Illinois State's last trip to the playoffs in 2012 ended with a 51-35 loss at Eastern Washington. The host Eagles are seeking their fourth trip to the national semifinals in the last five seasons, beginning with their 2010 national championship team.
It was actually Eastern Washington quarterback Kyle Padron (six touchdown passes) and not then-redshirt freshman Vernon Adams Jr. who fueled the playoff win over Illinois State in 2012. But current Eagles' standouts Quincy Forte (116 yards on seven carries) and Ronnie Hamlin (10 tackles, one interception) both played big parts in the win.
For Illinois State, it's all about containing Adams because there's little hope of shutting him down. He's thrown for 3,058 yards and 32 touchdowns in only nine games this season and leads an offense that is 20 points shy of the school and Big Sky single-season records of 592 points. The Eagles have allowed 41 sacks, so Adams might find it difficult to get out of the pocket with Redbirds pass rushers Teddy Corwin and David Perkins flying at him from the edge of the 4-3 front. But Adams has plenty of passing targets and his comfort zone is sophomore wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who is nearing his second straight 100- catch season.
With quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich starring together nearly every game, Illinois State is accustomed to starting strong. The Redbirds have scored on their first series seven times and outscored opponents 117-20 in the first quarter.
The winner will advance to face either Chattanooga or Villanova in the national semifinals.