Over the next couple of weeks, the BisonReport will take an early look at the North Dakota State football team’s opponents throughout the 2016 regular season. Today, we continue with the Illinois State Redbirds.
Illinois State Redbirds vs. North Dakota State Bison
Fargodome, Fargo, N.D.
Oct. 1, 2016, 1:00 PM CST Kickoff
Illinois State head coach: Brock Spack (8th season)
Coordinators: Billy Dicken (Co-Offensive coordinator; 3rd season), Dan Clark (Co-Offensive coordinator; 1st season) and Spencer Nowinsky (defensive coordinator; 3rd season)
Illinois State 2015 record – 10-3 (7-1 MVC): The Redbirds and Bison avoided one another last year, but that allowed the Redbirds to finish with ten total wins and go seven and one in Missouri Valley play, before losing to Richmond in the playoffs last fall.
2015 offensive stats: 26th nationally in total offense (425.6 YPG), 17th in scoring offense (30.9 PPG), 69th in passing offense (191.5 YPG), 14th in rushing offense (234.2 YPG)
2015 defensive stats: 53rd nationally in total defense (374.8 YPG), 29th in scoring defense (21.2 PPG), 85th in passing defense (228.5 YPG), 37th in rushing defense (146.4 YPG)
Returning leading passer – QB Jake Kolbe (264 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT on 26-of- 40 passing): Illinois State loses their quarterback from last season in the dynamic Tre Roberson who account for over 3000 total yards last season. Kolbe has some big shoes to fill.
Returning leading rusher – RB Jamal Towns (164 yards, TD on 28 carries): The Redbirds also lose more than 2700 yards rushing and 34 rushing scores from 2015 will Roberson and stud running back Marshaun Coprich now gone.
Returning leading receiver – WR Anthony Warrum (1290 yards, 15 TD on 58 catches): Illinois State finally catches a break with Warrum returning, who is a big play threat waiting to happen averaging over 22 yards a catch last season.
Returning leading tackler – LB Alejandro Rivera (83 tackles): Rivera returns with Illinois State after an 83 tackle year as a junior.
Returning leader in interceptions – Alex Kocour (three picks): Kocour only played in nine games last year, but made them account with 78 total tackles and three interceptions.
FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY JOSH TOLENTINO OF THE VIDETTE
What was the biggest thing about this Illinois State team that you drew from watching spring practices and its spring game?
JT: “Jake Kolbe to Anthony Warrum…Touchdown!”
Get used to that phrase because this pair is about to be one of the best one-two punches in FCS football next season. Jake Kolbe has huge shoes to fill in his first season as the Redbirds’ starting quarterback following Tre Roberson’s two-year stint as signal caller. But luckily for the redshirt sophomore, he will be able to show off his cannon by connecting with one of the best pass catchers in the nation in All-American receiver Anthony Warrum. Expect these two to break some records next year as they already showcased plenty of chemistry in spring practice. Kolbe is more of a traditional quarterback compared to Roberson and will transition smoothly after showing he could hold his own during several stints last season. Kolbe has a cannon and can throw an accurate bomb from the 40-yard-line to the end zone with ease, but he can also surprise some defenders with his feet as seen during his late-game rushing touchdown against Richmond last year in the FCS Quarterfinals.
Kolbe is going to be the second-best quarterback in the history of ISU football next to Redbird legend Matt Brown. Watching Kolbe in practice, and also during his limited time at Iowa, it is clear to see that the redshirt sophomore has a calm, cool and comfortable pocket presence. He sits in there, goes through his progressions and never seems too hurried before slinging the ball.Spack said Kolbe is the real deal and in three years, Kolbe may end up being the best quarterback to throw a pigskin in a Redbird uniform.
What are the three biggest story lines to follow this season?
JT: Filling in Coprich and Roberson’s shoes
The Redbirds face devastating losses on offense with the graduation of running back Marshaun Coprich and quarterback Tre Roberson. The pair was the best one-two offensive punch in the MVFC for the past two seasons. Gone are their 120 touchdowns over the last two years — an astounding 91 percent of the offensive scores (68 combined TD in 2014, 52 combined TD in 2015). The team also loses the leadership of those two, who provided a strong locker room presence.
We hardly got to see him on game days out of the backfield — which was preposterous considering his talent level — but Coprich’s backup - George Moreira - has all the makings of being an every-down stud. He is slightly bigger than Coprich, although not as fast. But he did showcase some burners on a few kickoffs this year as the Redbirds’ main return man. The redshirt freshman now has three years to develop size, strength, speed and playmaking ability.The Kolbe/Moreira combination may not look like much right now, but it is going to terrorize defenses down the road. Moreira and Jamal Towns are not Coprich in any means but it won’t be a significant drop down at all.
Loss of Beathard
Former offensive coordinator Kurt Beathard resigned in the middle of June due to family health issues. This is a huge blow to Spack’s coaching staff as Beathard was the mastermind behind the best offense in ISU history. Seeing the loss came well into summer training, Spack resolved the issue internally and named assistants Billy Dickens and Dan Clark as co-offensive coordinators. The loss of Beathard will be hard to overcome as he had one of the deepest football backgrounds on ISU’s coaching staff. Expect Spack to handle a handful of the offensive responsibilities as well as Clark and Dickens tread new ground.
What are Illinois State’s greatest strengths for the 2016 season?
JT: Offensive Line
The Redbird offensive line was a weakness entering last season and they will be a strength entering this season. All five starting linemen return to protect Kolbe this year. Mark Spelman and Kyle Avaloy will return hungry as senior leaders on a unit also featuring Dan Pawlak, Cameron Lee and Ryan Gelber. Those five improved dramatically from a dreadful game against Iowa to become a cohesive group that paved the way for an elite rushing attack. They have an entire off-season to learn, work and grow together to come back for another go-round.
Wide Receivers led by Warrum
It is entirely possible that Warrum could match the output he had this year when he set the ISU single-season record of 15 touchdown receptions. Kolbe and Warrum are going to continue to build up an uncanny level of chemistry on their way to setting a few records. Next to Warrum will be wide-out Christian Gibbs and slot receiver Bryce Jefferson. Gibbs possesses incredible athleticism and is the fastest receiver on the team while Jefferson is an agile slot man. Jefferson reminds me of NDSU’s R.J. Urzendowski with the ability to make game-changing plays and catches -- He is a speedster, and he caught just about everything thrown his way this season. Jefferson was not utilized heavy enough in the passing game last season, but he will be used correctly next year as an undersized guy with Stick ’Em attached to his gloves.
What are the Redbirds' greatest weaknesses?
JT: ISU’s defense was already a question mark all-year long last season -- more specifically, the Redbirds secondary. need to see marked improvement in 2016. Far too often, the last line of defense got burned, and it returned to bite them in their loss to Richmond. The Redbirds were exposed by a high-powered offense during the FCS Quarterfinals and defense will most likely be the tipping point again for ISU in 2017 especially with so many key losses. ISU’s two best edge pass rushers are gone in Teddy Corwin and David Perkins. The linebacker corps loses its two most productive leaders in defensive captain Pat Meehan and Alex Donnelly, while the secondary will see their best cornerback Josh Burch graduate as well. Throw in the losses of special teams standout Nate Bond, backup safety Soniel Estime -- who was solid in place of the injured Alec Kocour -- Count ‘em up, and that’s 10 key seniors lost.
You can follow Josh Tolentino on Twitter @JCTSports.
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COMPLETED EARLY OPPONENT PREVIEWS:
Oct. 8 at Missouri State
Oct. 15 vs. South Dakota State
Oct. 22 at Western Illinois
Oct. 29 at Northern Iowa
Nov. 5 vs. Youngstown State
Nov. 12 vs. Indiana State
Nov. 19 at South Dakota