Behind Enemy Lines – Illinois State

After a shocking 22-21 upset at home to Western Michigan, the Northwestern Wildcats shouldn’t underestimate the Illinois State Redbirds when they come to Ryan Field Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT.

The Redbirds (1-0), coached by Brock Spack, are legit for a Football Championship Subdivision squad. At the moment, the crew out of Normal, Illinois is a Top 10 FCS team.

Illinois State obliterated their opponent, Valparaiso, last week by a score of 50-13. Their defense forced three turnovers and held the Crusaders to just 130 total yards. The Redbirds collected 446 total yards, 271 rushing and 175 passing.

The Redbirds’ running game is their ‘bread and butter’. Per InsideNU, Illinois State ran for 3,044 total yards and rushed for 39 touchdowns last year.

Following Marshaun Coprich’s departure, who, by the way, was Illinois State’s all-time leader in rushing yards, attempts, touchdowns, all-purpose yards, points scored and total touchdowns, the backfield is still in good hands.

In their Week 1 opener, sophomore George Moreira rushed for 93 yards on just seven carries. The other running backs for ISU also were impressive. Jamal Towns ran for 55 yards on eight carries, and DeMarco Corbin ran for 32 yards and scored twice.

Moreira, Towns and the Redbirds’ backfield as a whole are definitely something to watch out for in Week 2. Pat Fitzgerald’s defense will also be challenged by the ISU passing game.

Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe threw for 166 yards and one touchdown last week. His top target Anthony Warrum, who had 1,290 receiving yards and a handful of touchdowns last year, had two catches for 40 yards in the opener. Warrum should be a busy receiver come Saturday afternoon.

Wildcats running back Justin Jackson will face a tough task in Week 2 against a stingy Illinois State defense.

After rushing for 124 yards and career-high three touchdowns in Week 1, Jackson and company will face a defense that held opposing halfbacks to 3.7 yards per carry a year ago. And with Warren Long out with an injury, Jackson will work alongside redshirt freshman John Moten and possibly even Auston Anderson. Basically, Jackson could be in for a long day of work.

For an FCS team, Illinois State has a lot to bring the table. However, these statistics perhaps could be meaningless against a Division 1 Big 10 team.

The Redbirds opened last season with a road loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes 31-14. Before that point, they hadn’t competed with the Big Ten Conference since 2010, where the Redbirds lost a 37-3 contest to Northwestern on Sept. 11. And according to goredbirds.com, including their losses to the Hawkeyes and Wildcats, ISU has gone 0-8 in Big 10 games, thanks to a pair of losses each to Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue.

It’ll come down to how Northwestern matches up with the Redbirds’ defense. The Redbirds are an FCS team, yes, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Anything can happen, especially after dropping one to Western Michigan last week.

This game should be fun to watch. Northwestern is shorthanded in the backfield, but Justin Jackson’s efforts should be enough to get the first W of the season.

Prediction: Northwestern 28, Illinois State 23

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