South Dakota State Preview: #7 Jackrabbits at #11 Illinois State
At the midway point of the 2018 Missouri Valley Conference football schedule, there is a logjam in the middle with no fewer than six of the league's ten teams sitting at 2-2 all tied for third place behind North Dakota State (4-0) and Northern Iowa (3-1).
The winner will keep their playoff hopes very much alive with three weeks to play, while the loser will put themselves in a position where their only hope of postseason play is to run the table in November.
The Redbirds (5-2/2-2) slipped three spots in the FCS Top 25 this week after a 14-point loss at North Dakota State last week (October 20).
Illinois State is averaging 35 points per game thanks in large part to one of the top running attacks in the Missouri Valley. Junior running back James Robinson is second in the league with 130 yards per game while junior Markel Smith contributes 74 yards a game to the league number-three rushing offense.
Junior quarterback Brady Davis, a transfer from Memphis, has 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions but is coming off a two-pick day in Fargo. Senior receiver Spencer Schnell is tops in the league in receptions and is coming off of a 112-yard day at NDSU.
The Redbird defense allows the fewest yards in the conference, is first against the pass (178 yards per game) and second against the run (112 yards per game). This unit gives up just 14 points per game, and is plus-eight in the turnover battle.
Senior linebacker Zackary Matthews is seventh in the MVFC in tackles. Sophomore end Romeo McKnight has three sacks. Junior linebacker Tuvone Clark has seven tackles for loss.
In the secondary, sophomore Devin Taylor is fourth in passes defended. Junior Luther Kirk is second with three interceptions.
Going into the North Dakota State game the Illinois State defense has been allowing a league-low 30 percent conversion rate on third down, but the Bison converted on 10-of-16 in that game.
Kickoff is noon, Saturday in Normal, Illinois.
The Jackrabbits (4-2/2-2 MVFC) fell five spots in this week's FCS Top 25 after a 24-9 loss at #25 Northern Iowa.
SDSU crossed into Panther territory of their first three possessions of the game but came away with just three points.
Down 7-3 in the second half, the Jacks drove to the Panther 25 but Taryn Christion was picked off on third-and-seven. UNI converted that turnover into a touchdown and a 14-3 lead. Marcus Weymiller went over 100 yards rushing on the day for the Panthers
In the fourth, South Dakota State pulled to within five points on a career-long 57-yard field goal from Chase Vinatieri, but could get no closer as a Panther pick-six in the final seconds sealed the victory.
I talked with Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier about the Northern Iowa loss and the match-up with Illinois State: