ISU recap: Solid defense leads Redbirds to first winning record since 2019

Redshirt senior Zeke Vandenburgh (5) capped his career with an impressive final season. (Photo by

Illinois State Redbirds

Head coach: Brock Spack (Purdue, 1983)

Conference: Missouri Valley

Record: 6-5 (4-4)

Biggest win: ISU knocked off Northern Iowa on the road for the first time in 10 years. The Redbirds triumphed 23-21 with a late-game defensive stand.

Most frustrating loss: Youngstown State scored a touchdown with five seconds left as the Penguins stunned a wind-blown Hancock Stadium crowd in a 19-17 shocker.

Offensive MVP: QB Zack Annexstad

Though sidelined with a late-season injury, the Minnesota transfer completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 1,691 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The junior also ran for four scores.

Defensive MVP: LB Zeke Vandenburgh

The Freeport High School graduate capped his collegiate career with an impressive senior season. Vandenburgh led the FCS with 14 sacks and 1.4 sacks per game. He also led the nation in tackles for loss per game (2.1) and was second in total TFLs at 21.

Vandenburgh, who missed one game this season with an injury, finished third all-time in ISU history for sacks (24) and tackles for loss (43.5).

Last week he was named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, annually given to the national defensive player of the year in FCS.

Unsung hero: WR Daniel Sobkowicz

The redshirt freshman led the team in receiving yards (377) and receiving touchdowns (3).

The Rolling Meadows High School graduate caught 31 passes, one behind teammate Jalen Carr’s team-leading 32.

Parting shot: Both Zack Annexstad and Vandenburgh wore uniform No. 5.

Tomorrow: Barry Bottino examines 5 burning questions facing the Redbirds in 2023.

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