They don’t exactly spread the wealth in the Illinois State backfield, and the Redbirds may be richer for it.
ISU is 11-1 partly because it habitually puts the ball in the hands of two of the most talented players in the Football Championship Subdivision in running back Marshaun Coprich and quarterback Tre Roberson.
“They’re dynamic players,” said Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin, whose Eagles will be tasked with slowing them in Saturday’s FCS quarterfinal game at Roos Field.
“We’ve faced that kind of talent in the playoffs and regular season before, but at the same time it tells us how difficult it’s going to be,” Baldwin said.
Coprich, a 5-foot-9, 220-pound junior, ranks third in FCS with 1,831 yards and 22 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards a carry.
The No. 2 rusher is Roberson, a dual-threat junior who has 711 yards on the ground along with a 157.02 pass-efficiency rating that ranks fourth in FCS.
“He throws it just fine,” Baldwin said, nodding his head emphatically before Tuesday’s practice.
Even in the air, the Redbirds don’t have a lot of targets, with Cameron Meredith (51 catches for 907 yards and eight TDs) and Lechein Neblett (41 catches, 805 yards, seven TDs), accounting for almost 60 percent of their receptions.
ISU has a stout line that averages 312 pounds, but the offense is defined by Coprich, who led the Missouri Valley Football Conference – rated the toughest in the country – in rushing yards, touchdowns and yards per game (153).
Remarkably consistent, Coprich gained at least 100 yards in every game, although the Redbirds didn’t face an FBS team and missed perennial power North Dakota State in their league schedule.
When asked to describe Coprich’s running style, Baldwin described his as an “all-everything … he can pound at you, and he also can hit the home run.”
Roberson, a transfer from Indiana, is the MVCF Newcomer of the Year after completing 160 of 281 passes for 25 TDs and just nine picks.
Baldwin compares Roberson with Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins (who tormented the Eagles in last year’s quarterfinals before being injured) and Sam Houston State’s Jared Johnson (who ran for 79 yards and a score in this year’s season opener in Cheney).
Adams, Kupp near milestones
Eastern junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. enters Saturday’s game with 107 career touchdown passes, 11th in FCS history.
He needs two to tie former Cal State Northridge star Marcus Brady for 10th place.
Adams’ 176.94 passer rating would rank second in the nation had he not missed four games and failed to meet NCAA participation requirements. Villanova QB John Robertson, like Adams a Payton Award finalist, tops the rankings at 181.3.
EWU sophomore receiver Cooper Kupp has 94 catches for 1,246 yards this season, tied for the sixth most in single-season Big Sky history.
He’s six catches away from becoming the second player in league history to catch 100 passes in a season.
In 27 career games, Kupp has 187 catches for 2,937 yards and 35 receiving touchdowns. The school record for catches in a season is 95 in 2011 by Nicholas Edwards – now Kupp’s position coach.
Last meeting was offensive explosion
Eastern and ISU last met in 2012, also in the quarterfinals. In that game, Kyle Padron threw for 358 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 51-35 win.
The teams combined for 998 yards of offense – Eastern had 478 and Illinois State finished with 520. Eastern trailed in the second quarter 17-10 but took a 24-17 lead at halftime with a touchdown with 10 seconds left.
EWU’s Brandon Kaufman caught nine passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns, while Quincy Forte rushed for 116 yards. Ronnie Hamlin tallied 10 tackles and an interception.
Good time to watch the scoreboard
Eastern fans may find themselves cheering Friday night for the eighth-seeded Chattanooga Mocs, who are at No. 1 New Hampshire in a quarterfinal game that begins at 5 p.m. PST.
If Chattanooga (10-3) wins, the EWU-Illinois State winner would host the Mocs in a semifinal on Dec. 19 or 20. New Hampshire (12-1) would host that game if it beats Chattanooga.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed North Dakota State (12-1) hosts No. 7 Coastal Carolina (12-1), and No. 6 Villanova (11-2) hosts Sam Houston State (10-4).
Eastern is 4-8 against teams from the Missouri Valley. Big Sky teams are 1-8 against the MVFC this year, including Montana State’s 47-40 loss to South Dakota State in a first-round FCS playoff game. EWU and ISU haven’t played a team from the other conference this season. … Eastern is 4-3 in the quarterfinals and has won three straight. ISU is 1-2. .. The Redbirds are 3-1 in road games this season, their lone loss (42-28) coming at Northern Iowa. … ISU is 3-4 in road playoff games. … Like Baldwin, Brock Spack is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award. He is the MVFC Coach of the Year.
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