Fans might not know much about this team from Normal, Ill., but coach Ron Prince and his players did their homework on the preseason No. 9-ranked Division 1-AA team.
"This is a very good team that we are playing this weekend," said Prince, who will be making his head-coaching debut with the Wildcats. "I'm very familiar with this coach. He is widely respected and a very detailed, hard-nosed coach. I fully expect that his team, as they have the last few years, to reflect that."
Prince was talking about Redbird coach Denver Johnson, who is entering his seventh season at Illinois State. He owns a 32-35 overall coaching record, but his teams are 0-6 in road openers.
The last time his team faced a Division I-A opponent was last season when Iowa State defeated the Redbirds 32-21.
"They gave Iowa State absolutely all they could handle, and it could be argued that they outplayed the Cyclones," Prince said. Illinois State averaged 36.1 points per game last season, while only allowing 20.6. The Redbirds also averaged 454.5 yards per game and gave up only 345.9.
"They have a good, hard-nosed defense," said senior running back Carlos Alsup. "We believe that they could have one of the defenses in the Big 12 (Conference) if they played at this level. Hopefully we just go out there and do what we know we can do, and I believe success will come with that.
Alsup, the oldest player on the team, will be making his second career start after senior Thomas Clayton was suspended for the season opener.
Prince said his team was focusing on five guys who will more than likely play huge roles in the outcome of this weekend's game. Junior defensive tackle Jarek Thomas was the first on Prince's list. He said Thomas has the ability to affect the game by his talent alone, and he is interested to see how he matches up with sophomore Gerard Spexarth, the Wildcats starting right guard.
Prince said senior linebacker Cameron Siskowic is a significant part of the Redbirds defense, and the Wildcats will have to concentrate on him and make sure they have him accounted for on each play. Prince said senior strong safety James Temple is everything a coach could want in a safety. He can play both the run and the pass, and he is very aggressive at the line of scrimmage.
The two offensive threats Prince talked about at length were senior wide receiver Laurent Robinson and senior running back Pierre Rembert. Prince said he anticipates that Rembert will try and dictate what the defense has to do in coverage to account for him, and his ability in the running game is what gets Robinson his chances at single coverage on the outside.
"We're expecting a great challenge," said senior starting quarterback Dylan Meier, who will be making his return to the starting role after having missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. "They return a lot of players and they play awful aggressive. But, bottom line, we're expecting to play well and we're e