The Redbirds may have been beaten pretty badly on the scoreboard last Thursday when they opened their season against FBS team Ball State, but a 51-28 loss to the Cardinals is hardly indicative of what actually happened on the field that night.
ISU got off to a fantastic start, scoring on each of their first two possessions and jumped out to a 14-9 lead on the Cardinals. They then extended it to 21-9 before Ball State settled into the game. The Redbird defense kept up and refused to give up any big plays. This hurt them multiple times last season. Ultimately, the talent on Ball State’s side ended up winning out for them in this game.
The Redbirds ran the ball 36 times for just 74 net yards. It was frustrating to watch at times but ISU’s ground game is one of its strengths against just about anybody on the FCS level.
A positive to take out of the game is the performance of quarterback Jared Barnett. In his first start at Illinois State, he completed 20 passes on 29 attempts for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He threw one interception, but it was on a tipped ball after a receiver got a hand on it — so he can’t be blamed much for that. He also ran for 19 yards, taking away the number of yards he was sacked for, so he displayed his ability to get out of the pocket.
Barnett is clearly the most talented QB in the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC), so the Redbirds are going to utilize his talents once games against FCS teams begin.
The front seven of the Redbirds’ defense also performed admirably, coming up with 3 sacks and holding the Cardinals run game to 80 yards on 32 carries. That’s a paltry 2.5 yards per attempt rate for the Ball State run game, about half of what a FBS team should be averaging.
There is no doubt the Redbirds would have liked to keep the score closer, much less win the football game. But there is still plenty to be excited about for this season.
There are currently 5 teams from the MVFC in the FCS Coaches and Sports Network polls. North Dakota State, the reigning National Champs, are rightfully still at number one after upsetting the Big 12’s Kansas State, but others have moved into the top 10 despite victories against so-so teams. South Dakota State, ranked no. 7 by the coaches, is not on the Redbirds’ schedule this year, so that is one team they will not have to worry about. Northern Iowa is also now ranked ahead of the ’Birds, but one week into the season doesn’t prove they are definitively better than ISU, so the Redbirds will likely be the favorite by the time that game happens. Youngstown State, who is in the final spot of the Coaches’ poll, isn’t likely to beat the ’Birds.
This season still has a ton of potential in it, and the Redbirds’ ideal record is 9-2, which will no doubt get them into the playoffs. This isn’t the FBS, where you have to be top two to have a chance to win it all. Football is a game of big plays, and in a playoff, that may be all it takes.