NORMAL — The Illinois State football team’s defense didn’t have much luck with Southern Illinois quarterback Sam Straub last season in Carbondale.
In fact, the Redbirds came up empty in pretty much every area of a 41-7 Southern victory.
Yet it was Straub who spearheaded the domination with 413 yards of total offense, and it is Straub that ISU must contend with again Saturday in a 2 p.m. Missouri Valley Football Conference game at Hancock Stadium.
“He’s very accurate. He can move out of the pocket and run,” Redbird senior defensive end Matt Swaine said. “Whenever you have a dual threat quarterback, you’ve got to keep him in the pocket and try to force him to make throws.”
ISU enters its homecoming contest ranked 12th nationally in FCS and carrying records of 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the MVFC.
Southern (1-4, 0-2) has dropped four straight games since opening its season with a 49-10 thumping of Murray State. The Salukis' last three defeats have all been by seven points or less.
“They definitely beat our butts that day. It was a pretty bad day all around,” said ISU wide receiver Spencer Schnell of the 2017 matchup. “We let it sink in and use that as motivation to work harder this week and try to win this game the same way they did, with high effort and high intensity the whole game.”
Straub sat out last week’s 17-14 loss to Youngstown State while in concussion protocol but has returned to practice this week and is expected to play. The 6-foot-4, 247-pound senior has passed for 1,147 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in four games.
Backup quarterback Matt DeSomer rushed for 100 yards and passed for 105 against Youngstown.
“We have to be ready for both quarterbacks anyway,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “We’ll focus more on structure and what their philosophies are and see where it takes you.”
Southern also boasts the Valley's second-leading rusher in junior D.J. Davis with 602 yards.
"Davis is a real good player much like (Western Illinois' Steve) McShane," said Spack. "He's a very quick athlete who can change direction. He's not a very big guy, but he's real tough."
Redbird quarterback Brady Davis has completed just 47 percent of his passes the past three games but has thrown for 1,057 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions overall.
An ISU offense that also features tailback James Robinson (581 yards rushing) will try to take advantage of a Southern defense that has lost cornerback James Ceasar and linebacker Cody Crider to season-ending injuries.
"We'll keep looking through the details of what's going on to get over that hump," Southern coach Nick Hill said. "It's another tough opponent that creates new problems and new things we have to prepare for."
A victory would give ISU the unofficial FCS state championship. The Redbirds have earlier wins over Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois. The last time ISU beat all three was 2015.
EIU traveling to Jacksonville State
If the Eastern Illinois football team is going to avoid a losing season, the Panthers, who are 1-5, have to win out. However, the Panthers' toughest game of the season is this weekend when they travel to Jacksonville State, which is ranked No. 8 in the FCS STATS poll.
The Gamecocks are 4-1 on the season and 3-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The only loss was to North Carolina A&T, which is ranked No. 10 in the poll. Plus the Gamecocks haven't lost an Ohio Valley Conference game since Oct. 24, 2009. The loss was to EIU but since then, Jacksonville State has won 35 straight OVC contests.
Saturday's contest, which kicks off at 3 p.m., pits one of the best defenses in the country (JSU's) against one of the best offenses in the OVC (EIU).
After being one of the worst offenses in the OVC last season with only 17.6 points per game, the Panthers are scoring almost double that on average this year. EIU is averaging 34 points per game and 487 yards per game, which is the second most in the conference. The Panthers are coming off their fourth straight 40-point game, and it was only the second time in the program's history that they accomplished that feat (the last time was in 2002). If the Panthers scored 40 or more points against JSU, it would be the first time in the program's history that they would have done it in five straight games.
The Gamecocks have had no problem in slowing down offensives, though. Even in the loss to A&T, the Gamecocks only game up 20 points. The Gamecocks lead the OVC with only 15.8 points allowed per game and 221.6 yards allowed per game. However, the Gamecocks did give up 32 points to Austin Peay two weeks ago.