MVFC Previews: Western Illinois

Coach Bob Nielson takes over the Western Illinois’ program after enjoying a successful 10-year run at Minnesota-Duluth where he won 100 games (100-26) and a pair of Division II Championships (2008 & 2010).

The Leathernecks advanced to the playoffs in 2010 (8-5); however, in three of the past four seasons WIU had won just 6 games overall (2009, 2011, 2012).

Youngstown State will travel to Macomb to take on the Leathernecks this October. The Penguins have won 8 of their last 9 meetings including this past seasons’ 31-7 victory at Hanson Field. YSU outscored Western 24-0 in the final 46 minutes. Jamaine Cook scored twice and the Penguin defense limited WIU to just 6 first downs and 157 total yards of offense.

YSU vs. WIU: Last Five Meetings
Nov. 10, 2012 – Youngstown State, 31-7
Oct. 29, 2011 – Youngstown State, 56-14
Oct. 16, 2010 – Western Illinois, 40-38
Oct. 10, 2009 – Youngstown State, 31-21
Nov. 22, 2008 – Youngstown State, 31-28

Western Illinois Leathernecks’ Football Preview
by Vince Pellegrini (@Vince_MYVS)
Head Coach: Bob Nielson, 1st Season at Western Illinois (0-0)
2012 Record: 3-8, (1-7), Missouri Valley Football Conference
2012 Post-Season Finish: Did Not Qualify

2012 Team Statistics
Points Scored: 9.7 (107)
Passing Yards: 106.9 (1176)
Rushing Yards: 113.1 (1244)
Points Allowed: 28.3 (311)
Passing Yards Allowed: 165.7 (1823)
Rushing Yards Allowed: 187.5 (2062)

Returning Leaders
Passing: Hayden Northern – 321 yards, 48.6 Comp % (34-70), 0 TDs
Rushing: Nikko Watson – 164 att, 660 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Fredson Salomon – 30 rec, 373 yards, 2 TDs
Tackles: J.J. Raffelson – 105
Sacks: Eddy Holtschlag & Ryan Demming – 2.0
Interceptions: Martinez Davis – 5

2013 Schedule
Aug. 29 – Hampton
Sept. 7 – Quincy
Sept. 14 – at Minnesota
Sept. 21 – at UNLV
Sept. 28 – South Dakota
Oct. 5 – at Illinois State
Oct. 12 – South Dakota State
Oct. 19 – at Youngstown State
Oct. 26 – Missouri State
Nov. 2 – Southern Illinois
Nov. 16 – at Indiana State
Nov. 23 – at Northern Iowa

Offensive Strength: The return of right tackle Jimmy Holtschlag is huge for a team which is looking for an identity on offense. The 6’5 senior started each game a year ago and is on the preseason all-conference team.

Offensive Weakness: The decline in offensive numbers has been astonishing since their playoff season of 2010. Over the last three years, the average total yards gained by WIU has went from 457.2 to 309.7 to 230.0 in 2013. The Leathernecks averaged 9.7 points just last fall compared to 32.5 in 2010.

Defensive Strength: The defense has two preseason all-conference nominees in linebacker J.J. Raffelson and defensive back Martinez Davis. As a redshirt freshman, Raffelson started every game and led the team in tackles with 105. Davis is a junior from Madisonville, Kentucky. He closed out his 2012 campaign with a team-leading 5 picks and made 38 defensive stops.

Defensive Weakness: Western Illinois’ defense allowed opponents’ to rush for 4.7 yards per carry and to gain 353 total yards per game. The defense permitted their foes to convert for scores on 29 of 33 red zone trips (87.9%).

Storylines Facing the Leathernecks
1. Offensive Transfers. The infusion of transfers at the FCS level can help a team’s progress by leaps and bounds in some cases. For WIU Trenton Norvell and Kyle Hammonds may do the trick. Norvell was rated as a three-star quarterback prospect following his senior season at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach. Trenton was redshirted at Cincinnati but has since transferred to WIU. Hammonds, a Solon alum, appeared in 9 games for Ohio last fall. He rushed for 33 yards in the Independence Bowl.

2. New Coach. The new era begins at Western Illinois. Coach Bob Nielson has made an imprint of putting together winning programs wherever he has been. Whether it was at Wartburg College (1991-95) or Wisconsin-Eau Claire (1996-98) or at Minnesota-Duluth, he has been a winner at each stop. Leatherneck nation hopes that this stop will be very similar.

3. Offensive Production. When the line can’t slow down pass rushers (26 sacks) or your running game can’t seem to get on track (3.0 yards per carry) – it’s a recipe for a long season. The Leathernecks will look to improve on both categories and to extend drives by converting on a better percentage (25%) than 42 of 168 on third downs.

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