3 things we learned: Redbirds return to form in romp

3 things we learned:  Redbirds return to form in romp

Victories in home openers have come to be expected in the Brock Spack era of Illinois State football.

The nationally ranked Redbirds had little trouble breezing past Morehead State 42-14 Saturday night at Hancock Stadium in Normal. The victory marked the 11th straight in Spack-led home home openers for ISU. It was also the 75th career win for the 57-year-old head coach.

The Redbirds, ranked No. 16 in the latest FCS poll, racked up almost 500 yards in total offense.

Here are three things we learned from Saturday's ISU win:

1. There's still much to learn about this Redbird team.

The win comes on the heels of a 24-10 loss at FBS Northern Illinois last weekend. Though that game was closer than the final score indicated, ISU had its struggles on offense. While NIU lost 35-17 at 13th-ranked Utah Saturday, Illinois State enjoyed what was essentially a cakewalk over Morehead State, a team picked to finish last in the non-scholarship Pioneer League.

"For the most part, we played pretty well," Spack said in the postgame press conference.

So, which is the real Redbird team? That question will be played out over the course of the next several weeks as Illinois State faces two more nonconference opponents and then kicks off its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule by hosting defending national champion North Dakota State Oct. 5.

2. James Robinson returned to form.

After perhaps the most frustrating performance of his career at Northern Illinois, the talented ISU running back rushed for 178 yards on 23 carries. His three touchdowns tied his career high.

Robinson, who landed on several preseason All-American lists, averaged 7.7 yards per carry against Morehead State.

"Our offensive line had a better day today," Robinson said afterward. "There were a lot of holes open. A lot of guys got good blocks. Those guys set the tone for us."

Robinson opened the scoring with a 16-yard touchdown through a large hole opened on the right side of the line. He later scored touchdowns on runs of 34 and two yards.

3. Spack and his coaching staff had the chance to see much of its roster in game action.

Building a 21-point first quarter lead that grew to 35-0 at halftime, Illinois State had the opportunity to get 64 players into the game.

"It's always very important. It shows you can do it," quarterback Brady Davis said of the quick start. "It's very good to get a win for the home fans and go home happy."

After missing the season opener with a nagging injury, talented sophomore receiver Andrew Edgar made his debut. He caught one pass for an 11-yard touchdown and then sat the rest of the game.

"I was talking to the trainers at the end of the game and apparently he felt uncomfortable. He didn't feel great so we put him on the shelf for the rest of the day," Spack said.

Ten different Redbirds had rushes in the game; eight different receivers caught passes.

Spack and offensive coordinator Kurt Beathard worked three quarterbacks into the game--starter Brady Davis, backup Bryce Jefferson and freshman Jack Baltz.

Like Robinson, Davis also had an inauspicious start versus Northern Illinois. Davis again had trouble with accuracy Saturday night, completing 8-of-22 throws for 130 yards and the touchdown to Edgar. He also threw two interceptions.

Yet, there were flashes of brilliant play. Shortly after converting a third down and long with a 29-yard pass to receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz, Davis kept the ball and raced for a 52-yard touchdown (the longest run of his career).

Utilizing the revamped redshirt rule which allows players to appear in up to four games and still qualify for a redshirt season while maintaining four years of eligibility, the ISU staff worked Baltz into the game plan. 

Baltz, a record-setting quarterback at Lincoln-Way East High School, completed one pass for six yards. He also ran twice for six yards.

"A lot of kids played, we'll see what they look like on tape," Spack said.

What's next?

Illinois State (1-1) travels to Charleston to play Eastern Illinois (0-2) in the annual Mid-America Classic. EIU lost 52-0 at Indiana Saturday.

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