A year after celebrating the 100th game in their rivalry, Illinois State and Western Illinois will again clash at Hancock Stadium in Normal.
The two rivals enter Saturday's contest after opening their Missouri Valley Football Conference schedules last weekend. Western (2-2 overall, 1-0 in the MVFC) topped Youngstown State 45-38, while ISU (3-1, 0-1) stumbled at Missouri State 24-21.
The loss dropped the Redbirds in the STATS FCS national poll from No. 9 to No. 15.
"They outplayed us today, no doubt about it," ISU head coach Brock Spack said afterward. "I think this game was lost before we even played it. There were a lot of little things I didn't like going on this week. I felt that prevented us from having that week of preparation we should have had."
Though not ranked, Western has a win over 14th-ranked Montana this season. A large factor in the Leathernecks' two-game winning streak is the play of quarterback Sean McGuire and his receiving corps.
"It's kind of receiver by committee. I think that's something, as an offense, that we really haven't had the past two years. It really excites me," WIU head coach Jared Elliott said. "We feel like we have a lot of different guys and a lot of different positions (that contribute). They're not all coming from the receiver position. At the tight end position, Adam Conrady made some great plays (against YSU). The running back position has helped."
McGuire, a redshirt senior, was named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week for his five-touchdown performance (4 passing, 1 rushing) against Youngstown State.
Despite its recent loss, Illinois State has enjoyed a renewed vibe this fall.
"There’s a lot more energy than last year and a lot more confidence. We all believe in each other when we go out there," senior offensive lineman Donivan O'Day said. "That comes from being close and treating each other like family. Last year there wasn’t much confidence; people were afraid to make mistakes. Coach Spack and the new coaching staff are okay with mistakes in practice. That’s how we get better."
The Leathernecks lead the series, 51-46-3, and snapped a seven-game winless skid to the Redbirds last season in a 31-14 road victory.
Three key matchups
- WIU passing game vs. ISU defense: Sean McGuire has recorded 300-plus passing yards and at least three touchdowns in back-to-back games, both WIU wins. Illinois State is giving up 177.5 passing yards per game. The Redbirds have yielded just three passing touchdowns while snaring eight interceptions this season.
- ISU balance vs. WIU defense: The Redbirds run/pass ratio is 54/46 this season. ISU averages 210 yards rushing and 254 yards passing per game this season. The Leathernecks have allowed 151 rushing yards and 217 passing yards per game this season.
- Turnovers: Illinois State has turned the ball over just once this season. Quarterback Brady Davis has yet to throw an interception. ISU stands at a +9 in the turnover margin; WIU is at +2.
Western Illinois at Illinois State. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Hancock Stadium. Fans can listen to their respective school's radio network or can watch the game on NBC Sports Chicago and ESPN+.