Illinois State's last undefeated regular season on the road was 1937. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
NORMAL - Illinois State's football team will have its work cut out for it Saturday if it wants to accomplish a team goal that hasn't been achieved in 75 years.
The No. 15 nationally ranked Redbirds head to Terre Haute, Ind., to take on No. 14 Indiana State in a Missouri Valley Conference game that carries implications for both sides.
Each team sports 7-2 overall records and can virtually assure itself a post-season playoff berth with a victory. Indiana State leads the league with a 5-1 mark, while Illinois State is a step behind at 4-2.
The Redbirds also will be gunning for their fifth straight win on the road this year to finish the regular season undefeated away from home, something that hasn't happened since 1937.
"The seniors put that as one of their top goals," said Illinois State coach Brock Spack of going undefeated road record "We told the guys at the beginning of the year that you have to win on the road to win the conference championship. We've emphasized it. As a coach, it makes me happy and proud because it shows we're a tough team mentally."
The Redbirds will have to contend with Indiana State running back Shakir Bell, who has rushed for 1,306 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is on the Walter Payton watch list for the top offensive player award in Division I-AA and ranks fifth nationally in yards per game at 145.1. He has gone over the 100-yard mark six times this year.
"He's really elusive," said Illinois State middle linebacker Mike Zimmer. "He's a quick player. He has great vision and the offensive line does a great job of opening holes for him. It will be a tough task for us to stop him. We just have to get back to the basics and make sure there are no holes for him to run through."
The game pits the No. 2 and 3 defenses in the league. Indiana State ranks second allowing 283.9 yards per game, while the Redbirds are third at 306.8. It also matches the No. 1 passing offense of Illinois State against the No. 2 pass defense of the Sycamores.
"The defenses will be very, very important," added Spack. "We tell the team that if you want to win on road you'd better pack your defense. You can't count on the offense to be silky smooth on road. It's hard to win on defense only. Your offense has to score because you are probably going to give up one (touchdown), maybe two."
Indiana State has won five straight and has not had a 7-2 record since 1995.
"Both teams are in a really great position," said Spack. "It's a fun game to be in with the opportunity to be in the post-season. Indiana State is a very good team and has been playing really well of late. We'll have to play well to beat them."
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com