Brock Spack spent 12 years as Purdue's defensive coordinator. The Redbirds lost their opener to Eastern Illinois, 31-6, in Spack's debut. It may take him awhile to establish his system at ISU, but there is no doubt he will have his athletes fired up to play Illinois.
Spack brings a spread offense similar to what Joe Tiller used at Purdue with great success. He will spread the field with receivers and try to keep the Illini defense on its heels.
Unfortunately, quarterback starter Drew Kiel suffered a ligament tear in his thumb and has been lost for at least six weeks to surgery. His replacement is redshirt freshman Matt Brown (6'-4", 210). The Marion product will be under tremendous pressure to perform in his first college start. He is backed by Matt Lancaster (6'-2", 190), a true freshman from West Lafayette, Indiana.
Brown will have some skill around him. Texas senior running back Geno Blow (5'-11", 205) and Elgin senior wide receiver Eyad Salem (6'-2", 188) both garnered pre-season honors for the Missouri Valley Conference. Blow gained 37 yards in 13 carries last week, while Salem hauled in five catches. Last year, Salem totaled 63 catches for 843 yards.
The leading receiver for ISU last week was Casey Cline, the 6'-3", 240 pound tight end from Gibson City. He grabbed six passes for 69 yards after replacing first game starter Cody White (6'-5", 250), who went down with an injury. Other receivers for the Redbirds include Bloomington sophomore Marcus King (6'-4", 215), sophomore Ben Graves (6'-3", 208), junior Farryl Valdez and freshman Tyrone Walker.
The offensive line is young, inexperienced and rather small by major college standards. Junior tackles Chris Riley (6'-5", 290) and Dane Zumbahlen (6'-5", 285) have the most experience, and both are from the state of Illinois. Sophomore center Cal McCarthy (6'-2", 277) is flanked by sophomores Nick Bledsoe (6'-2", 290) and Charles Dennis (6'-3", 305).
Spack's defense is like him, hard-hitting and determined. It gave up 31 points last week, but talent is available. California senior Doni Phelps (6'-1", 255) led the Redbirds last week with nine tackles and a sack from his defensive end position. Fellow senior Bert Whigham (6'-4", 255) is his opposite bookend. He and Tom Speer (6'-4", 240) have the most playing experience among the ends.
Dave Rivas (6'-3", 245) and Eric Brunner (6'-2", 255) have both lettered inside at the tackle spots, and reserve Mike Piton (6'-2", 276) has extensive experience as well. But newcomer XZavier Stewart (6'-1", 315), a transfer from Kansas State, got his feet last week and is likely to play more extensively against the Illini.
Linebackers Kyle Siskowic (6'-1", 225) and Tony Trujillo (6'-2", 230) are multiple year lettermen. WILL linebacker Austin Davis (6'-1", 215) is a redshirt freshman from Normal starting his second college game. Paul Wright, a 6'-0", 220 pounder from California was a top newcomer last year.
Strong safety Kelvyn Hemphill (6'-2", 185) is a two year letterman and preseason all-conference pick, but he is now listed behind fellow junior Jermaine Malcolm (6'-4", 210). Free safety Casey Kociuba, a 6'-1", 205 pound Texan, starts ahead of Urbana senior Antonio Adams (6'-1", 195), who is the starting nickel back.
Senior cornerback Chris Garrett (6'-0", 175) has tremendous experience and doubles as a kick return threat. Minnesota transfer E.J. Jones (5'-11", 190), a junior from Edwardsville, had six tackles and an interception last week. He is also the leading punt returner.
Illinois State boasts 9 of 11 offensive starters from the state of Illinois. 22 of the 44 players on their two deep, not counting specialists, are from the home state. They will be fired up to play Illinois, so previous records mean nothing to them.