Western out to prove this year won't be a repeat of last season

Western out to prove this year won't be a repeat of last season
Steve McShane (photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

The Western Illinois Leathernecks have been here before. A season ago, WIU started the season by winning five of its first six games.

Then, came the downfall as Western tasted victory once in its final five games to finish 6-5 and miss the FCS playoffs.

We have a chance to redeem ourselves from last year,” senior offensive lineman James Torgerson told Prairie State Pigskin.

The Leathernecks jumped out to a 5-1 start again this season. WIU moved into the Top 10 of a national poll. However, a loss at No. 2 North Dakota State last weekend has brought back memories of a year ago. Or has it?

“This is a different team from last year. We’re more mature. We’re a better overall team. We’re more focused this year,” Torgerson said.

Saturday’s test

That maturity, focus and resolve will again be tested Saturday when WIU hosts No. 11 South Dakota State at Hanson Field. The Jackrabbits have been an up-and-down team. Considered by many to have shot at not only the Missouri Valley Football Conference crown but also at the national championship coming into the season, SDSU has stumbled twice badly in seven games.

Both teams enter the weekend with 2-2 conference records.

“They’re a good team that’s playing well,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said of the Leathernecks. “They’ve only been there two years but it looks like that staff has been there 10 years with how they play. (Charlie Fisher)’s done a very nice job with them.”

James Torgerson

James Torgerson

Torgerson and his teammates are excited to play at home for just the third time this season.

“It’s going to be nice to play in front of our fans and not have to travel and not have the stress of having to go somewhere else,” Torgerson said.

Western is coming off a disparaging performance in which it scored no offensive touchdowns in a 24-12 loss.

“Definitely, it was really disappointing for us to not be able to get in the end zone,” Torgerson said. “We had opportunities, but we didn’t execute. We didn’t play as physical as we should have. They beat us up front, especially in the first half. We need to get back on track and play well offensively.”

Jacked up rabbits

The Leathernecks will face a team that is loaded on offense. SDSU is avearging 38.4 points per game. The Jackrabbits pummeled Missouri State 62-30 last weekend.

SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion has thrown for 16 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He also rushes for 6.1 yards-per-carry and has run for four touchdowns.

Four Jackrabbit football players were on preseason watch lists for top awards within the Football Championship Subdivision.
An unprecedented three SDSU football players who were finalists for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award last season are again included in the watch list for the 2017 award. Joining Christion in the group are his primary receiving targets, wide out Jake Wienke and tight end Dallas Goedert.

WIU counters with key playmakers in quarterback Sean McGuire (1,796 yards and 15 touchdowns) and receiver Jaelon Acklin, who’s fourth in the nation with 943 receiving yards on 52 catches. Slowed by injuries earlier in the year, running back Steve McShane (who rushed for 917 yards a year ago) needs a solid performance if the Leathernecks are to have balance Saturday.

The game

South Dakota State (5-2, 2-2 MVFC) at Western Illinois (5-2, 2-2 MVFC) at 1 p.m. at Hanson Field in Macomb. (ESPN3 and WIU radio network)

The rankings

South Dakota State is ranked No. 11 in the latest STATS FCS poll. Western Illinois is No. 12 in the same rankings.

Three key matchups

  1. WIU defense vs. SDSU offense:  An improved group this season, the Leatherneck defense must contend with the high-powered Jackrabbits. SDSU’s 62 points in last week’s victory at Missouri State marked its most points against a MVFC opponent since joining the league in 2008. SDSU’s previous high-scoring output was 59 points in a home win over Western Illinois during the 2014 season.
  2. WIU offense vs. SDSU defense:  The Leathernecks should bounce back from last week’s disappointing performance. SDSU struggled mightily two games ago as Northern Iowa controlled the ball for 24 more plays than the Jackrabbits as UNI rolled to victory. Western must avoid turnovers to duplicate that feat.
  3. Last year vs. this year:  “We looked ahead too much (last year),” Torgerson said. “(We thought things like) maybe we’ll get a home playoff game or maybe we’ll do this or maybe we’ll do that . . . we lost sight of what we actually needed to do.”

Key stat

Senior linebacker Brett Taylor is one of four Leatherneck players with 400 career tackles (411). The Macomb native ranks third all-time in school history in career stops, 69 from tying Lee Russell (2000-03) for second. His 41 solo tackles are fourth all-time in WIU history. Pat Bayers (1979-82) ranks third with 261 career solo tackles.


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