TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Illinois State football team must reverse two trends Saturday in a noon Missouri Valley Football Conference game against Indiana State at Memorial Stadium.
And if the No. 23-ranked Redbirds are unable to do so, all chances of an FCS playoff berth will flutter away in the chilly autumn breeze.
Indiana State matches ISU with a 5-4 record, meaning Saturday’s loser may be dismissed from any at-large playoff scenarios. Yet the Sycamores are prospering with three straight wins as the Redbirds attempt to rebound from a third consecutive loss.
“We always try to keep it high energy with a high sense of urgency at all times,” Redbird defensive tackle Jason Lewan said. “But it’s definitely been a bit of a wake-up call. We’ve got to come out and ball out these next couple games for sure.”
“I’m sure they’re disappointed,” said Redbirds coach Brock Spack. “But we can’t sit here and sulk and be down or we’re going to get beat again. We’ve played three really good teams and good defenses. For whatever reason, we’ve had slow starts and got behind.”
In an attempt to jump-start a rushing game that has produced just 35 and 81 yards on the ground the past two games, ISU has made two changes on its offensive line. Guard Jared Rients and center Drew Bones will make their first starts of the season.
“We had been really good at that stuff. James (Robinson) had 128 yards on North Dakota State. No one had rushed for 100 on them,” Spack said. “All of a sudden, the last two weeks we haven’t done well.
"Having Brady (Davis) back will help because he can run. It gives us a little better options as far as scramble ability.”
Davis returns as ISU quarterback after missing the Northern Iowa game with a shoulder sprain.
At 3-3 in the Valley, Indiana State has the reigning national and MVFC Offensive Player of the Week in quarterback Ryan Boyle, who passed for five touchdowns and ran for two in a 51-48 triple overtime triumph over South Dakota.
“He’s a great athlete. He’s a great dual threat quarterback,” Redbird cornerback Devin Taylor said. “We have to focus on him. If we do what we have to do against him, we can come out how we want it to.”
A transfer from Iowa who was recruited out of high school by ISU, Boyle has taken on even more of the Sycamore offensive load the last two weeks since a season-ending injury to standout tailback Ja’Quan Keys.
Boyle is completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,392 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. The 6-foot-2 junior also has rushed for 558 yards.
“Their quarterback is excellent. He’s had a great run,” said Spack. “I don’t know how fast he is, but he’s plenty athletic enough to do damage.”
Indiana State coach Curt Mallory, who was 0-11 in his first season with the Sycamores, believes his team is “playing with a lot of confidence. You see it on the sideline, you feel it. There is never panic. You are really seeing a team growing.”
Linebacker Jonas Griffith, Indiana State’s leading tackler with 113, left last week’s game with an ankle injury. His status for Saturday is unknown.
Robinson has rushed for 961 yards. Redshirt freshman receiver Andrew Edgar (33 catches, 600 yards) has emerged as an effective running mate for senior Spencer Schnell (52, 692).
"Spencer's father (Dave) played for my father (Bill) at Indiana," Mallory said. "He's a gamer. Offensively, they can pound you and they can throw it."