NORMAL — The Illinois State football team’s defense didn’t have much luck with Southern Illinois quarterback Sam Straub last season in Carbondale.
In fact, the Redbirds came up empty in pretty much every area of a 41-7 Southern victory.
Yet it was Straub who spearheaded the domination with 413 yards of total offense, and it is Straub that ISU must contend with again Saturday in a 2 p.m. Missouri Valley Football Conference game at Hancock Stadium.
“He’s very accurate. He can move out of the pocket and run,” Redbird senior defensive end Matt Swaine said. “Whenever you have a dual threat quarterback, you’ve got to keep him in the pocket and try to force him to make throws.”
ISU enters its homecoming contest ranked 12th nationally in FCS and carrying records of 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the MVFC.
Southern (1-4, 0-2) has dropped four straight games since opening its season with a 49-10 thumping of Murray State. The Salukis' last three defeats have all been by seven points or less.
“They definitely beat our butts that day. It was a pretty bad day all around,” said ISU wide receiver Spencer Schnell of the 2017 matchup. “We let it sink in and use that as motivation to work harder this week and try to win this game the same way they did, with high effort and high intensity the whole game.”
Straub sat out last week’s 17-14 loss to Youngstown State while in concussion protocol but has returned to practice this week and is expected to play. The 6-foot-4, 247-pound senior has passed for 1,147 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in four games.
Backup quarterback Matt DeSomer rushed for 100 yards and passed for 105 against Youngstown.
“We have to be ready for both quarterbacks anyway,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “We’ll focus more on structure and what their philosophies are and see where it takes you.”
Southern also boasts the Valley's second-leading rusher in junior D.J. Davis with 602 yards.
"Davis is a real good player much like (Western Illinois' Steve) McShane," said Spack. "He's a very quick athlete who can change direction. He's not a very big guy, but he's real tough."
Redbird quarterback Brady Davis has completed just 47 percent of his passes the past three games but has thrown for 1,057 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions overall.
An ISU offense that also features tailback James Robinson (581 yards rushing) will try to take advantage of a Southern defense that has lost cornerback James Ceasar and linebacker Cody Crider to season-ending injuries.
The Salukis also will be without standout safety Jeremy Chinn for the first half because of a targeting penalty last week.
"We'll keep looking through the details of what's going on to get over that hump," Southern coach Nick Hill said. "It's another tough opponent that creates new problems and new things we have to prepare for.
"Nothing about the process will change, you have to stay committed."
A victory would give ISU the unofficial FCS state championship. The Redbirds have earlier wins over Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois. The last time ISU beat all three was 2015.
“I’ve made a big deal of that since I’ve been here,” said Spack. “It’s important. You want to have a foothold in your state.”