Redbirds breeze through season opener, blank NAIA St. Xavier

Redbirds breeze through season opener, blank NAIA St. Xavier
Illinois State running back Markel Smith (21) scored on a rushing touchdown Saturday. (Photo by SXUCougars.com)

With plenty of stiff tests ahead this season, Illinois State eased into the 2018 season Saturday night.

The Redbirds, ranked No. 20 in the FCS preseason coaches poll, roared to a 46-0 victory over Saint Xavier University, an NAIA school from the south side of Chicago.

The Redbirds forced five turnovers in the season opener and piled up five rushing touchdowns – including standout running back James Robinson’s 13-yard score on his first carry of the season.

“It was a good start, but we’re not ready for prime time quite yet,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “Defensively, we played real disciplined.”

The Redbirds turned three first-half interceptions into a 24-0 halftime lead while rushing for 191 yards with six different running backs.

Defensively, they snuffed out the running game of SXU (0-2), holding the Cougars to minus-30 yards.

5 Stats That Stood Out

10 – Number of different players who caught a pass for the Redbirds.

12 – Tackles for loss for the ISU defense, including two each from linebacker Zackary Matthews and defensive lineman Ryan Guhl.

29 – SXU’s longest drive of the night was 29 yards.

59 – Number of players the Redbirds used in the game.

61.3 – Completion percentage combined for three different ISU quarterbacks.

QB contributions

Spack said he has two quarterbacks who could be starters in junior Brady Davis and senior Jake Kolbe.
They both got work Saturday night with Davis, who started, completing 12 of 19 passes for 123 yards. Davis threw his first career TD pass in the first quarter to tight end Tylor Petkovitch.

Kolbe, who started the past two seasons, was 6-for-10 for a total of 50 yards in a backup role.

Running away

Six different running backs carried the ball as ISU averaged 4.8 yards a carry in the opener. Sophomore Jordan Birch had a game-high 54 yards and a TD on only five carries. Robinson, a junior, rushed for 51 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Markel Smith added 51 yards and a score. Senior Nick Kielbasa rushed for 29 yards and his first career TD.

Injury alert

Redshirt freshman defensive back Peyton Jones was helped off the field in the first half with an apparent knee injury. Spack said he wouldn’t know the severity of the injury until this week, but added he was concerned that Jones will miss some time.

Stiffer tests ahead

The level of ISU’s opponents rises quickly starting this week. The Redbirds host fellow FCS opponent Eastern Illinois (0-1) in the Mid-America Classic at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. On Sept. 22, ISU visits Football Bowl Subdivision member Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference.

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