Fresh off season's biggest win, Illinois State seeks to keep momentum going with visit to North Dakota

Fresh off an upset of nationally ranked Northern Iowa, Illinois travels to North Dakota for a Saturday Missouri Valley Football Conference game. (photo courtesy goredbirds.com)

The last two Illinois State football games mirror the Redbirds’ fall season in many ways. With two games remaining on its schedule, ISU intends to reflect its most recent performance rather than the one from two weeks ago.

On Halloween eve, ISU let a double-digit second half lead disappear and lost to previously one-win Western Illinois 38-31. Yet, the Redbirds rebounded last Saturday by knocking off No. 13 Northern Iowa 17-10 in overtime at Hancock Stadium in Normal.

“We had just come off a really bad loss, and we knew we wanted to get back to winning at home,” ISU center Drew Bones told Prairie State Pigskin earlier this week.

It was just the second home win —  and the first against a scholarship team — for the Redbirds this season. Illinois State is 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

With two games remaining, Illinois State remains determined to finish the fall season strong.

The Redbirds will first travel to North Dakota before closing out the season by hosting Indiana State. Both opponents are 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the Missouri Valley.

“It’s a two-game season so we want to finish it out 2-0 so we can have a winning record,” Bones said.

Head coach Brock Spack’s team has really relied on its defense in recent weeks.

“The way we have to play right now is that we’re not a scoring machine,” Spack said Tuesday. “We’re not a dynamic offense so we have to be able to play really good defense to play field position football.”

Rookie record quest

If running back Cole Mueller is to break the Illinois State record for freshman rushing yards, he needs 319 yards in the final two games.

Cameron Smith holds that ISU mark with 1,106 yards in 1993.

Mueller — a redshirt freshman from Holt High School in Wentzville, Mo. — has run for 788 yards on 144 attempts (5.5 per carry average) this fall.

“He’s that back that can do it all,” Bones said. “He likes to say he can’t catch, but he’s got good hands. He can pass protect. He knows where to hit the holes. He’s got sneaky good speed. He can run guys over or juke them out.”

Mueller, who has six rushing touchdowns, has caught six passes for 50 yards.

Regardless of whether he breaks the freshman record, Mueller will be the first rookie to lead the Redbirds in rushing since Smith.

Scouting North Dakota

Head coach Bubba Schweigert’s Fighting Hawks are 3-1 at home and just 1-4 on the road this season.

If Illinois State is to win at North Dakota Saturday, the Redbirds must stop running back Otis Weah. The junior has run for 675 yards on 126 carries (5.4 per carry average) this season. Despite missing two games with injuries, Weah ranks third among Missouri Valley rushing leaders.

North Dakota runs the ball 52 percent of its plays. Moreover, Weah gets the ball on 42.2 percent of those carries. Weah has rushed for over 100 yards three times this season.

Quarterback Tommy Schuster ranks fourth among Missouri Valley passers with a 227-yard-per-game average. Schuster has thrown for 11 touchdowns while being intercepted six times.

The Fighting Hawks have allowed just three sacks all season and are also one of the league’s least penalized teams.

Where to find the game

Illinois State play at North Dakota at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13. The game will air on ESPN-Plus. The radio call is available online at WJBC.com. https://www.wjbc.com/

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