Who: Illinois State at SEMO
When: Saturday, November 30th
Time: 2 pm
Location: Cape Girardeau, Missouri
How to Watch: ESPN 3
Playoff time is the true holiday for FCS and football fans across the country. There are familiar matchups and first-time meetings to spice up the bracket with old and new opponents. These two teams have met ten times before starting in the 1940’s and again in the 1990’s. Illinois State currently leads the series 8-2 according to CFBinfo.com. This year is not a non-conference matchup, but rather a playoff game to determine who will face #8 seed Central Arkansas next week. This matchup will be the “Red Bird” playoff game as Illinois State is the Redbirds and SEMO is the Redhawks.
#12 Illinois State Redbirds 8-4 (5-3 MVFC)
Illinois State started the year off strong with solid wins before the injury bug started to attack the Redbirds. Losses to high ranked opponents including NDSU and UNI hurt the resume, but losing to Youngstown State hurt worse. The injuries are mounting up which makes analysts worried about picking them due to the fact they have to pick up their own pieces. A win against a banged-up South Dakota State in Week 11 is encouraging but does not change the fact that the backups will have to play the games of their lives to just stay alive each week. Among the injuries that Illinois State must circumnavigate include starting quarterback Brady Davis, a few receivers, and the rest of the team is far from 100 percent. If the Redbirds want to win they will need to be rock solid on defense and make paths for James Robinson all day long.
Key Player: James Robinson, RB was the seventh-best runner in the entire league during the regular season as he tallied 1,316 yards. Robinson brings a true playmaker effect to the field as he views all defenses the same, simply a barrier keeping him from the endzone. Not only does Robinson rank high in yards, but he is also tied for tenth in rushing touchdowns at 15. It will be difficult for SEMO to contain such a force as he averages 109 yards per game and at least a touchdown per game. Another consideration for SEMO will be the fact that Illinois State also has the sixth-best scoring defense. While the passing game will not be much to scoff at SEMO will be busy containing the rest of the attack from Illinois State.
#13 Southeast Missouri State (7-1 OVC)
Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) had a tough beginning to their season as they lost to Montana State, shut-out at Missouri, needed two overtimes to takedown Tennesee Tech, and barely missed out on upsetting Austin Peay. While the start of the season was not ideal SEMO ran with it and finished strong with a winning streak of six. SEMO picked up some important wins during the regular season which should provide good feedback on how to succeed this week. Southern Illinois, Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, and UT Martin include their better wins. The OVC conference was a whirlpool this year as it seemed like hardly any team would make it to the playoffs without significant losses and injuries.
Key Player: Zach Hall, ILB is the most dominant defensive player of either team. Teammate Justin Swift at OLB or Illinois State defensive end Romeo McKnight are the only other players that can be considered on the same tier as Hall. In the regular season, Hall tallied 113 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles. The scariest thing about facing Hall is actually hard to decide whether he is going to be there every play, jump the play and get the offense before they are ready, or cause a turnover and affect the outcome of the game. Hall brings diversity and intensity not often rivaled by any other defender. If Illinois State is banking the game on Robinson’s running they better send two blockers toward Hall each play.
Illinois State started out as a team that would be a contender in the MVFC for a runner-up spot, if not to be able to play spoiler. Those intentions and expectations have changed dramatically with the vast amount of injuries that the Redbirds have incurred. If Illinois State had healthy leaders including quarterback Brady Davis this game might be a different story. I think the balanced offense and punishing defense of SEMO will carry them to victory as their weapons are better poised to shine in this matchup. The James Robinson versus Zach Hall matchup should be a marquee and integral part of whether or not Illinois State finds any traction. The home crowd, Illinois State injuries, and the higher scoring offense should allow SEMO to pull ahead and stay ahead.
SEMO 31, Illinois State 20
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My name is Ben Schleiger and I’m your representative for the Big Sky Conference. I have done work for multiple newspapers and sports blogs including The Johnstown Breeze, The University of Northern Colorado Mirror, and Mile High Maniac. I am a proud alumnus of the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. In my free time, I like watching sports, playing video games, and trying new foods.