NORMAL – In a “looking at the bright side” moment Tuesday, Brock Spack said Saturday’s 37-16 loss to Northern Arizona served as a subtle but encouraging reminder of how far the Illinois State program has progressed since he became head coach in 2009.
“As opposed to when I got here, when we lose everybody is stunned,” Spack said. “I go to church and no one knows how to talk to me. They don’t know if they want to say ‘hi’ because I probably don’t have a really good look on my face. That is a sign of being successful.”
The Redbirds dropped to 4-1 entering Saturday’s return to Missouri Valley Football Conference play in a 2 p.m. contest at Southern Illinois. ISU (2-0 in the Valley) also slipped in the two major national FCS polls to 15th and 17th.
Linebacker Bryce Holm believes the Redbirds “reacted really well” to the defeat. “Spirits are high. You can’t hang your head on one loss. Quick recovery. We’re moving on as quick as we can.”
Holm also noticed how the ISU loss was digested by those outside of the program.
“It’s a terrible thing to lose, but also a cool thing,” said Holm. “It’s good this program has built this expectation for itself over the past few years.”
More Malachi?: Spack acknowledged he considered temporarily replacing quarterback Jake Kolbe with Malachi Broadnax as the Redbird offense struggled against Northern Arizona.
“He’s a totally different look. I really mulled that over,” Spack said. “I should have done that, particularly late in the first half. For the rest of the season, that will be in play.”
Broadnax saw action in the second half of ISU’s first three games with the Redbirds comfortably ahead. The redshirt freshman has attempted just five passes but has been a dynamic rusher with 118 yards on 12 carries.
Spack emphasized any such move would not be a benching of Kolbe, but an opportunity to watch the opposing defense from the sideline before reentering the game.
Gibbs ailing: Christian Gibbs, ISU’s second leading receiver with 22 catches, did not practice Tuesday and is questionable for the Southern Illinois game because of a sprained toe.
Offensive changes afoot: While Spack declined to name names, he alluded to the fact some new faces may appear for the Redbird offense Saturday.
“We’ve got young players developing quickly. We have some guys you might see for the first time in this game," he said. "There are some guys we would love to save their redshirt year. But it’s about this season right now. Can a player help us win right now? If the answer is yes, he’s playing.”
Before the season began, Spack mentioned receivers Kentre Patterson and Brandon Price as players who could see the field as true freshmen.
Spack added he would like to see more of a rotation on the offensive line with sophomore Erik Mikkelson and redshirt freshman Trey Georgie relieving starters at times.
“We’re not quite physical enough at all five spots at times,” said Spack. “We’re playing with two and sometimes three or four redshirt freshmen counting the tight end (Robert Gillum) when he’s in there.
"They are all very bright kids, but the game is very fast for them right now. When the game starts slowing down, that’s when they will continue to get better.”
Brees out for half: Spack had no quarrel with the targeting ejection of safety Mitchell Brees last Saturday which means Brees must sit out the first half against Southern.
“He left his feet,” the ISU coach said. “I don’t know how you don’t call it."
Senior DraShane Glass, the Redbirds’ nickel back, will take over at free safety with Christian Uphoff likely to see more time in passing situations.
Numbers game: ISU gave up more points last Saturday (37) than it did over its first four games (35).
At 102, Spack is the fourth Redbird coach to reach the 100-game mark, joining Edwin Struck (178), Howard Hancock (122) and Denver Johnson (102).
Spack’s 66 wins are second to the 86 of Struck on ISU’s career list. Spack’s winning percentage of .650 is No. 1 among coaches to lead the Redbirds for more than one season.
ISU senior place-kicker Sean Slattery is tied for the national FCS lead at 2.0 field goals per game.