On to Week 4 of the college football season, and specifically, the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It’s a bit of a slow week this time, with four games going on involving five MVFC teams.
First up, the games:
2:00 PM – #14 Illinois State (2-0) at Missouri State (1-2)
2:30 PM – Robert Morris (2-1) at #2 North Dakota State (2-0)
5:30 PM – #19 Western Illinois (2-0) at FBS Coastal Carolina (1-1)
7:00 PM – Southern Illinois (2-0) at FBS Memphis (2-0)
Youngstown State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, and South Dakota State are all on their bye weeks.
All games are available streaming on ESPN3/WatchESPN.com
#14 Illinois State at Missouri State (Alumni Day)
- Illinois State won at Eastern Illinois, 44-13
- Missouri State beat Murray State, 28-21
History: The Redbirds and Bears have played each other 37 times going back to 1971. Illinois State holds the series lead with a 20-16-1 record.
The first MVFC conference matchup of the season sends the ISU Redbirds down the road to take on the MSU Bears. Illinois State has gotten off to a strong start this season, winning both of their first two games. In their game against Eastern Illinois, a usually tough rivalry game, ISU got off to a fast start and never really looked back, winning by 31 and putting together a fairly balanced offensive attack that racked up 451 total yards…233 on the ground and 218 through the air. JR QB Jake Kolbe runs the offense, averaging 206 yards per game passing, with 3 TDs and 0 INTs so far this season. His primary receiving targets are SR WR Christian Gibbs (49.5 ypg, 2 TD) and JR WR Spencer Schnell (42.5 ypg), but they’ve gotten most of their scoring this season with their ground game. SO RB Markel Smith leads the team on ground yardage (86 ypg, 2 TD) but SO RB James Robinson is currently ahead on the total TDs (64 ypg, 3 TD).
On the other side of the ball, the Redbird Defense is holding teams to a FCS-best 79 ypg average. I’m not sure how much you can read into this stat, however, since they’ve only played two games, and one was against non-scholarship Butler. Still, the defense has only allowed 7 yards on the ground so far, have intercepted the ball twice, and have forced 2 fumble turnovers. JR LB Tyree Horton currently leads the team in tackles with 15, including 4 for loss (2 sacks), 1 QBH, and 1 forced fumble. JR S Mitchell Brees has been having a productive first couple of games as well, netting 2 interceptions returned for a total of 35 yards to go along with 4 tackles.
Missouri State is having a bit of a rougher go of things so far, losing their first two games (one against FBS Mizzou) before picking up their first win in their home opener against Murray State last weekend. Like ISU, it was a relatively balanced attack, with 164 ground yards and 196 passing yards adding up to 360 total, while allowing 273. Newly-transferred SO QB Peyton Huslig has thrown for 227 yards per game with 4 TDs and 4 INTs this season so far and while he had his best day against Mizzou, he’s actually struggled more against FCS teams. SR WR Malik Earl is the man to watch on the receiving end of things with 81 yards per game so far and 2 TDs, but don’t look past the big SR TE Erik Furmanek (at 267 lbs is the largest non-lineman on the team) who’s just a bit behind with 70.3 yards per game. On the ground though, it’s all Calan Crowder. This SR TB (who’s brother Tristan is also on the team…a Sophomore Defensive Lineman) is averaging just under 100 yards per game (97) and has 3 rushing TDs.
Defensively, SO LB McNeece Egbim is attempting to fill the shoes of now Houston Texans LB Dylan Cole and currently leads the team with 24 tackles, 2.5 for loss. JR S Jared Beshore is decent at getting himself in the way of the ball, with 2 interceptions and 3 passes defended in addition to 10 tackles. One of the biggest threats for the Bears, however, is SR WR Deion Holliman…but not really at his regular WR position…Holliman currently leads the conference in both punt and combined kick return yardage and was an All-MVFC First Team return man last season and Preseason All-MVFC return specialist for this season, as well as receiving a MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week award last week.
Overall, the Bears do seem to be slowly improving over the past year or two, but at this point, it looks like ISU is just a bit too good. I think the Redbird defense will do pretty well at slowing down Crowder, although MSU might get a decent amount of yards through the air, but the MSU defense is going to have more trouble with ISU’s balanced offensive threats. It’s generally easier to cover one really good player than two decent players, and I think that’ll happen with ISU going between the two top WRs and handing the ball off to the two RBs. Holliman will get MSU some decent starting field position at times, but the ISU defense is going to make it hard for them to do much with it. To me, this looks to be a win for the Redbirds, probably by about 2 TDs.
Robert Morris at #2 North Dakota State (Trees Bowl)
- Robert Morris beat VMI, 23-0
- North Dakota State had a bye week.
History: The Bison and Colonials have played each other twice, in 2010 and 2012, both times in Fargo. NDSU has won both games and outscored RMU 95-17 in them.
NDSU has started off the season strong, going 2-0 against a severely over-matched Mississippi Valley State team and decimating a (at that time) top-10 ranked Eastern Washington. The 2-headed monster of JR RBs Lance Dunn (145 ypg, 5 TD) and Bruce Anderson (106 ypg, 1 TD) comprises a large part of their strong rushing offense. The Bison defense has only allowed 131 yards per game of total offense this season, primarily through the air (111.5 per game). JR SS Robbie Grimsley received a conference player of the week award following his 2 interception, 4 tackle, and 2 pass break up performance against Eastern Washington two weeks ago.
Robert Morris spent last weekend shutting out VMI and holding them to 182 yards and forcing 3 turnovers. This would be impressive if not for the fact that VMI is one of the worst of the DI football teams and hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. RMU is averaging 267.7 ypg, with 192.7 of that coming through the air. Defensively, they’re only allowing 13.3 points per game and are headlined by JR LB Adam Wollet, who is averaging 10 tackles per game.
Generally, if a team is going to do well against NDSU, they have to have a decent passing game and a strong running defense. Robert Morris statistically is fairly decent at both…for an NEC team. So far this season, MVFC teams have played NEC teams three times, with the MVFC team winning all three, by an average margin of approximately 40 points. This game will likely be no different. It’s going to take an absolutely phenomenal D-line combined with a couple of fearsome LB’s to be able to stop NDSU’s running game, and RMU doesn’t have that. I think the Bison win this one, pretty easily, by roughly 43 points.
#19 Western Illinois at FBS Coastal Carolina (Youth Day)
- Western Illinois had a bye week.
- Coastal Carolina lost at UAB, 30-23
History: The Leathernecks and Chanticleers have played each other twice, in 2010 and 2015, both times in Conway, SC. The first was in the FCS playoffs, where WIU won 17-10, and the second was early in the regular season, where CCU won 34-27.
The Leathernecks are currently off to a 2-0 start, having taken down both Tennessee Tech and Northern Arizona in convincing fashion, and both on the road. They had last weekend off to get healed up and get prepared for this weekend’s game over on the east coast. WIU is averaging slightly under 40 ppg and 432.5 ypg, with a strong emphasis on the run game (252.5 ypg). Due to the opening-game ankle injury to preseason all-conference RB Steve McShane, SO RB Max Norris has stepped up to fill the void with 118 ypg. From everything I’ve heard, it sounds like McShane might be ready to come back for some of this weekend’s game. SR WR Jaelon Acklin gets in on both aspects of the offense, catching for 90 ypg and 2 TDs and rushing for 51 ypg and 2 TDs. The Leatherneck defense is allowing 236.5 ypg, but only 28.5 ypg on the ground and are led by SR LB Brett Taylor with 22 tackles, 1 for loss, and 1 forced fumble. SR Transfer (from Liberty) DB Tyrin Holloway is another one to watch, having 2 interceptions in as many games. The Leathernecks are currently 2nd in the FCS in time of possession, holding on to the ball for an average of 38:11.
Newly-FBS Coastal Carolina is 1-1 in their first two games, beating UMass in their home opener, then losing at newly-reinstated UAB. Like Western, they rely much more heavily on the run game than the passing game, putting up 274 ypg on the ground but only 90 ypg through the air. SR RB Osharmar Abercrombie is the primary back to keep an eye on, averaging 112 rushing yards per game (6.2 per carry) with 4 TDs and was named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week following week 1 of the season. It’s hard to tell who the QB is going to be, with two guys getting playing time: Tyler Keane has a 79.25 efficiency rating with 76 passing yards per game, 1 TD and 3 INTs and Dalton Demos has a 65.85 efficiency rating with 27 total passing yards. Demos also gets in a bit of running with 39.5 ypg and 2 rushing TDs. While the offense is strong at the ground game, their defense is strong against the ground game, giving up 124 ypg rushing vs 233.5 ypg passing. Their top defensive players are Safety Fitz Wattley with 17 total tackles and LB Silas Kelly who also has 17 tackles in addition to 1.5 tackles for loss (.5 sack).
It’s pretty rare to see a FCS team actually favored on the road against an FBS team (although it has happened at least one other time this year), but that is the situation here, with most recent odds giving WIU around a 3-5 point edge. One thing is for certain though, if you like tough, run-first football…I think you’ll like this game. I think that the ground game is actually going to be fairly even, so the difference might end up being one or two big plays through the air, in which case, I think Western has the advantage with a couple of solid receivers and a pretty decent QB. For me, this points to a very close WIU victory…by 1 point.
Southern Illinois at FBS Memphis
- Southern Illinois won at Southeast Missouri State, 35-17
- Memphis defeated AP #25 UCLA, 48-45
History: This is the first game between SIU and Memphis, despite Memphis being nearly the closest FBS team to Carbondale (technically Vandy is slightly closer).
Southern Illinois has started off the season 2-0 with wins over Mississippi Valley State and OOC rival Southeast Missouri State. MVSU is pretty much right at the bottom of DI, so it’s going to be much more useful just to look at the SEMO game (although SEMO isn’t that great this year either). SIU has a decent passing offense, with JR QB putting up 206 yards and 4 TDs (1 INT). Most of those yards (119) and 2 of those TDs went to JR WR Darrell James and can run the ball when they need to with JR RB Jonathan Mixon picking up 46 yards and a TD. Their defense gave up 264 offensive yards (166 through the air) to the Red Hawks, who had more first downs than Salukis, but only half the points.
Memphis, meanwhile, began with a win over UL-Monroe and then a game against Central Florida getting postponed due to hurricane. Despite the craziness of an impromptu bye week, they then welcomed the 25th ranked FBS team, UCLA, to their place and came away with a 3-point win. In that game, the Tigers put up 398 yards and 6 TDs through the air. SR QB Riley Ferguson was then named the American Conference Offensive Player of the Week, Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week, Athlon Sports Offensive Player of the Week, and College Sports Madness National Offensive Player of the Week. The big receiving threat is SR WR Anthony Miller, who had 185 yards and 2 TDs in that game, and SO RB Darrell Henderson is averaging 137 ypg so far this season with 2 TDs. The Memphis defense did allow 633 yards and 45 points to the Bruins, though, so it was a pretty big day for both offenses. SR DB Jonathan Cook and SO DB Austin Hall led Memphis with 9 tackles each.
Overall, this looks much more like a typical FCS vs FBS game than the WIU vs CCU one. SIU has struggled on defense over the last year or two and despite the improvements to their passing game, I don’t see how they’re going to be able to contain the Memphis passing attack. SIU might put up a few points against the Tigers, but Memphis is going to put up a lot of points on the Salukis. I think Memphis wins this one pretty comfortably, by around 28 points.