Commentary

It's just football

ISU coach to remind redshirt freshman QB that crowd doesn't matter

Originally Published: September 10, 2009
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

The "Hoosiers" approach.

Illinois State coach Brock Spack plans to use that tactic to calm starting quarterback Matt Brown -- a redshirt freshman -- before the Redbirds face Illinois on the road Saturday in Brown's first collegiate start.

"You just tell him, 'It's a football field; it's 53 yards wide and 100 yards long,'" Spack said. "'Who cares who's watching? You can't control that. Execute and do what you're supposed to do. Don't get caught up in the environment.'"

A week ago, neither Spack nor Brown expected to be facing this situation. Brown went into Week 1 as the Redbirds' backup quarterback. He had lost out to sophomore Drew Kiel for the job in the preseason, but when Kiel tore a ligament in his right thumb late in last week's game against Eastern Illinois, Brown found himself on the field, and is now the starter for Saturday.

Kiel had surgery this week and is expected to be out for six weeks.

"You always have dreams to come out with a big crowd and playing in front of a lot of people," said Brown, who was 5-for-8 for 26 yards in the team's 31-6 loss to Eastern Illinois. "I'm hoping to go out there and perform to the best of my ability. I just want to go out there and play hard. It's going to be a great learning experience. I'm getting anxious to get it started."

Spack isn't expecting a 300-yard, five-touchdown performance from Brown. After spending the past 12 years as Purdue's defensive coordinator before taking the Illinois State job this season, Spack knows exactly what Brown and the rest of his Redbirds are up against with the Illini, even after watching Illinois' poor secondary performance last week against Missouri.

"They ran into a very good football team who had a very hot quarterback," Spack said. "I think that quarterback was on fire. I think you'll see a different Illinois team this week. I know them very well. I don't think that game was very indicative of how good they are.

"We're spending more time evaluating ourselves to find other ways to put them in a position to be successful. I'm not sure if it's going to show for a while until you have four or five game under your belt. I hope that happens. We've got to make ourselves better. We've got to take care of ourselves right now. … It's a tough venue. But the schedule was made. You have no control over that. Down the road, it will pay off."

Wide receiver Eyad Salem was more optimistic about exploiting Illinois' secondary.

"If you look at their secondary last week, they were kind of in the same boat as we were," said Salem, who made 63 receptions last year. "They kind of lacked enthusiasm. We feel like we really spread the ball out. We definitely will try to take advantage of certain weaknesses they have in their defense with the coverages they give away."

Spack does feel that Brown -- at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds -- has the talent to succeed in Illinois State's spread offense. Brown threw for 2,936 yards and 34 touchdowns while running a similar offense for Marion High School in southern Illinois.

It just might take some time.

"He is our most gifted athlete we have at quarterback," Spack said. "I think he has Big Ten talent. He's very young. He's still learning the system. Hopefully, he can make a big leap this weekend. It's a tough venue to make your first start. … I will be shocked if he didn't perform well."

And if Spack's "Hoosiers" speech doesn't work before the game off the field, Salem expects to give Brown a similar one on the field during the game.

"He's going to be a little giddy when he gets in," Salem said. "I've been around the block a few times. You tell him, 'The field is still 100 yards, and the goal posts are still the same. The only difference is there's a lot more people around it.' All players should thrive in that environment."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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