I apologize for being a little later than usual with my weekly preview post. In addition to being a fan of MVFC football, I’m also a Chicago Cubs fan, so my evening writing sessions have been somewhat constrained by watching Cubs games. In case you weren’t aware though, that won’t be a problem for me the rest of the season 😉
Week 8, the start of the “downslope” towards the end of the season, which will, unfortunately, be here before we know it. There’s some interesting matchups here and in at least one situation, should learn a lot about which teams in the “middle” are likely to be above the “playoff line” and which will be below it.
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:
1:00 PM – #9 Youngstown State (3-3, 1-2) at #28 Northern Iowa (3-3, 2-1)
2:00 PM – #3 South Dakota (6-0, 3-0) at #27 Illinois State (4-2, 2-1)
2:00 PM – Southern Illinois (3-3, 1-2) at Indiana State (0-6, 0-3)
2:00 PM – #15 South Dakota State (4-2, 1-2) at Missouri State (1-5, 0-3)
2:30 PM – #7 Western Illinois (5-1, 2-1) at #2 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0)
All games listed in Central time and all games on ESPN3.
— Valley Football (@ValleyFootball) October 16, 2017
#9 Youngstown State at #28 Northern Iowa (Family Weekend)
- Youngstown State lost at home to North Dakota State, 27-24 in OT
- Northern Iowa won at South Dakota State, 38-18
History: The Penguins and Panthers have met up 29 times starting back in 1978. Northern Iowa holds the series lead, 21-8, although last year’s matchup resulted in a 14-10 come-from-behind victory where YSU got all 14 points in the 4th quarter.
Youngstown State has had one of the most difficult schedules in the first half of their season. Despite having 3 losses, those losses were against FBS Pitt in OT, by 3 points on a last-second FG at 6-0 South Dakota, and by 3 points in OT to 6-0 North Dakota State, so it’s not like any of the losses were embarrassing results by any means. Still, they need to start picking up some actual wins if they want to be playoff-bound. The Penguins have a great ground game, powered by RB Tevin McCaster who’s averaging just barely under 100 ypg and has 9 TDs. QB Nathan Mays isn’t the greatest passer, with 119 ypg and 3 TDs w/ 1 INT, but is a legitimate running threat, picking up just over 56 ypg with 4 rushing TDs. Safeties Jalyn Powell and Kyle Hegedus lead the team with 43 and 42 tackles, and Linebackers Lee Wright and Armand Dellovade lock down the middle of the field for a defense that only allows 160.5 ypg and 17 ppg (both in the top 12 for the FCS)
Northern Iowa has also had a tough schedule, although they’ve seemed like a real “up-and-down” team this year…losing at home to WIU and then steamrolling SDSU up in Brookings in the last two weeks. It’s almost unfair to look at the entire season’s stats for UNI because they looked like a completely different team last week against SDSU now that they have RB Marcus Weymiller. UNI actually has a run game now, with Weymiller chugging along for 170 yards and 2 TDs against SDSU. QB Eli Dunne has done a solid job, averaging nearly 275 ypg with 17 TDs (8 INTs) primarily to WR Daurice Fountain, who has 87 ypg and 5 TDs. The defense is stronger against the run than they are against the pass, with a couple of solid LBs in Jared Farley and Duncan Ferch. DB Malcolm Washington can be dangerous as well, picking up 25 tackles and 2 INTs so far this season.
Is this an “up” game for UNI or a “down” game? YSU can be really tough, but they don’t have much of a passing game and have struggled at the UNIDome in the past…the last time the Penguins won there was in 1999. Both teams need a win here to stay in a decent position for the playoffs. I think that YSU will be able to slow down Weymiller a lot better than SDSU did, but will struggle a bit with UNI’s passing game. UNI is better against the run than the pass, but Tevin McCaster is going to be hard to stop. It’ll likely be a pretty close and low-scoring game…first team to 20 points wins…which I think will be Youngstown coming away with a 4-point win.
#3 South Dakota at #27 Illinois State (Homecoming)
- South Dakota beat Indiana State 56-6
- Illinois State lost at Southern Illinois, 42-7
History: The Coyotes and Redbirds have played 6 times starting in 2011, with Illinois State holding a 5-1 series lead. Last year’s meeting was the first win for USD, prevailing 27-24 in Vermillion.
South Dakota has probably the single-most impactful player in the FCS right now in QB Chris Streveler. The former Minnesota Gopher leads the MVFC in passing yards per game with just over 310 ypg and passing TDs with 17. Streveler is also the Coyote’s leading runner, coming in at 3rd in the MVFC with 8 rushing TDs and 5th with just under 75 ypg and was just this week named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List (best offensive player in the FCS). Overall, the USD offense is putting up a (2nd in the FCS) 47 ppg and (1st in the FCS) 565 yards per game of total offense. The defense isn’t half-bad either, limiting opponents to 18 ppg and 320 ypg. DB Danny Rambo leads the team in tackles with 35, 2 for loss, with 1 INT and 5 pass breakups. DL Darin Greenfield may “only” have 28 tackles, but he’s leading the FCS in tackles for loss with an average of 2.3 per game (13.5 total, 5 sacks). So far the only teams who have really challenged the Coyotes are Western Illinois (who they beat by 5) and Youngstown State (who they beat by 3 on a last-second FG).
Illinois State was looking like another possible top conference team this year with a 4-game win streak to start the season (albeit against a very weak schedule)…that was until they were tested against a couple of decent teams, losing at Northern Arizona and at Southern Illinois. 4-2 isn’t a bad way to start the season usually, but ILSU has looked particularly disorganized in their last couple of games, being outscored 79-23. The Redbird defense is actually one of the better ones out there at stopping the run, allowing only 70 ypg, but are weaker against strong passing games (such as NAU and SIU). LB Tyree Horton leads the team with 35 tackles, 5 for loss w/ 2 sacks and a forced fumble + recovery. QB Jake Kolbe is throwing for 258 ypg and 7 TDs, but seems to have trouble with accuracy sometimes (or maybe his receivers are just bad at catching), throwing 5 INTs so far. WR Christian Gibbs is averaging just under 78 receiving ypg with 4 TDs. ILSU’s offense is not particularly “bad”, but they just don’t seem to have anything special going on right now…a little better when they’re airing out the ball, but otherwise solidly in the middle of the FCS rankings in rushing ypg and scoring.
South Dakota is bound to run into a team that will hand them an upset…right? At some point? Unfortunately a team like ILSU doesn’t really feel like the team to do it. The Redbird defense is going to have a really hard time containing Streveler. They might be able to slow him down in the run game, but will probably give up quite a few yards through the air. On the opposite side of the ball, USD has shown the ability to shut down a variety of offenses, but seems to be a bit more effective against teams that run the ball more. This aspect might give ILSU fans a sliver of hope…if Kolbe, Gibbs, and WR Spencer Schnell all have a great game, they could stay close with the Coyotes…but I just don’t see a win as being very likely for them. I’m thinking USD will take this one by 14.
Southern Illinois (3-3, 1-2) at Indiana State (Homecoming)
- Southern Illinois beat Illinois State, 42-7
- Indiana State lost to South Dakota, 56-6
History: The Salukis and Sycamores have matched up 54 times starting back in 1944. The series is an even split currently with each team taking 27 wins. At Indiana State, INSU has the advantage, 15-12. Last year’s matchup was a 22-14 win for the Sycamores down in Carbondale.
SIU has had a real up-and-down season, starting off with a couple of dominating wins and a loss to FBS Memphis where they had a pretty good showing. They then lost to UNI, got destroyed by SDSU and then steamrolled ILSU. They don’t have much of a run game, but they do have a decent QB with Sam Straub averaging just over 251 ypg and 17 TDs (6 INTs) throwing mostly to WRs Connor Iwema (74 ypg & 2 TD) and Darrell James (69 ypg & 5 TDs). The Saluki O-Line has been pretty solid, ranking #2 in the FCS at allowing sacks (.5 per game). The SIU defense is rather suspect though, allowing exactly 400 ypg and 24 ppg so far, although passing teams need to watch out for DB Jeremy Chinn who has 35 tackles, 3 interceptions and 5 pass breakups. One of the bright spots for SIU currently is their punting game, with Lane Reazin currently 4th in the FCS with a 45.2 yards per punt average…and return man Craig James leading the conference with a 14.3 yard per return average on punts, so in a game that comes down to field position…SIU has a bit of an advantage over most teams.
Indiana State did ok the first part of the year, but haven’t been able to put together a win yet. To be fair, here’s the rankings (FCS unless otherwise stated) of their last 5 opponents at the time they played them: FBS #21, #19, #8, #2, #4…so it hasn’t been real easy…even a decent team is likely to lose most, if not all, of those games. The Sycamore defense is last in the conference against the pass (295.5 ypg), 3rd to last against the run (159 ypg), and giving up the 2nd most points (39.7 ppg). LB Jonas Griffith leads the team with 49 tackles, although he started the season strong and has gone down from there. INSU’s offense is only putting up 14.5 ppg and 287 ypg, which is last in the conference and in the bottom 20 of the FCS for both stats. QB Cade Sparks has thrown for 124 ypg and 4 TDs w/ 4 INTs. They do have a pretty good RB in LeMonte Booker, who has 86 ypg and 2 TDs, and WR Bob Pugh does a little of everything, receiving for 79 ypg and 2 TDs, rushing a few times for an average of 5.4 yards per carry, and is the primary kick returner averaging 25.67 yards per return on punts and 19.89 yards per return on kickoffs.
Southern Illinois definitely showed signs of life in their win over Illinois State, but I think Indiana State is probably better off just tanking this season and going for a high draft pick next year…er…wait…is that not a thing at this level? Well, anyway, I think Indiana State will actually put up higher than average points against SIU, but Southern Illinois has the passing offense to fly past whatever INSU can put on the board. I think the Salukis will spoil the Sycamores Homecoming to the tune of a 12 point margin.
#15 South Dakota State at Missouri State
- South Dakota State lost to Northern Iowa, 38-18
- Missouri State lost at Western Illinois, 49-30
History: The Jackrabbits and Bears have played 9 times in their history with SDSU holding a 8-1 series lead. Last year’s meeting was a 49-24 South Dakota State victory at home.
South Dakota State, earlier in the season was thought to be one of the most dangerous offenses in the FCS this year. Unfortunately, that though hasn’t really panned out quite like they’d hoped it would. The Jackrabbit offense still has some very good players, but instead of sitting right at the top of the rankings, they find themselves falling back to just being “pretty good”…sitting in the 20th-30th range in the FCS for most of the major offensive stats. Last year, TE Dallas Goedert and WR Jake Wieneke were the top two receivers in the conference in both yards and TDs. This year, however, the averages are down and while Wieneke is leading the conference in TDs, Goedert only has 2 so far, and in the ypg category, they’re sitting at 9th and 12th in the MVFC. QB Taryn Christion is averaging 224 ypg and has 14 TDs and 3 INTs. Turnovers appear to be a category where the Jackrabbits have had problems, losing 9 and only gaining 7 for a net turnover margin of -.33/game. The SDSU defense has decently against the pass, but had no way to stop the run last week with UNI’s RB getting 170 yards against them. Last year’s MVFC Freshman of the Year, LB Christian Rozeboom leads the defense with 49 tackles, 2 for loss.
Missouri State has what I’d call a “sporadically potent offense”, putting up 43 against Mizzou to start the season, 28 in their lone win over Murray State, and 30 against a decent Western Illinois team. Sandwiched in between those performances were 0 points against North Dakota, 9 against Illinois State, and 11 against North Dakota State. They’ve only been netting 336 yards of total offense per game this season and 20.2 ppg, with QB Payton Huslig having 186 ypg and 4 TDs through the air and 26 ypg and 2 TDs on the ground…but also 8 INTs. WR Malik Earl can be dangerous at times, catching 84 ypg and 2 TDs. The top tackler for the Bears is LB McNeece Egbim with 33 including 2.5 for loss and a fumble recovery, but outside of that, they unfortunately don’t have much going for them. Out of 123 FCS teams, MSU is 118th in pass defense, 107th in run defense, 118th in scoring defense, and 122nd in total defense.
So, Jackrabbits are weak against the run but decent against the pass. Bears are weak against…well…everything (defensively speaking). They did have a close game going with Western Illinois with a lead as late as ~5 minutes left in the 3rd and only being down by 5 with less than 5 minutes left in the game, but then gave up a couple of rushing TDs near the end. SDSU might not be quite living up to most people’s expectations this season, but I still think they’re good enough to pick up a few more passing TDs against MSU. I think SDSU wins this one by about 20 points.
#7 Western Illinois at #2 North Dakota State
- Western Illinois beat Missouri State, 49-30
- North Dakota State won at Youngstown State, 27-24 in OT
History: The Leathernecks and Bison have played each other 8 times, with NDSU holding the 6-2 series lead and having won the last 4 meetings. Last year’s matchup was a 21-13 Bison win in Macomb. Interestingly, out of all 8 meetings, the home team has only won 1 game, with WIU currently 2-1 in games at the Fargodome.
Western Illinois is coming off an emotional rain-delayed win against Missouri State (their first home win this season). The WIU defense is much better against the run than against the pass, with a lot of size and experience on the D-Line, and one of the FCS’s best LB’s, Macomb-native Brett Taylor, currently leading the FCS in tackles with 14.5 per game (87 total) and has 9 for loss and a forced fumble. They also have one of the faster D-linemen I’ve seen in quite a while with Khalen Saunders sitting at #2 on the team with 33 tackles, 8 for loss including 5.5 sacks (#1 in the MVFC), 3 forced fumbles, and 1 offensive rushing TD. Offensively, the combination of QB Sean McGuire (268.5 ypg, 15 TDs, 3 INTs) and WR Jaelon Acklin (138 ypg & 8 TDs receiving, 32.5 ypg & 3 TDs rushing) has been a boon for a crew that lost two of the best receivers in school history after last season. Overall, they’re averaging 469 ypg and the FCS’s 4th best scoring offense with 41.8 ppg. RBs Max Norris (74.5 ypg) and Steve McShane (49.4 ypg) are usually able to get things done on the ground, with both having 4 rushing TDs, although they haven’t yet faced a run defense quite like…
North Dakota State is a perfect 6-0 on the season. I’m not sure there’s really too much to say that hasn’t already been said about the Bison. They’re putting up an average of 47.5 ppg and defensively allowing only 9.2 ppg. Between RBs Lance Dunn (100 ypg, 12 TDs) and Bruce Anderson (77.8 ypg, 3 TDs) on one side, and defenders like LBs Nick DeLuca, Jabril Cox and Levi Jordheim, and DL’s Nate Tanguay and Aaron Steidl on the other, they have the best ground game on both sides of the ball in the FCS…possibly in quite a few years in the FCS. QB Easton Stick seems to have really stepped up his game this year, throwing for 152 ypg and 12 TDs and running for 44 ypg and 3 TDs with 0 INTs so far. WR RJ Urzendowski has 5 receiving TDs including an incredible one-handed grab against Youngstown State in the corner of the endzone for which he was awarded a bowl of chili. The Bison also have an impressive +2 turnover ratio per game and hold on to the ball for an average of 34:25 per game…5th best in the FCS.
So, the last time Western traveled to Fargo, it was a very unpleasant day for the Leathernecks…however, that was just one of those games where a couple of mistakes piled up and things just got out of hand very quickly. WIU is a better team than they were then and I don’t think we’re likely to see a result like that this year. I think that WIU’s strength against the run will help them slow down NDSU’s RBs, but they’ll likely do fairly well through the air. NDSU should be able to limit WIU’s offense much better than any team the Leathernecks have faced this season so far, although the QB McGuire->WR Acklin combo has the ability to make plays happen that it seems like almost nobody else could create. If Western wants to win this, they need to play mistake-free football and do a much better job at limiting the passing game (and the run defense just needs to do their job). As a Leatherneck fan, I’d love to pick Western to win this and I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility, but the realist in me says that NDSU will likely take this game with roughly a 10-point margin of victory.