Our “how you doing” feature is back for year four! Each week we at B5Q will review how each of Wisconsin’s opponents has fared heading into their contest with the Badgers. With this being the season opener we don’t have a ton to break down just yet, but here are Illinois State’s numbers from 2021...
- Overall record: 4-7
- Missouri Valley Conference record: 2-6
- Best victory (2021): 17-10 win over 13th ranked Northern Iowa
- Worst loss (2021): 31-38 loss to Western Illinois (2-9)
Status of the offense:
The Redbirds have a lot of new faces starting in key positions on the offensive side of the ball. The Redbirds will feature a new starting quarterback in Zach Annexstad, formerly of Minnesota. Annexstad transferred in from Minnesota after Tanner Morgan decided to return for his 17th season.
Here’s what we can tell you about the Redbird's offense of the past few years. They don’t typically score too many points averaging less than 20 points a game in the previous two seasons. Like Wisconsin, It’s a fairly balanced rushing attack that relies heavily on the running game to open up opportunities through the air. Illinois State will likely rely on running back Cole Muller who returns after rushing for nearly 1,000 yards a season ago.
This team isn’t typically flashy so it’s hard to imagine them beating Wisconsin when it comes to dominance in the trenches. But expect to see a lot of handoffs and a rotating backfield to try and keep legs fresh. Last season, Illinois State struggled to maintain drives and convert third downs as well, converting just 27% of their third down tries.
When they do pass the ball they don’t typically turn the ball over. They have given up interceptions on less than one-half of one percent (0.05) of their pass attempts the previous two seasons. That being said their completion percentage in that same time period is about fifty percent of their passes. It should be noted that last year the team allowed 34 sacks for a total of 228 yards lost, one of the worst marks in FCS football.
If it comes down to going for it on 4th down, they’ve shown success by converting on almost 40% of their attempts in the previous years. But hopefully, this game will be over by the half. Speaking of halves, the Redbirds love scoring before the first one is over. ISU put up more points in the second quarter than it does in any other according to numbers from 2021 and 2019.
Status of the defense:
For the previous two years, the Illinois State defense has allowed an average of over 300 yards of total offense per game. This obviously bodes well for the Badgers as they hope to test out the implementation of offensive coordinator Bobby Engram’s new balanced approach.
Last year the Redbirds' defense allowed more points than were scored by their offense. Averaging over 22 points per game to be put up by opposing teams, which ultimately leads to a losing record. The defense did have some success with 12 interceptions, five fumbles, and 20 sacks overall. One major area of concern for the defense was their ability to get off the field on third down, allowing opponents to convert nearly 50% of the time. Additionally, the offense struggled with the time of possession so the Redbird defense was left on the field for prolonged periods of time.
There is a chance that the Illinois State defense could hurry Mertz into a mistake through the air or find a way to take him down in the backfield. But overall this team’s defense isn’t anything to be too fearful of, and if Wisconsin is able to maintain the same time of possession it has in recent years it should really wear this Redbird defense down.
Like Wisconsin, the Redbirds have yet to play a game in 2022. The team did have a scrimmage on Saturday morning. According to the Illinois State Football page and social media, it was a fairly stagnant showing impacted by rain and wind. The only points of the day came in an overtime portion with the first and third team units leading touchdown drives.
Last year Illinois State went 4 - 7 but this is a new crew, with new leaders, with a new opportunity to try and embarrass the Badgers. Wisconsin won’t take this too lightly and unlike last year’s opener vs Penn State, it’s hard to imagine any sideline drama leaking chaos on the field as the crowd wonders where Jalen Berger might be. This should be a shutout, maybe the second-team defense allows a TD or FG after the game is locked up but Wisconsin should score plenty vs their FCS foe this Saturday. Get in, get out, get confident, and stay healthy.