FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Even dating back to a Sept. 30 victory over Indiana State, two disturbing trends have surfaced for the Illinois State football team's offense.
The culprits, which also played a large part in Saturday's 37-16 loss to Northern Arizona, are third down inefficiency and an inability to finish drives with points.
The Redbirds have converted only 4 of 30 third down plays into first downs over the past two games. And, ISU has driven inside the opponent's 10-yard line and came away with no points three times over that span.
"It's really frustrating," quarterback Jake Kolbe said. "We've been working really hard in practice trying to improve. But you can't try, you've got to get it done."
The ISU rushing attack also has experienced a precipitous drop in productivity. The Redbirds have averaged just 1.8 yards per rush the past two games and have been held under 65 yards on the ground in each.
"Their defense handled our offense," ISU coach Brock Spack said after the Northern Arizona game. "We've got to set our jaws and find out which guys want to do it the right way, who wants to be a champion, because we're going to get this ship straightened out."
Lumberjacks find passing game: The Redbirds limited Northern Arizona to 1 passing yard and a net of minus-10 yards over the first quarter. The Lumberjacks finished with 403 yards passing and 431 overall.
"We didn't finish the game. We've got to capitalize on plays that come our way," said ISU cornerback Davontae Harris. "It looked like we got outplayed. But I think we'll be good. I think this is a wake-up call, something we needed. We're going to bounce back."
Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers said his team recognized the Redbirds' emphasis on shutting down the run.
"I think early, we were a little impatient. We were trying to make things happen at the pace and rate we have been accustomed to," Souers said. "Their defense is very stingy, very disciplined. They don't give up easy things, so it takes a little while to set things up.
"We weren't able to get a first down for quite a while, and that's unsettling for the rhythm of an offense. Our defense kept us in it until we were able to establish they were going to take the run game away no matter what."
Targeting twosome: For the second straight game, ISU had a defender ejected in the second half for a hit on a quarterback that was ruled targeting.
Linebacker Brannon Barry sat out the first half Saturday as penance for a targeting penalty against Indiana State. Safety Mitchell Brees must sit out the first half of next Saturday's game at Southern Illinois after getting tossed against Northern Arizona.
Barry recorded four tackles in the second half. DraShane Glass took over at safety for Brees.
Next up: ISU (4-1, 2-0 in the Valley) travels to Carbondale next Saturday for a 2 p.m. game against Southern Illinois (2-3, 0-2).
After playing the Salukis, the Redbirds close their regular season with five straight games against teams ranked No. 15 or higher in last week's STATS national poll in South Dakota, Western Illinois, Youngstown State, South Dakota State and North Dakota State.
Notebook nuggets: ISU punter Zach Breen averaged 40.3 yards on six punts despite one effort of just 12 yards. On that punt, Breen had an accurate snap squirt through his hands. Breen retrieved the ball and under heavy pressure got the kick off that netted 12 yards.
The Lumberjacks will return Saturday's contest with a 2019 matchup against ISU at Hancock Stadium.
Northern Arizona's win was the final game in the Missouri Valley-Big Sky Challenge. The Valley prevailed in the challenge, five games to three.
Joe Gray, a 1980 graduate of Central Catholic High School, is the public address announcer for Northern Arizona basketball.