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Gettin Familiar with Illinois State

Everything is a little behind schedule here, thanks to the Vandy game, but we'll get things back on track with this and tomorrow with the names. ISU doesn't have a great slate of names, but, like I say, when life deals you former name of the week runner-up Lorenzo Seaberry III from Eastern Michigan, make fruit punch out of those Seaberries. Wait, I've never said that before.

ISU might be in the FCS, but they're not the worst team there, like Towson last year: they entered the season ranked at No. 22. (They dropped out of the poll this week, now they're the equivalent of No. 29 - below Northern Arizona and above UT-Chattanooga.) So hit the jump to read about em.

Thus far: Last year, first year coach, Brock Spack - who has a great name, by the way - led the Redbirds to a 6-5 finish, which, by definition, isn't half-bad, good for their first winning season since 2006. Apparently, it was enough for enough optimism to loft them into the season-opening FCS polls at No. 22 - as I said above, don't you read? But in Week 1, they had a little bit of a road bump despite coming away with a victory in the form of a 55-54 shootout victory over Division II Central Missouri State. (The Mules. STERILE BUT STRONG!) ISU needed a kick return touchdown, a pick six, and 509 yards of offense to beat their stubborn Mule counterparts,. They trailed 54-47 with 4:15 to go, but a 78-yard drive by the Redbirds found paydirt, and after Central Missouri jumped on the PAT, Spack went balls to the wall and Ashton Leggett managed the one yard to give ISU the one-point lead and the W.

Us and them: Northwestern and Illinois State have somehow never faced in football, so let's turn to the obvious comparison and look at FBS-FCS matchups. ISU is 3-31 against the big time, and all three of their victories are against MAC schools. Their most recent win was a 25-3 domination of Akron in 1991. They're 0-5 against the Big Ten. Of course, NU is... how do I say this politely... susceptible to losses to FCS teams.

When they got the ball: Normally, ISU is a place where you want to talk about the passing game: last year, Last year, the Redbirds threw redshirt freshman Matt Brown into the fire as starting quarterback, and he led the team to the best passing attack in the MVC. This year, maybe not: in one year, they landed two sweet running back transfers: Erik Smith, a sophomore who played six games last year and scored a touchdown for Wisconsin - yes, that Wisconsin - and Ashton Leggett, who started one game last year for Michigan State - yes, that Michigan State - and did pretty damn well, notching four touchdowns and 110 yards against Western Michigan. Because of NCAA transfer rules, they didn't have to sit out a year transferring to a FCS school, so they were on the field and ready to run against Central Missouri. (ISU seemed to have a knack for attracting D-I talent this offseason - they currently have 13 former FBS players under scholarship, many of whom transferred this offseason. However, only four are listed as starters.) Smith notched 96 yards including a 57 yard score, and Leggett had 56 including the aforementioned two-point conversion for the win. Meanwhile, last year's starter Gordon Cliffton is way down the depth chart. As for the now sophomore quarterback, Matt Brown, last year, he tossed 11 touchdowns to only six picks alongside 2369 yards passing, earning the title of MVC freshman of the year. He showed that knack for efficiency again against Central Missouri, going 23-30 with three touchdowns, no picks, and 298 yards. That's Dan Persa-esque, there. The passing game is definitely their strength: they ranked No. 1 in the MVC last year in passing. Brown's No. 1 target last year, Eyad Salem, broke Illinois State's single-season receptions record and had nearly twice as many yards - 943 - as the second receiver - Tyrone Walker, who had 485. However, Salem is now gone: the leading receiver against CMU was Marvon Sanders, a transfer from Eastern Michigan - OH SNAP! NOT EASTERN MICHIGAN - who managed 113 yards last week despite only reeling in 124 in a whole season for the Eagles. Again, he looks like he'll be the bulk of the passing game: the guy with the next most receptions was Smith, the running back. Also noteworthy is that their kicker, Steven Fetzer, missed a PAT last week - although he was 5-6 and 2-2 from the field, so maybe it was a fluke.

When we got the ball: Damn! That sounds like a good offense, right? Well, guess what: there's a catch! Their defense is horrendously bad. Look, I don't like to focus on small sample sizes. Northwestern played badly last week. Right? Are they going to be bad this year? Maybe not, right? But some small sample sizes are too meaningful to ignore. One of these is when a team plays a Division II team and allows 605 yards total offense. SIX HUNDRED AND FIVE YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE. HOLY CRAP THAT IS A LOT OF TOTAL OFFENSE. JESUS. Not only is that a lot of total offense, but it was against a team called Central Missouri from Division II. I make myself clear. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure some of this is due to Central Missouri's crazy throw-a-lot offense, as their quarterback Eric Czierniewski threw 61 times. But he threw it 61 times... for 493 yards. Four hundred and ninety three. Sure, ISU had two picks, and true freshman cornerback Marcus Harris took one to the house. But, uh, two picks on 61 passes isn't a great number. As for their rush stopping game, they're not perfect either. Yeah, they only allowed 58 yards, but it was on 4.5 per carry, and last year, they allowed 167 yards per game on the ground, including 4.7 per carry. It's porous, to say the least. Not to mention that they didn't record any sacks against Illinois State. That's not good. ISU's website claims their defensive player to watch is junior middle linebacker Josh Howe, who notched eight tackles, 1.5 for loss, and a pick last week, but... well, SIX HUNDRED AND FIVE YARDS.