Undefeated Redbirds Look to Stay Strong at Mid-America Classic
Written by WZND Newsroom on September 14, 2023
Image courtesy of Redbird Athletics
CHARLESTON, Ill. – The Illinois State Redbirds travel this Saturday to O’Brien Stadium to take on the Eastern Illinois University Panthers at 2 P.M. for the 111th meeting of the Mid-America Classic.
This season could not have gotten off to a better start for Brock Spack and his Redbirds. After a 2-0 start, ISU is ranked in the FCS Top 25 for the first time since 2019- the last seasom Coach Spack and his squad made the FCS Playoffs. They made it to the quarterfinals, where they ended up losing to the eventual winners of the playoffs, North Dakota State; a team led by future NFL Quarterback Trey Lance.
Illinois State has been dominant on both sides of the ball in their two appearances this season. The NCAA has them ranked as the second best total defense and the ninth best total offense. Their defense has allowed the least amount of yards per play throughout all of the FCS. This is a very impressive stat this early into the season considering the fact they lost eight defensive starters from last season.
Senior Quarterback Zach Annexstad has been a real leader for this team in the first two games. He has passed for 440 yards and two touchdowns. The Minnesota native also has been very precise with his decision making as he has completed 73.2% of his passes.
Despite consistent passing, the Redbirds offense has looked the most impressive when they’re running the ball. This team is second in the FCS with seven total rushing touchdowns and fourth in the conference with 7.22 rushing yards per attempt. Junior Running Back Mason Blakemore is having a tremendous start to the season as he has rushed for 245 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite the strong start of the season, Coach Spack must make sure his team is prepared for a battle against a determined Eastern Illinois side. They started off the season with an impressive 27-0 win against Indiana State. The following week they were paired up against MAC opponent Bowling Green. The Panthers lost that game 38-15.
EIU loves to air the ball out on offense. Both of their games have seen the Panthers record more passing yards than rushing yards. So far this season, Junior Quarterback Pierce Holley has thrown for 494 yards and four touchdowns. All four of his passing touchdowns have gone to different receivers which shows this team has a diverse passing attack.
Kickoff Saturday from Charleston will be 2 P.M., with the Redbirds looking to continue an undefeated season. Be on the lookout next weekend, as the ‘Birds return home, and with it live coverage on WZND.