Playing the nation’s No. 1 team at home was a great opportunity for Illinois State.
A mere 15 minutes into the game, the opportunity was lost.
The sixth-ranked Redbirds (3-2) were demolished, 37-3, by top-ranked North Dakota State, the defending national champions, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams.
“They were just better than us today,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said told WJBC-AM. “They were really good up front. This offensive front is one of the best I’ve seen.”
The Bison (5-0) rushed for 293 yards and led, 16-3, after one quarter while running away for a 34-point victory. They have beaten the Redbirds eight consecutive times in the series.
Here are three things we learned about the Redbirds this week:
- The ISU defense fell flat: The Redbird defense piled up 20 sacks during the non-conference schedule and looked like a worthy foe for NDSU. Instead, ISU allowed 482 total yards, more than 180 over its average this season. The unit had one sack and a mere two quarterback hurries. “The surprise of the game to me was that we didn’t play well defensively,” Spack said. “We had a bad game. We weren’t getting off blocks.” The ISU pass rush was relatively quiet as redshirt freshman NDSU quarterback Trey Lance connected on 12 of 15 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
- Offense fails to come through: The offense’s stumbles were plentiful, especially in key situations. All-American running back James Robinson rushed for a game-high 94 yards, but he failed to score on two tries from the NDSU 1-yard line in the second half. The Redbirds were 3-for-12 on third downs. Quarterback Brady Davis was 8-for-20 passing for 121 yards while being sacked four times and under constant pressure. With ISU’s top two wide receivers out with injury, freshman Kacper Rutkiewicz had three catches for 83 yards, including a career-best 64-yard reception. “We just have to protect the quarterback,” Rutkiewicz said.
- There’s a lot of football left: NDSU has won seven national titles and is the measuring stick for all MVFC teams. The Redbirds, like plenty of other teams before them, didn’t measure up Saturday against the Bison. ISU can’t let its failures this week affect them going forward. Instead, they need to turn their attention to finding a way to get back to the FCS playoffs, where the Redbirds haven’t been since 2016. “We have to go back to where we messed up and fix it,” said ISU defensive tackle John Ridgeway, who had a career-best nine tackles.
What’s up next?
The Redbirds travel to Carbondale to face Southern Illinois for a 6 p.m. MVFC game on Saturday, Oct. 12.