"If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself. But if it's a slow pace, and I get beaten by a kicker who leaches off the front, then I'll always wonder, 'What if...?'"
--Steve Prefontaine, legendary middle- and long-distance runner
Perhaps it's time for Illinois State football to take Prefontaine's advice.
For the past three games, the Redbirds have fallen in defeat mainly because of miserable first halves. Like many runners, ISU has shown a late kick. However, head coach Brock Spack's team has lost each time.
"That's been our modus operandi the last three weeks," Spack told Randy Reinhardt of The Pantagraph. "You've got to give credit to who we're playing. They've got a good defense. But you can't spot a team points."
As a result, Illinois State has gone from a potential seed in the upcoming FCS playoff bracket to potentially missing out on the postseason altogether.
Two of the three losses have come at the hands of No. 1-ranked and undefeated North Dakota State and No. 6-rated South Dakota State. The third, and most recent, was at Northern Iowa, another Missouri Valley Football Conference foe fighting for the playoffs.
In those three losses, ISU had been outscored 67-10 before the halftime show. Those deficits only grew in the third quarter, leaving the Redbirds to scramble and fall short.
Davis on track to return
Quarterback Brady Davis sat out last week's loss at UNI while healing from an injury to his throwing shoulder.
In his place, senior Jake Kolbe started against the Panthers. Kolbe, who was the ISU starter the past two seasons, finished the Northern Iowa game 21-of-27 for 180 yards. He threw two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Earlier this week, Reinhardt reported that Davis was back taking practice snaps with the first team.
The ISU coaching staff like the mobility that Davis provides the offense. The Memphis transfer has completed 56.5 percent of his passes and has a 16-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In addition, Spack believes that the NCAA will likely to grant Davis an extra year because of an injury issue while he was at Memphis.
Davis has been listed as a junior on the ISU roster.
“Based on what I’ve been told by people who know and have a lot of experience at this, it’s a slam dunk. That’s the exact term I heard,” Spack told Reinhardt. “So he’s a sophomore.”
More injury news
Willie Edwards, starting cornerback for most of this season, was not in uniform for the Northern Iowa game.
Though he didn't commit to definitively calling Edwards' injury season-ending, the junior may have played his last football of the fall.
Third down woes
In its three straight losses, Illinois State has been woeful on third down.
ISU is a combined 11-for-38 during its losing string. In last week's loss at UNI, the Redbirds were just 1-for-11 on third down.
A year after going without a win, Indiana State has won three straight games.
The Sycamores were picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll. Instead, second-year head coach Curt Mallory's team have knocked off Southern Illinois, Youngstown State and South Dakota in succession. Moreover, Indiana State took then-No. 3 South Dakota State to overtime before falling 54-51 in an early October road game.
Three key matchups
- Slow start vs. fast finish: In its wins (excluding the opener against St. Xavier), Illinois State has outscored its opponents 85-19 in the first half. However, ISU has trailed 78-10 prior to half in its four losses so far this season. Though the Redbirds topped NDSU, SDSU and UNI by a total of 42-3 in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late.
- James Robinson vs. Indiana State defense: The junior from Rockford has faltered in his bid to break the 1,000-yard rushing barrier this past two Saturdays. The Redbirds desperately need him to return to the form that resulted in a 128-yard performance against North Dakota State.
- Indiana State QB Ryan Boyle vs. Illinois State defense: The junior Sycamores quarterback is coming off a record-setting seven-touchdown performance in a 51-48 triple overtime win against South Dakota. Boyle accounted for 380 yards of total offense, including a career-best 187 rushing.