No. 24 Redbirds Re-Open Hancock Stadium Against Abilene Christian
Rickey Simpson
Rickey Simpson

Sept. 17, 2013

 Abilene Christian (3-0) at #24 Illinois State (0-2) | 2013 Home Opener
 Date  Saturday, Sept. 21
 Location
 Normal, Ill.
 Kickoff
 6 p.m. CT
 Stadium
 Hancock Stadium
 Stadium Capacity
 13,391
 Radio  WJBC/Country Financial Illinois State Radio Network (Dick Luedke - Play-by-Play | Ted Schmitz - Analyst)
 Watch  RedbirdHD.tv
 Live Stats  GameTracker
 Game Notes  Illinois State | Abilene Christian | Missouri Valley Football Conference

PLAYER TO WATCH
Senior defensive end Rickey Simpson has made the most of out of his opportunity to start in his final season in a Redbird uniform. The Naperville, Ill., native has recorded 10 tackles on the season, including three sacks. Two of those sacks came against FBS foe Ball State in the season opener and Simpson added another last week at Eastern Illinois. In 23 career games, Simpson has recorded 36 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception recorded in last year's game at UNI.

THE GAME
For 50 years, Hancock Stadium has served as the home for the Illinois State football team. On Saturday, a new chapter in the facility's history will be written when the newly-renovated east side is opened when the Redbirds (0-2) host Abilene Christian (3-0) in the 2013 home opener.

THE SERIES
Tonight's game marks the first between the two schools. Abilene Christian, an NCAA Division I FCS independent in 2013 as it transitions from Division II status, heads to Normal for its first FCS game of the season. The last time the Redbirds played an FCS independent was in 2006, when ISU defeated Central Arkansas by a score of 18-3 on Sept. 9 at Hancock Stadium.

THE COACHES
Illinois State: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983) is in his fifth season as the head coach at Illinois State (28-20). Spack led the Redbirds to their first playoff victory since 2006, just the third nine-win season in school history and was a finalist for the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award.

Abilene Christian: Ken Collums (Central Arkansas, 1995)
is in his second season as the 19th head football coach in ACU history (10-4). In his first season as the head coach in 2012, he led the Wildcats to a 7-4 record in their final season as a member of NCAA Division II and the Lone Star Conference..

THE PROGRAM IN THE PLAYOFFS

  • Fourth playoff appearance in school history (1998, 1999, 2006, 2012)
  • Third appearance in FCS quarterfinals (1999, 2006, 2012)
  • 4-3 overall record in FCS playoff games in school history
  • 3-3 record in road playoff games, including 1-1 record in 2006
  • The 1999 team advanced to the FCS semifinals, with wins at home over Colgate and on the road against Hofstra. ISU eventually fell to eventual national champion Georgia Southern by a score of 28-17 in the semifinals, as Payton Award winner Adrian Peterson ran for three touchdowns and 183 yards on the ground.

THIS WEEK'S OPPONENT

  • Abilene Christian University is located in Abilene,Texas, and has an enrollment of 4,700 students. The Wildcats are FCS Independents and play their home games at Shotwell Stadium (15,000).
  • The Wildcats finished with a 7-4 record in their final season as a member of NCAA Division II and the Lone Star Conference in 2012.
  • ACU moved up to NCAA Division I FCS affiliation and joined the Southland Conference on July 1, 2013, but because of prior scheduling commitments around the rest of the league, the Wildcats won't begin playing a Southland Conference football schedule until 2014.
  • Abilene Christian is off to a 3-0 start and is the nation's highest-scoring team through three games. The 196 points scored by ACU set a school record for most scored in a three-game stretch, breaking the previous mark of 181 in 2008.
  • The Wildcat offense has been dominant in its three wins, as it has averaged 65 points per game and averaged 562 yards of total offense in wins over Concordia (Ala.), McMurry and New Mexico-Highlands.
  • Senior quarterback John David Baker has been lethal through the air, completing 59-of-79 pass attempts for 926 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's averaging 309 passing yards per game and has an efficiency rating of 231.63.
  • His favorite target has been senior receiver Darian Hogg, who has 17 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns, including a long reception of 88 yards. Senior Taylor Gabriel also has a trio of touchdown receptions to go along with 11 catches for 181 yards. Gabriel was the star in the team's win last week against New Mexico-Highlands, as he caught the ball nine times for 160 yards and three touchdowns, including that 75-yarder late in the third quarter.
  • The Wildcats' rushing attack, which averages 244.7 yards per game on the ground, has been led by senior Charcandrick West who has rushed for 329 yards on 46 attempts, with six touchdowns.
  • Junior defensive back Angel Lopez leads the way defensively for the Wildcats with 25 tackles and a forced fumble through three games. Junior defensive end Nick Richardson has been the team's most disruptive presence up front, with five sacks to go along with 11 tackles for the Wildcats.

DEJA VU
In 2009, the Redbirds played the Panthers in the annual Mid-America Classic in Charleston and starter Drew Kiel suffered an injury, which forced then redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Brown into action. Brown went on to have a record-setting career at ISU and started every game for the next four seasons. A similar situation played out in the 2013 contest, when starter Jared Barnett left the game due to injury and redshirt freshman Blake Winkler came in to throw for 144 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. Whether or not Winkler keeps the starting job and has a career like Brown is yet to be seen, but the start was eerily similar.

ALL OR NOTHING
Throughout his career at Illinois State, head coach Brock Spack has shown that he is never afraid to go for it on fourth down and keep a drive alive. Early in the 2013 season, he's shown that he is not afraid to make that call at all and his team has made him look very smart by converting on all five of its fourth-down conversion attempts this season. Against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 14), the Redbirds were 3-for-3 on fourth down and picked up a pair of conversions on its touchdown drive in its first of two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

SMOOTH TRANSITION
Many times in college football a player will move from one position to another to see more playing time and help his team get better. Junior Cameron Meredith made the transition from the Redbirds' backup quarterback for the past two seasons to wide receiver in the offseason. He looked very impressive during spring and fall workouts, but showed off his new skills against Eastern Illinois (Sept. 14). The Westchester, Ill., native led the team with five receptions for 76 yards and caught his first two career touchdown receptions against the Panthers. Meredith hauled in a five-yard touchdown on a fade route in the end zone early in the third quarter and later added another five-yard score from quarterback Blake Winkler with just over two minutes left in the game.

FOR OPENERS
In the last five seasons, the Redbirds have gone 2-3 in season openers under head coach Brock Spack. Two of those losses came on the road to longtime foe Eastern Illinois and the most recent to Ball State (Aug. 29). However, the Redbirds have had better luck in home openers, winning the first game at Hancock Stadium in each of the last four seasons. The Redbirds will open the 2013 season and the newly-renovated Hancock Stadium Saturday against Abilene Christian.

TWO YARDS AND A CLOUD OF DUST
When junior college transfer Collin Keoshian transferred to Illinois State, he knew he was going to get a chance to compete immediately for playing time and make an impact. The big back did just that in the season opener at Ball State (Aug. 29), as he scored a pair of touchdowns near the goal line for the Redbirds. Keoshian capped off ISU's game-opening scoring drive with a one-yard TD and scored from two yards out late in the fourth quarter. In total, he carried the ball eight times for a total of 10 yards and picked up a pair of crucial first-down conversions.

BIG SHOES TO FILL
Over the past two seasons, Illinois State middle linebacker Pat Meehan has learned from a pair of First-Team All-MVFC performers in Josh Howe and Mike Zimmer. Against Ball State (Aug. 29), Meehan led the Redbirds with eight tackles and called plays like a seasoned veteran. With some luck and standout play, he could become the third-straight Redbird middle linebacker to take home first-team honors.

STRONG DEBUTS
Several new Redbirds had strong debuts in their first ISU games at Ball State (Aug. 29). Iowa State transfer quarterback Jared Barnett was very efficient, as he finished the game 20-for-29 for 282 yards with a pair of TD passes. One of those passes went to true freshman Anthony Warrum, who hauled in a pair of passes for 65 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter. Junior college transfer running back Collin Keoshian also had a solid game, as he picked up several first downs on third-and-short situations and scored a pair of TDs near the goal line in his first ISU action.

DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
Junior quarterback Jared Barnett was not afraid to throw the football to any of his targets on the field against Ball State (Aug. 29), as eight different players caught passes in the game for the Redbirds. Junior tight end James O'Shaughnessy led the way with five catches for 57 yards, and seniors Phil Dudley and Corey Shandrick each added four grabs apiece. In addition, four Redbirds caught their first career passes in the game, including freshman receiver Anthony Warrum, sophomore tight end Brian Athey, junior fullback Matt Meyers and senior wideout Chick Chatham.

SLICK RICK
Senior defensive end Rickey Simpson had a career effort against Ball State (Aug. 29), as he took advantage of a lot of attention being paid to All-American Colton Underwood on the opposite end of the defensive front. He recorded a career-best two sacks in the game to go along with five tackles and a QB hurry. Simpson also led the way for the defense that allowed just 80 total yards on the ground, including just 49 to Doak Walker Award candidate Jahwan Edwards. Simpson also added a sack in game two at Eastern Illinois (Sept. 29), to up his season total to three.