3 things we learned: Illinois State turned aside by second-half Southern Illinois rally

Jackson Waring (14) made his first collegiate start at quarterback for Illinois State Saturday against Southern Illinois in Carbondale. (photo courtesy goredbirds.com)

CARBONDALE—Illinois State head coach Brock Spack named a handful of key plays that turned Saturday’s 35-17 loss in favor of rival Southern Illinois. His lead running back put his finger on one.

With just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter and ISU clinging to a 17-14 lead, the Redbirds faced a fourth-and-one at the SIU six-yard line. Spack made the decision to forgo the field goal and ISU gave the ball to freshman Cole Mueller, who had rushed for 70 yards on the nine-play drive.

The No. 7-ranked Saluki defense rose up and stopped Mueller for no gain.

“I felt like that’s when the game flipped the switch towards Southern,” Mueller said.

“I’d go for it again,” Spack said. “I thought we could get it the way we were running the ball.”

Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from the rivalry game.

  1. The first half was for the ‘Birds, the second belonged to the ‘Dawgs

Illinois State (2-2 overall, 0-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference) dominated the first half and built a 10-0 lead. The Redbirds held SIU (3-1, 1-0) to just two first downs and 73 yards in the first 30 minutes.

Following the stop of Mueller on fourth down, the Salukis engineered an 11-play drive that culminated in a 40-yard touchdown dash by Donnvan Spencer that vaulted SIU into the lead for good.

The Salukis then erupted for three touchdowns in their next four possessions.

“We were really good (defensively) on third down in the first half and we weren’t able to get off the field in the second half,” Spack said. “We weren’t able to tackle the quarterback (Nic Baker). He was really greasy.

“We had guys running free where we should have gotten him on the ground and he shook us. Our tackling got leaky in the second half.”

Southern Illinois exploded for 298 yards and 15 first downs in the second half.

2. Special teams bounced back . . . for the most part

A week after ISU’s special teams suffered a blocked kick for a touchdown at Eastern Illinois, the Redbirds rebounded.

Damien Jackson

Sophomore Damien Jackson blocked an SIU punt and recovered the ball at the SIU five-yard line on the first play of the second half. That set up an Aidan Bresnahan 22-yard field goal.

Jackson, who made his first start at linebacker and collected seven tackles, credited teammate LaVoise-Deontae McCoy with “doing his job so I could run free to the ball” on the punt block.

Senior ISU punter JT Bohlken averaged 46.3 yard per boot, including one touchback and another punt placed inside the 20.

The Redbirds’ specialists weren’t perfect however. ISU gave up a 70-yard kickoff return to SIU’s Izaiah Hartrup that sparked the Salukis’ comeback.

3. Signs of better days ahead?

Despite the second half eruption that sprung the Salukis past his Redbirds, Spack saw a number of things he liked.

“They’re good,” the 13th-year head coach said of SIU. “We’re good too. We’re young, but we’re a play here and there from being there.”

Spack assessed freshman Jackson Waring’s first start at quarterback.

“I thought he played pretty well,” Spack said. “He made some nice throws. I don’t think we lost because of Jackson Waring. He played well in a tough environment.”

A week after coming on in relief of injured starter Bryce Jefferson to lead ISU past EIU, Waring completed 13-of-24 passes for 166 yards with no interceptions. He was sacked four times, three of which came in the fourth quarter when ISU was forced into its passing game.

News & notes

Mueller led the Redbirds with 87 rushing yards on 14 attempts. He broke loose for a 40-yard run . . . Junior Austin Nagel caught four passes for 100 yards . . . Linebacker Shannon Reid registered a career-high 15 tackles, nine of which were solo . . . The Redbirds were just 3-for-13 on third down . . . ISU scored on 3-of-4 trips into the red zone . . . Saturday marked the 83rd meeting between the rivals. Southern leads the series 42-38-3.

What’s next

Illinois State returns home to Hancock Stadium to take on the Missouri State Bears on Saturday, Oct. 2.

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