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Time/Date: Sat., Dec. 7 – 4 p.m. | TV: ESPN3
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: James Robinson, RB, Illinois State — With the QB situation unsettled because of injury, all eyes were on Robinson and SEMO still couldn't stop him. He rushed 41 times for 297 yards and a TD, as the Redbirds only threw the ball seven times. Robinson also caught a pass for seven yards.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Charles Woods, CB, Illinois State — Racked up 6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PBUs. He was a ballhawking machine on a defense that held SEMO to just six points.
FIVE OTHER STAT STANDOUTS:
Devin Taylor, CB, Illinois State – 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT
Kristian Wilkerson, WR, SEMO – 114 yards receiving, 5 catches, 22.8 yards per catch
Bydarius Knighten, FS, SEMO – Had 10 tackles, 7 of which were solo.
Zach Hall, ILB, SEMO – 10 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Devin Alexander, ILB, SEMO – 7 tackles, 1 sack[divider]
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THE TURNING POINT
The tone was set early on in this matchup, as Illinois State didn't hide what it was going to do — in the game's very first drive, it was James Robinson, James Robinson, James Robinson. Nobody else ran the ball or caught the ball … and just under four minutes into the game, Illinois State was up 7-0 on an 11-yard touchdown run by Robinson. By the time the game was over, Illinois State had dominated the clock like most teams never do in several years of play — 36 minutes, 18 seconds. The Redbirds were suffocating and physical and the first drive of the game was like a warning shot across the bow,[divider]
Coming into this game, the big question was: What will both of these teams do without their starting quarterbacks? Last week in the season finale, we'd seen Illinois State really struggle on the road at Youngstown State without its usual starter, Brady Davis. So what are the Redbirds going to do in the playoffs? Well, the coaches decided they would hitch their hopes on one of the top NFL Draft prospects in the FCS in James Robinson. He didn't disappoint, as mentioned above, and the defense played extremely well too, pinning the Redhawks to only two out of 13 first-down conversion attempts. SEMO started the game without Daniel Santacaterina, who had some nagging injuries but was cleared to play by doctors.
And that really ended up being one of the big keys. One team adapted really well without its starting quarterback, and the other team didn't quite get there. The time of possession difference, as mentioned above, was gaping (roughly 36 to 24 minutes). Illinois State's defense and Robinson's running prowess just didn't allow SEMO to breathe, offensively. It was a suffocating effort.
Bryce Jefferson, who stepped in at QB for Illinois State in place of Davis, was extremely efficient — rushing for his first career touchdown and wrapping with a 166.7 passer rating. He was the unsung hero for the Redbirds' effort. Defensive back Charles Woods was also Mr. Playmaker on defense.
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PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK
When Illinois State's current seniors were freshmen, their 6-5 team took a trip to 9-2 Central Arkansas in the first round and nearly came away with a win. Robinson even had a carry in the game. Well, that feels like 100 years ago now, but it was only three years ago, and the Redbirds would love to get some revenge for that game in which it led 17-7 going into the fourth quarter before it fell late. These two teams had no common opponents this year, so a score comparison isn't to be found anywhere, but the statistical comparison is interesting. UCA features a top 20 passing attack in the FCS, but the Redbirds came into today's playoff game ranked No. 18 in the FCS in passing efficiency and No. 6 in the country in scoring defense. This should be a classic matchup, and the question is: Can Robinson have a repeat effort?
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