NORMAL — Illinois State football coach Brock Spack is taking a lesson from his players.
“They handled last week a lot better than the head coach did,” Spack said Tuesday of the controversial postponement of last Saturday’s game at Missouri State. “I had to follow their lead. I was so impressed. They went right back to work, changing their mindset to get ready for a new opponent.”
That new opponent is South Dakota, and the Redbirds are set to play their first home game since Nov. 16, 2019, when the Coyotes visit Hancock Stadium on Saturday for a noon Missouri Valley Football Conference encounter.
“Obviously, we’re all ready to play. It’s been almost a year and a half,” wide receiver Taylor Grimes said. “To cancel a game because of weather, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that. But there was nothing we could really do. We got a couple extra days of practice for South Dakota. That’s the way you had to look at it. Take the positives from it.”
ISU is ranked No. 7 nationally in FCS and will take the field for the first time since Dec. 14, 2019, when the Redbirds dropped a quarterfinal playoff game to eventual national champion North Dakota State.
“They have done a great job throughout all of this,” Spack said of his team. “They have managed disappointments, disruptions, startups. They have fought through a lot of things.”
The Redbirds were forced to adjust their practice schedule on the fly after preparing for a game last Saturday was no longer necessary.
“We took the next day off and brought our team back Friday, Saturday and Sunday to get ready for this game,” said Spack. “Monday was our normal day off, and we’re back on schedule today (Tuesday).”
ISU has to dig deep for information on South Dakota. Not only have the Redbirds and Coyotes not met since Oct. 21, 2017, but South Dakota also was idle last week because of COVID-19 concerns with their scheduled opponent, Western Illinois.
“I’m sure Coach (Bob) Nielson and his team are very excited to play like us,” Spack said. “They have a very good program and an excellent coach I have a lot of respect for and a coaching staff that is very professional. It will be quite a challenge for us.”
ISU might now know the Coyotes’ starting quarterback until the South Dakota offense takes the field. The team’s depth chart lists three possible starters under center, one of which is Normal West High School graduate Carson Camp, a freshman who graduated from West early to enroll at the university for the spring 2020 semester.
Others listed are fifth-year senior Tyler Tsagalis and junior Jakob Parks. Tsagalis was the second string quarterback to the graduated Austin Simmons in 2019.
“I don’t know a whole lot about them,” said Spack. “We can’t get ready to defend a ghost. That will be the unknown going into the game.”
Other than the uncertainty at quarterback, South Dakota returns experienced players in tailback Kai Henry, wide receiver Caleb Vander Esch and tight end Brett Samson as well as all five line starters from 2019.
“There is consternation and anxious moments normally,” Spack said. “But now having watched games last week and having the season start without us, now I’m really anxious when you see the problems that come up in a first game.”
Spack remains unsure if wide receiver Andrew Edgar, who caught 44 passes in 2018 and was held to 19 receptions in 2019 by injury issues, will play Saturday. Edgar is returning from offseason knee surgery.
“Andrew will be week to week,” said Spack. “He’s been cleared to play. It’s just how comfortable he is and what his role will be in this game.”
Randy Reinhardt's favorite stories of 2019
Here are a few of the stories I really enjoyed bringing to our readers in 2019.
Illinois State football player Jared Rients has farming in his blood.
Illinois State strength coach Jim Lathrop carries on despite a myriad of physical ailments.
Illinois State baseball earned an NCAA Tournament upset over Louisville.
Illinois State basketball player TeTe Maggett has risen above a difficult childhood.
Contact Randy Reinhardt at (309) 820-3403. Follow him on Twitter: pg_reinhardt