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Watch now: Illinois State football faces tougher test at Western Michigan

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Brock Spack talking to team

Illinois State football coach Brock Spack discusses the upcoming trip to Western Michigan with his team Thursday at the conclusion of practice at Hancock Stadium.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Illinois State football team’s defense limited Butler to one touchdown in a season-opening 49-7 victory at Hancock Stadium.

Yet Butler’s 305 yards of total offense, several missed tackles and this week’s step up in division warn ISU coach Brock Spack his defense needs to elevate its play in Saturday’s 4 p.m. (Central) nonconference game against Western Michigan at Waldo Stadium.

“I don’t think we were real sharp. Part of that was our tackling was not very good,” Spack said. “That has to improve this week or we’ll be in big trouble.”

A Redbird win would make Spack the winningest coach in program history. At 86-53, the 13th-year coach is tied with Edwin Struck, who was 86-78-14 from 1945-64. 

ISU outside linebacker Brandon Simon also sees plenty of potential to upgrade the Redbird effort in a game that well be televised on ESPN3.

“The defense played really well. We’ve got to fix the little things like tackling in open space,” Simon said. “There was some communication that lacked, first game mistakes. It’s a blessing. We got to impose our will and still make the mistakes we made.”

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Illinois State linebacker Brandon Simon brings down Butler QB Bret Bushka last Saturday. Simon and the ISU defense will have to step up this week against Western Michigan.

The Broncos, an FBS program from the Mid-American Conference, opened with a 47-14 loss before 109,295 at Michigan. Western Michigan trailed just 10-7 through one quarter before the Wolverines seized control.

“We learned a ton, but we didn’t play as well as we expected to play,” Broncos coach Tim Lester said. “We moved the line of scrimmage better than we ever have against Michigan. We did some good things, but there were a lot of things to clean up.”

Western Michigan posted a 4-2 record in an abbreviated fall schedule with no spectators allowed.

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Bryce Jefferson (5) and the Illinois State offensive line amassed nearly 500 yards of offense against Butler.

“I know the guys are excited to play in Waldo,” said Lester. “And we’ll have fans there for the first time in two years.”

Sean Tyler was the top Broncos’ rusher against Michigan with 55 yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Kaleb Eleby completed 20 of 37 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown.

“This is a really tough football team. They should have an opportunity to compete for the MAC championship,” Spack said. “Don’t be mesmerized by the score (at Ann Arbor). I’ve been in that place they played in many times (as Purdue defensive coordinator) with great teams and came out being very sore and getting beat pretty bad.”

A Wheaton native and the former head coach at Elmhurst in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, Lester is familiar with Spack and the Redbird program.

“I know Coach Spack and what he does. They are a great program,” Lester said. “They’re physical with a huge offensive line, one of the better ones I’ve seen and as good if not better than a lot of the O lines in our league. We’ve got our work cut out for us. It should be a great game.”

ISU quarterback Bryce Jefferson completed 8 of 17 passes for 203 yards and the Redbirds rushed for 294 yards against Butler. Spack notes Jefferson’s numbers would have been better if not for several dropped passes.

“I thought he threw the ball very well and ran the offense flawlessly,” said Spack. “Our goal was to have no issues getting into the correct protections and correct plays and he was spot on.”

Receiver Austin Nagel caught two passes for 69 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown connection, after missing most of the preseason with a hamstring strain.

“We love the challenge of it,” Nagel said of playing an FBS program. “We love playing teams that are supposed to beat us on paper. We’re not going to back down from that challenge. We’re excited to go up there and excited for the atmosphere and everything about it.”

Normal West graduate Corey Walker is a true freshman defensive lineman on the Western Michigan roster. Walker did not see action against Michigan.

ISU and Western Michigan have not played since 2001 when the Broncos prevailed, 48-7, at Waldo Stadium.

Contact Randy Reinhardt at (309) 820-3403. Follow him on Twitter: pg_reinhardt


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