Illinois State rewind: First-quarter success fades as Redbirds lose game, leading rusher

New Illinois State quarterback Zack Annexstad was 16-for-24 passing Saturday in the Redbirds’ 38-0 loss to Wisconsin. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

A strong start for Illinois State didn’t last Saturday night in the Redbirds’ season-opening game at No. 18 Wisconsin.

Eight first downs and 78 yards in the first quarter gave ISU (0-1) some encouragement, but two game-changing touchdown plays – a 100-yard interception return and a 96-yard run – less than 4 minutes apart in the first half sparked the Badgers to a 38-0 victory.

“We were moving the ball pretty well,” ISU head coach Brock Spack told WJBC radio after the game. “I was pretty proud of the team. We made two huge mistakes, and they turned them into huge plays.”

Unfortunately, the Redbirds sustained another loss with the first-quarter injury to sophomore Cole Mueller, the team’s leading rusher a year ago. He sustained a left ankle injury 6 minutes into the game and was carted off the field with a cast on his left ankle. Spack called the injury “pretty significant” and said it could mean the end of Mueller’s season.

After the first quarter, when ISU kept the ball for more than 13 minutes, the offense managed only six more first downs and 165 yards over the final three quarters.

Game changers

9:01, 1st quarter: After running for a 1-yard loss, Mueller stayed down on the field, eventually being carted off with an air cast on his left ankle.

1:58, 1st quarter: With ISU driving, new ISU quarterback Zack Annexstad was intercepted at the goal line. The pick was returned 100 yards for a TD by Wisconsin safety John Torchio.

13:50, 2nd quarter: With his team backed up near its own goal line, Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen found a crease in the ISU defense and dashed 96 yards for a touchdown.

What it means

In the last four seasons, Illinois State is 1-3 in season openers. The defeat dropped ISU to 1-9 all-time vs. Big Ten Conference teams.

Best ‘Birds

Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three Redbird players in the game:

Zeke Vandenburgh, LB: The senior from Freeport was active all night long, piling up 10 tackles and a sack against the Badgers.

Zack Annexstad, QB: In his first start in 1,415 days, the Minnesota transfer was 16-for-24 passing, a 67% completion percentage, for 186 yards. He also threw two interceptions.

Daniel Sobkowicz, WR: The redshirt freshman from Arlington Heights led the team with 41 receiving yards on two catches. He had the longest ISU play of the night, a 35-yard reception.

What’s next?

ISU plays its home opener at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10 against Valparaiso from the non-scholarship FCS Pioneer Football League. For the fifth time in the past six fall seasons, ISU has a Pioneer team on its non-conference schedule.

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