WESTERN ILLINOIS (2-4, 1-2) at Missouri State (4-2, 2-1)
Backs against the wall, desperation time or must-win game, no matter how you say it, the Western Illinois football team needs a victory this Saturday at Missouri State.
The Leathernecks are 2-4 overall and if they want to make it to the postseason, now is the time to start winning as the squad starts the home stretch of the schedule.
“I think the best message we told our guys is with this five-game stretch, we know where we are, we’re honest about it, we’re not avoiding it,” WIU coach Jared Elliott said. “We are where we are, we’re 2-4, we have five games left, there’s no question about it, seven wins probably gets you in, six has gotten in before, but all we’re thinking is we’re 0-0 now and it’s the back-end stretch. To get where we want, we have to be 1-0 every week, so we’re focused on our next opponent and that’s Missouri State.
“This league, it’s tough every week, the good thing is, we know where we are, we control our future, there are some teams that do not control their own future, so we need to focus on Missouri State and try to find a way to get on a roll down the stretch.”
The Bears are also thinking postseason, standing at 4-2 overall. And when it comes to contending with Missouri State, it all starts with finding a way to slow quarterback Peyton Huslig. Huslig makes the Bear offense go and is the targeted man for the WIU defense.
“I really like their quarterback, he’s a junior college kid from Kansas, he’s been there a year now so he’s got that much more familiarity with what they’re doing, he has a lot of confidence, there’s a reason they’re good and why they’re winning games,” Elliott said. “They’ve beat two Top 20 opponents, they’re playing good complimentary football so it’s a big challenge, on the road at their Homecoming, but it’s every game in this league.”
Huslig averages close to 60 yards rushing per game and throws for over 200 yards per game. And with all eyes on him, the quarterback has done a good job this season distributing the ball to teammates.
“They’ve built on their package on what they do with him, they make it difficult to defend, they’re a tempo offense, they’re committed to running the football, the offense runs through him,” Elliott said. “They have a great zone game and it’s mixed in with option so you have to play gap sound, it’s disciplined, assignment football.
“Huslig is an athletic guy but another year in the weight room has made him even more powerful and strong, he can get through arm tackles and stick his foot in the ground. They’ve built on their option game and zone read, they’ve done a good job highlighting him.”
And while the Bear offense is explosive, the team averages 31.7 points per game, Missouri State’s defense has been exploited. The unit surrenders and average of 28.7 points per game and 458 yards per contest.
Missouri State ranks last in the Valley in passing yards allowed per game (249.7) and ninth in rushing yards allowed per game (208.3). Knowing the Bears struggle against the run, Elliott hopes his offense can finally get something going on the ground.
Western ranks last in the Valley in rushing yards per game, averaging 80.2 yards a contest.
“We’ve got to start running the football, we got to find a way this week to generate some production on the ground to take some stress off of our quarterback,” the coach said. “We need to get into a rhythm and flow and get back to the identity of who we are.
“Missouri State has done a good job of bending and not breaking, they’ve given up yards but in the redone they’ve done a pretty good job with goal line stands. Without a question though, we have to find a way to run the football this week, we’re committed to it, we’ve challenge the offensive line, our backs and guys on the perimeter. We need to keep on schedule and eliminate third and longs so we don’t have to throw the ball all the time.”
WIU STATS MSU
2-4 Overall Record 4-2
22.7 Scoring Average 31.7
99 First Downs 132
355.2 Total Offense 405.3
80.2 Rushing Yards 187.3
275 Passing Yards 218
22.7 Kickoff Return 21.8
11.9 Punt Return 6.1
41.7 Avg. Per Punt 41.1
28:58 Time of Possession 29:30
28-87 3rd Down Conversions 37-82
2-8 4th Down Conversion 5-9
32 Points Allowed 28.7
333.8 Total Yards Allowed 458
149 Rushing Yards Allowed 208.3
184.8 Passing Yards Allowed 249.7