3 things we learned: Illinois State offense buries Butler as Spack ties victory record
September 5, 2021 at 9:00 am
In a span of less than 7 minutes Saturday night, Illinois State turned its season-opening football game from a struggle to a stroll.
The Redbirds (1-0) scored on a 44-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Bryce Jefferson to senior wide receiver Austin Nagel with 1 minute, 16 seconds left in the first half. The TD allowed ISU to take a two-score lead and ignited a run of 35 unanswered points in the 49-7 victory at Hancock Stadium in Normal.
“We decided to come out there and take what the defense gave us,” Jefferson told WJBC radio after the game. “Coming off the spring season, it gave me a lot of confidence. My line did a great job. I could sit back there all day. It’s hard not to be confident when you have time like that.”
Jefferson threw two touchdowns and ran for two scores.
Five different ISU running backs piled up 294 rushing yards against non-scholarship Butler, which was picked to finish last in the preseason Pioneer Football League coaches’ poll. Redshirt freshman Cole Mueller led the team with a career-high 111 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard scoring run late in the third quarter.
“We executed pretty well,” ISU head coach Brock Spack said. “We ran the ball well. We played a lot of backs and they all played well. We blocked up front real well.”
The win gave Spack his 86th career victory, tying him for the most in school history with Edwin Struck.
“It’s a statement for our players and all the guys who have come through here, being able to sustain success,” he said. “It’s been awesome. I’ve had a lot of support from all the administrators I’ve worked for.”
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned about the Redbird rout:
Seven different receivers caught at least one pass for the Redbirds as Jefferson completed 8 of 17 passes for 193 yards.
“We want to spread the football out,” Jefferson said. “It’s hard for a defense to plan and scout for a bunch of guys.”
Spack credited Jefferson for his performance, despite several missed connections. “I thought Bryce was very accurate,” Spack said. “We dropped three or four passes that should have been caught. One of them was a touchdown.”
From the 1:16 mark of the second quarter to the 9:23 mark of the third quarter, the Redbirds reeled off 21 points to put the game away.
2. Price is right
Butler proved pesky in the first half, putting up 121 first-half yards through the air as quarterback Bret Bushka completed 7 of 8 passes in one stretch.
After halftime, the ISU defense allowed only 47 passing yards.
Key to that effort was redshirt freshman cornerback Braden Price, who had two interceptions in his first career start despite being successfully targeted by the Butler pass game in the first half.
“They were throwing the slant (route) on him,” Spack said. “It was a technique issue. It had nothing to do with his ability. We got that cleaned up at halftime and he played much better.”
3. Big play day
Illinois State had 16 plays of 10 or more yards in the game, including Meuller’s 80-yard scoring run and Jefferson’s 44-yard TD pass.
Five of the team’s touchdowns came on plays longer than 10 yards. Butler, meanwhile, had only two runs of 10 or more yards.
News and notes
Price tied for the team lead with seven total tackles with redshirt freshman linebacker Jacob Bellizzii of Des Plaines and sophomore linebacker Kenton Wilhoit. Price also had the game’s only sack. … ISU listed 31 players in its final stats with at least one tackle in the game. … Butler’s biggest statistical victory was in time of possession. The Bulldogs had the ball for 38 of the game’s 60 minutes.
ISU travels to Kalamazoo, Mich., for a 4 p.m. game Saturday, Sept. 11 against Western Michigan. The FBS Broncos are a member of the Mid-American Conference.