ISU Redbirds meet their offensive match in season finale against Indiana State

Illinois State linebacker Shanon Reid in the team’s leading tackler this fall. (Photo by GoRedbirds.com)

Offensive production has been a struggle for most of the fall at Illinois State.

Saturday’s regular-season finale could be when the Redbirds meet their match.

ISU (4-6 overall, 2-5 Missouri Valley Football Conference) hosts Indiana State at noon in Normal on Senior Day. The Sycamores have an identical record and nearly identical offensive results to the Redbirds.

At 19.2 points a game, Illinois State has the 10th-ranked scoring offense in the 11-team MVFC and ranks 100th nationally among 123 FCS schools.

Indiana State is the only team with a lower scoring output than the Redbirds (16 points a game) in the MVFC and is 112th in FCS. The Sycamores have not won in Normal since 1997.

“We want to win every game we play,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack told WJBC radio after last week’s loss at North Dakota. “It doesn’t matter what our record is.”

Though the program will send off its senior class today, much of Spack’s focus this season has been on explaining his team’s youth.

The Redbirds have 62 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster, including several in key roles on offense.

Redshirt freshman running back Cole Mueller has been a bright spot with 878 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Freshman Jackson Waring has taken over the quarterback role.

At North Dakota last weekend, freshmen Joshua Wright (Springfield Lanphier High School) and J’Kalon Carter started at left guard and wide receiver, respectively. The lone ISU touchdown in the game came on a 28-yard pass from Waring to freshman tight end Brett Spaulding. Freshman offensive lineman Ryan Gudaitis also worked into the rotation last week.

Despite the highlights, the Redbirds have scored 75 points over the past five weeks, an average of 15 points a game. The offense ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in total offense, sacks allowed, passing offense, first downs, completion percentage and third-down conversions.

“The future’s very bright, but it’s frustrating right now,” Spack said. “We need to get these younger guys bigger and stronger.”

Waring is listed as the starter against Indiana State despite a left shoulder injury that knocked him out of the game for a few series at North Dakota.

The defense, which lists only one redshirt freshman on its two-deep roster, has been solid. The unit ranks fourth in the MVFC in pass defense. Leading tackler Shanon Reid (78 tackles) and fellow linebackers Zeke Vandenburgh (68) and Kenton WIlhoit (63) have all had productive seasons.

Indiana State head coach Curt Mallory said the Redbirds offer a unique challenge for his team.

“This will be the most physical football team we’ve played all year,” he said in his weekly press conference. “They’re tough. … Defensively, they’re active. All 11 guys get to the ball, and they get there with bad intentions.”

News and notes

Mueller needs 229 yards this week to beat the ISU freshman rushing record of 1,106 yards set in the 1993 season by Cameron Smith. He needs 122 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. … Junior Austin Nagel leads the Redbirds with 16 receptions this season. Tight end Bryson Deming has 14 catches and wide receiver Jabari Khepera has 13. The last time an ISU pass catcher led the team with fewer than 20 receptions in a full season was Mark Austin, who had 18 receptions in the 1975 season. Five different players are tied for the school record with 14 receptions in a single game. …. Senior cornerback Jarrell Jackson of Marengo is the Redbirds’ leader with eight pass breakups. … Looking ahead, the Redbirds are scheduled to host Valparaiso University of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League Sept. 3, 2022 in Normal and travel to Wisconsin for a Sept. 24 game against the Badgers, according to FBSchedules.com.

Where to find the game

The Redbirds host Indiana State at noon Saturday, Nov. 20 in Normal. The game will air on Marquee network and ESPN-Plus online. To hear the radio call, visit WJBC-AM online.

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