bit better than the stats advertise at first glance. Defensively, they give up quite a few yards both through the air (251.6 ypg, 90th in FCS) and on the ground (153.4 ypg, 66th in FCS). S Ryan Neal leads the team in tackles with 45, plus an INT and a fumble recovery. S Jeremy Chinn has two INTs on the season as well as a forced fumble and (different game) fumble recovery. The Saluki offense is led by QB Sam Straub who’s thrown for 228 ypg, 13 TDs and 6 INTs this season. WR Darrell James and Connor Iwema both have 65-70 ypg and they have 5 and 2 TDs respectively. They’ve only got one RB that averages over 22 ypg, Daquan Isom who has 69.2 ypg and 1 TD. The SIU O-Line has allowed the fewest sacks of any FCS team so far this season, averaging 0.4 per game, and their Punter, Lane Reazin, is currently #2 in the FCS averaging 46.1 yards per punt.
Illinois State got hit with a somewhat unexpected loss last week and are wanting to get things back on track with this game, because after this point, they get a “murderer’s row” of matchups with 5 teams who are all currently ranked 14th or higher in the STATS FCS poll (10th or higher in the AGS poll). Unless ILSU’s defense buckles down and has a better game than last week, this could be a high scoring game on both sides. I think that Illinois State will win it, but SIU could be closer than most people probably would have estimated at the start of the season. Redbirds by 7.
Indiana State at #3 South Dakota
- Indiana State lost to North Dakota State, 52-0
- South Dakota defeated Youngstown State, 31-28
History: The Sycamores and Coyotes have played all of 3 times, starting in 2012, with USD holding the series lead 2-1.
Indiana State is, unfortunately for Sycamore fans, looking more and more deserving of their 10th place preseason conference ranking, having lost their first 5 games of the season. They’ve had a very tough start of the season, playing 3 teams that were ranked in the top 20 of the STATS FCS poll at the time (this weekend is #4) as well as a Top 25-ranked FBS team. On a couple of occasions, they’ve played well, but the two conference games haven’t been close. They are giving up 36.4 ppg while only putting up 16.2 ppg themselves so far and are 111th in the FCS in turnover margin, losing an average of 1.4 per game. They have two QBs (Cade Sparks and Isaac Harker) that have both played in most of the games, are both throwing at less than 47% completion rate and have as many or more INTs than they do TDs. The one bright spot on the Sycamore offense is WR Bob Pugh, who’s caught for 88 ypg and 2 TDs this year and handles put return duties, averaging 39 yards per return. INSU is 10th best in the FCS in not allowing penalties, so they don’t often beat themselves (not that they generally need to…other teams do that well enough already). LB Jonas Griffith leads the defense with 43 tackles, 5 for loss (2.5 sacks) and a fumble recovery.
South Dakota…a conference bottom-feeder for most years since they joined the MVFC in 2012 (9-31 in-conference in that time) is a bottom-feeder no more. They’re 5-0, have already beaten two of the higher-ranked MVFC teams as well as FBS Bowling Green, and are sitting in the top 5 of most FCS rankings. The USD offense is led by strong dual-threat QB Chris Streveler, who leads the team in passing yards (305.6 ypg…#1 in the MVFC), passing TDs (13…with 0 INTS), rushing yards (73.2 ypg), and rushing TDs (7). His primary passing target is WR Shamar Jackson, who has 90.6 ypg and 3 TDs. WRs Alonge Brooks and Brandt Van Roekel both have 3 receiving TDs as well. Combined, they have the #1 overall offense in the FCS in yards per game and #2 in the FCS for scoring. The Coyote defense isn’t quite as good as the offense, but they’re still pretty decent, giving up only 20.4 ppg and 338 ypg, and they’re very good at getting pressure behind the line, ranked #2 in the FCS in sacks. DBs Danny Rambo and Andrew Gray both have 30 or more tackles and DL Darin Greenfield has 24 tackles, 11.5 for loss with 5 sacks. Greenfield’s tackles for loss average of 2.3 per game is #1 in the FCS, and sack average of 1 per game is 7th in the FCS.
So, arguably one of the best teams in the FCS (won’t really know more until USD plays NDSU) at home against the worst team in the conference. This one could get ugly. I think USD wins by somewhere around 24 points. Probably could be worse, but USD will pull Streveler in the 3rd quarter.
Northern Iowa at #8 South Dakota State (Hobo Days/Homecoming)
- Northern Iowa lost to Western Illinois, 38-29
- South Dakota State beat Southern Illinois, 49-14
History: The Panthers have played the Jackrabbits 51 times starting back in 1935, with UNI holding the series lead 29-20-2. Last year’s matchup was a 45-24 SDSU victory.
Northern Iowa is coming off a tough loss to Western Illinois in a close game (much closer than the score would indicate). They’re putting up 368.6 ypg of total offense with 80% of that coming through the air. QB Eli Dunne is averaging just under 300 passing ypg with 15 TDs and 8 INTs. 90 ypg of that connects with WR Daurice Fountain, who also has 4 TDs. This despite their O-line allowing 3 sacks per game. The Panther defense has been uncharacteristically bad this season, allowing 405 ypg (101st in the FCS) and 31.8 ppg. They’re not getting much pressure on opposing QBs either, only getting an average of 1 sack per game. LB Jared Farley leads the team with 60 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 INT, and 1 fumble recovery. Also putting in a decent number of tackles is LB Duncan Ferch with 40 total, 2 for loss, and 1 INT.
South Dakota State meanwhile, got things back on track after a loss at Youngstown State with a dominating win over SIU. Like UNI, SDSU appears to be down a little from last year, although they do still have a dangerous offense that can put up big numbers at times. QB Taryn Christion leads an offense that puts up 443.6 ypg and 37.8 ppg, with Christion throwing for 213 ypg and running for 42 ypg. He has 12 passing TDs vs 2 INTs, and 3 rushing TDs. Preseason all-conference receivers Jake Wieneke and TE Dallas Godert are both averaging between 50 and 60 ypg. Wieneke has 7 receiving TDs so far. Overall, the Jackrabbit defense is allowing 16.6 ppg, although like UNI, they don’t get a ton of pressure on QBs either, ranking 117th in the FCS in tackles for loss. LB Christian Rozeboom leads the team with 35 tackles, 2 for loss and CB Jordan Brown is right behind with 31 tackles, 2 for loss, and 1 INT.
Like I said, both teams appear to be down some from the last couple of years, although it looks like UNI is down a bit more (or maybe SDSU was just starting higher). I think it’ll be something of a back-and-forth game, but the Jackrabbits will pull ahead late for a 6 point victory at Hobo Days.
Missouri State at #10 Western Illinois (Family Day)
- Missouri State lost at North Dakota State, 38-11
- Western Illinois won at Northern Iowa, 38-29
History: The Leathernecks have played the Bears 34 times. Western holds the series lead, 17-16-1. Last year’s meeting was a 38-35 Western victory in Springfield, MO on 10/15/16 where Western came back with a TD in the final 45 seconds to earn the win.
Missouri State is 1-4 and sitting at the bottom of the conference standings at 0-2. Their only win this season was a 7-pt victory over Murray State. They are struggling with keeping teams close, giving up 502 ypg and just under 40 ppg to their opposition (31.75 ppg if you remove the statistical anomaly of their game against Missouri). LB McNeese Egbim leads the team with 29 total tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 QB hurry, and a fumble recovery this season and S Jared Beshure has 3 INTs in 5 games and a season-high of 8 tackles against Illinois State. On offense, they’ve been having nearly as much trouble, averaging 12 ppg (again, removing the Mizzou game). WR Malik Earl leads the team with 72.2 receiving ypg and has 2 TD. Had 163 receiving yards and a TD against FBS Missouri. QB Peyton Huslig is throwing for 185.2 ypg and 4 TDs with 7 INTs. They can be somewhat dangerous on special teams though with WR/KS Deion Holliman who plays a little at WR, but primarily is their kick/punt return specialist. He is 6th in the FCS (1st in MVFC) in combined kick returns, averages 23.9 yards per kickoff return, 10.8 per punt return, has twice been recognized this season as MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and as of their game against NDSU, holds the MVFC record for career kickoff return yards.
Western Illinois is 4-1, with a close loss to South Dakota the only blemish on their record. The Leathernecks are putting up over 40 ppg and 463 ypg with a potent offense that revolves around QB Sean McGuire (272.4 ypg, 12 TDs w/ 3 INTs) throwing primarily to WR Jaelon Acklin (FCS-leading 148.4 ypg, 7 receiving & 2 rushing TDs). The Leatherneck defense still struggles against some stronger passing games, but to a lesser extent than last year and are allowing 22.2 ppg. LB Brett Taylor leads the FCS in total tackles with 14.2 per game, and Taylor, LB Quentin Moon, and DL Khalen Saunders all are in the top 50 in the FCS in tackles for loss (averaging 1.4 or more per game).
So, we’ve got one of the most prolific QB/WR combos in the FCS against one of the worst pass defenses. I feel like Western is going to put up a lot of yards through the air in this game, although they should also be able to run the ball fairly well when they need to. MSU might get a score or two from passing primarily, but Western should be able to shut down their running game, making the offense one-dimensional. I think Western will win this one by about 20.
#2 North Dakota State at #7 Youngstown State (Football Alumni Day)
- North Dakota State beat Missouri State, 38-11
- Youngstown State lost at South Dakota, 31-28
History: The Bison and Penguins have played each other 11 times, with NDSU holding the 7-4 series lead and having won the last 5 meetings. Last year’s matchup was a 24-3 Bison win at the Fargodome.
North Dakota State…#1 in the FCS in: Scoring Offense, Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Time of Possession, Rushing Offense, Passing Yards Allowed, Turnover Margin, Interceptions Thrown. So…that’s a thing. RB Lance Dunn is running for 113 ypg and has 12 rushing TDs and #2 RB Bruce Anderson is putting up numbers that are better than most team’s #1 RB…just under 80 ypg and 3 rushing TDs. QB Easton Stick doesn’t put up huge numbers, but is effective when he does, currently holding a (2nd in the FCS) Passing Efficiency Rating of 193.1. LB Nick DeLuca is back and contributing after being out for most of the first half of the season with an injury, LBs Levi Jordheim and Jabril Cox each have over 20 tackles, and Safeties Tre Dempsey and Robbie Grimsley each have 3 INTs on the season.
Youngstown State is somewhat less “flashy” than NDSU (not that either team is really that “flashy”). Like NDSU, they get things done with a strong ground attack that’s putting up 268 ypg, starring RB Tevin McCaster who has 107 ypg and 8 rushing TDs. Like NDSU, the Penguins have a strong defense that is limiting opposition points, currently averaging 15 ppg allowed. Safeties Jalyn Powell and Kyle Hegedus and LB Lee Wright are all over 30 tackles this season, with Powell having a forced fumble and 4 pass breakups, and Hegedus with a fumble recover and an interception. DE Justus Reed has 4 sacks in their 5 games for 23 yards as well as a fumble recovery.
The Bison are undefeated on the season, although this game is what I’d consider their first “real” test so far. The Penguins have lost two, but those two games were at FBS Pitt and at currently #4 ranked South Dakota…so it’s not like they were playing cupcakes. The two teams kinda have “reverse” conference schedules, with NDSU playing mostly tough teams later in the conference season and YSU playing mostly tough teams earlier in the conference season. YSU’s defense seems like it’s built to be better against passing teams, and could struggle against strong running teams like NDSU (they also had trouble w/ USD’s Chris Streveler who used the run threat to open up the passing game). Actually, I’d say both teams are very similar, being very good at running the ball and against teams that run the ball a lot. I think it’ll be a close one, but NDSU should come out ahead by a (probably Lance Dunn rushing) TD. Bison by 7.