Redbirds inconsistent under center

By Gus Bode

llinois State football coach Denver Johnson said his quarterback has struggled this year, but SIU coach Jerry Kill said he isn’t paying that any mind.

The No. 5 Salukis’ next opponent, the Redbirds (4-6, 2-3 Gateway), is led on offense by senior quarterback Luke Drone, who passed SIU quarterback Nick Hill for the conference lead in season touchdown passes on Saturday.

In two career games against SIU, Drone has combined to throw for 599 yards and five touchdowns, winning both times, including when Illinois State handed the Salukis their first loss last season.

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Drone leads the Gateway Football Conference with 18 touchdown passes this season, but has thrown a conference-high 15 interceptions.

“We don’t pay attention to that because when we’ve played Luke Drone, he’s lit us up for two years,” Kill said. “So Luke Drone is playing in his final senior year game here, he’ll be ready to play and we better be ready.”

In three of the Redbirds’ four wins, Drone finished the game without throwing an interception while connecting for multiple touchdown passes.

But he threw three interceptions in Illinois State’s season-opener, a 27-24 loss to Drake, a non-scholarship football program.

Johnson said both the Redbirds and Drone have experienced a bumpy season, scoring 30 points per game but allowing 30.4 points per game.

“We’re still relatively productive offensively,” Johnson said. “Luke has thrown a touchdown in every game, and it’s been a disappointing and frustrating year for all of us.”

Johnson said mistakes by the receivers or in pass protection could also be a cause for Drone’s struggles this season, but in the end it falls on him.

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Drone could also be trying to make up for some key losses on offense. Last season’s top rusher and receiver graduated, and former Redbird receiver Laurent Robinson was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft.

“I think he’s competed, I think he’s tried to do things, at times, I think he’s tried to do too much,” Johnson said of Drone. “I think he’s tried to make up for not having a Laurent Robinson or someone like that at receiver, and a (Pierre) Rembert at running back.”

Robinson and Rembert, however, aren’t of the Redbirds’ most recent losses.

At an Oct. 27 game against Western Illinois, Illinois State sophomore running back Geno Blow broke his hand during the 27-14 loss and will not return to the field this season.

Blow has 776 rushing yards this season but has split carries with Rafael Rice, a senior, who has registered 884 rushing yards this season – including 132 on 22 carries with Blow out of the lineup Saturday, when Illinois State lost 54-28 to No. 2 North Dakota State.

Johnson said losing Blow doesn’t change what the Redbirds will do offensively, and Kill said Rice is very capable.

And Drone is still behind center.

“As long as you got Luke Drone at the helm, you’re going to be pretty good on offense,” Kill said.

Scott Mieszala can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected]

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