East St. Louis product Reed takes over atop Western Illinois RB depth chart

Western Illinois faces a tall task this week in its road game in Brookings, S.D., against No. 2 South Dakota State. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

By Barry Bottino

After making his season debut last week against Northern Iowa, sophomore running back Jaylen Reed is listed as Western Illinois’ starter this week at No. 2 South Dakota State.

Jaylen Reed

“He’s a really dynamic back with the ball in his hands,” WIU running backs coach Donnell Kirkwood told Prairie State Pigskin last month.

The shifty 5-foot-6 Reed rushed seven times for 36 yards against UNI and caught two passes for 52 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.

Reed, a graduate of Illinois prep powerhouse East St. Louis Senior High School, was a four-year varsity starter for the Flyers. As a junior, he helped the team to a Class 6A title.

He got his feet wet as a freshman in Macomb last season, playing in seven games, catching three passes and carrying the ball five times.

Reed is the product of an athletic family. His mother played softball and basketball at both Illinois College and MacMurray College, while cousin E.J. Jones played football at Illinois State.

This week’s opponent

SDSU boasts one of the most talented rosters in the nation and are ranked No. 2 this week in the STATS Perform FCS poll. The Jackrabbits, led by quarterback Mark Gronowski, won at No. 5 Missouri State, 28-14, last week. Gronowski passed for 319 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. … SDSU (3-1) sustained its only loss in the season opener, a 7-3 decision against Iowa of the Big Ten Conference. … On defense, SDSU leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference by allowing 15 points and 252.5 yards per game.

(Kickoff: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: Q981FM.com)

Key matchup to watch

WIU running game vs. SDSU rush defense: This matchup leans heavily in SDSU’s favor, meaning the Leathernecks will have to get creative on the ground. The Jackrabbits rank sixth in FCS in run defense, allowing just 53 yards a game. The last time WIU had a 100-yard rusher was in 2018.

What’s at stake?

The WIU defense gave up 52 points in last week’s MVFC opener against Northern Iowa. Showing some improvement today against one of the nation’s best FCS teams will be a challenge.

Quick hits

The two leading tackles on WIU’s defense play the two most unique positions. Hybrid linebackers Chase Graham, who plays “flex,” and Anthony Quinney, the team’s “rover,” have 34 and 32 tackles, respectively. Graham is a native of Sterling, Ill. … Senior cornerback J.J. Ross has been one of the team’s most impactful defenders. He has both of the Leathernecks’ interceptions this season and five of their 12 pass breakups.

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