NORMAL — As a defensive coordinator in his days as an assistant at Purdue and Wyoming, Brock Spack would research the opposing team’s wide receivers.
“I found out who was a former quarterback,” said the Illinois State head coach. “If I see a former quarterback, I’m going to worry about reverse passes, double passes and trick plays with that guy in the game.”
Spack is saddling the worry of multiple passers on his opponents lately as the Redbirds continue to explore avenues to exploit the talents of Malachi Broadnax, a quarterback by trade who can run, pass or catch the football.
“The key is to make the complicated simple and make it a little more complicated for your opponent,” said Spack, whose 12th-ranked team faces No. 15 Western Illinois at noon on Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
Junior Jake Kolbe is the Redbirds’ primary quarterback and still plays the overwhelming majority of the snaps. The past two games, Broadnax has entered on occasion either at quarterback or lining up wide with Kolbe also in the game.
“We’re trying to play to their strengths and find things we can do within our system that are not difficult to execute,” Spack said. “Malachi is gaining a lot of confidence. Jake is playing well and he has a lot of confidence. We’re trying to use whatever tools we have in our toolbox.”
In last week’s 35-0 win over Youngstown State, Broadnax rushed three times, passed once and had his first career reception, a 9-yarder from Kolbe.
“It’s good to get another really good athlete on the field,” Kolbe said of Broadnax.
Broadnax’s pass against Youngstown was an overthrow of wide open tight end Tylor Petkovich.
“He’s a much better passer than people think. We can do a lot of things with him,” Spack said. “Who knows what will come of the package, but it’s starting to expand as we go through the season.”
Broadnax is thrilled with the opportunity.
“I have to focus more in practice and make sure I take advantage of my opportunities so when I get into the game it’s just like practice,” he said. “I’m fine with anything they need me to do as long as it’s helping the team.”
Taylor made: On Saturday, the Redbirds will have to contend with Western Illinois linebacker Brett Taylor, a tackling machine few in FCS can rival.
The 230-pound senior has 118 tackles for the Leathernecks. No other Western player has more than 44.
“Up to this point, he’s the best linebacker we’ve seen,” said Spack. “When you have a player like that at the second level, he makes up for a lot of things that go wrong. He’s a dominating player you have to account for.”
Taylor is a candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in FCS after finishing seventh in balloting last season.
He leads the nation at 14.8 tackles per game. His 425 career tackles rank second among active FCS players.
Around the Valley: North Dakota State and Southern Illinois each have lost key players to injury.
According to the Fargo Forum, North Dakota State will be without leading rusher Lance Dunn for at least the rest of the regular season with a torn labrum in his hip. Dunn has rushed for 634 yards in seven games for the No. 2-ranked Bison.
Southern quarterback Sam Straub is done for the season with a broken hand as reported by the Southern Illinoisan. Sophomore Tanner Hearn takes over the signal-calling duties for the Salukis.