SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — With redshirt freshmen Cole Anderson at left tackle and Garrett Hirsch at center making their first college starts, that might appear to be a cause for Illinois State's paltry 42 first-half rushing yards Saturday at Plaster Stadium.
Yet Illinois State coach Brock Spack and Redbird quarterback Jake Kolbe were not buying what that theory was selling after the Redbirds' 34-9 victory over Missouri State.
"I thought they played great and the offensive line played great in general," Kolbe said. "We didn't finish drives early, and that led to us not doing very well the first half."
Hirsch, a Normal Community High School graduate, took over in last week's win over Eastern Illinois when starter Dean Helt left with an ankle injury. Helt was dressed Saturday but was held out.
Anderson was thrust into a starting role when tackle Drew Himmelman, yet another redshirt freshman, did not dress because of a foot injury.
"I thought we blocked the run pretty well," said Spack. "We blocked pretty good up front."
The Redbird offensive line of Hirsch, Anderson, Chad Kanugh, Jared Rients and Donavin O'Day surrendered no sacks as Kolbe completed 24 of 32 passes for a career-high 312 yards.
Spack expects both Himmelman and Helt to be available for next Saturday's home game against Indiana State.
Defensively, the Redbirds played without starting end Jason Harris and reserve end Matt Swaine played sparingly, both because of minor injuries that should not prevent them from playing against Indiana State.
Sophomoe Tuvone Clark started in place of Harris and recorded a career-high six tackles, including a sack.
"I was excited. I've been waiting for a long time," Clark said. "I hope Jason gets well. I really just wanted to help us win any way possible."
The Redbird defense held Missouri State to a net of zero yards on 11 third-quarter plays as ISU scored 28 points to assume control.
"We had to hold them to zero points the third quarter. That was key," said Clark. "The defense wasn't on the field a lot because we got a bunch of three and outs. That helped."
Robinson rebounds: Sophomore tailback James Robinson appeared to break into the clear and was on his way to a touchdown in the first half when he fumbled and Missouri State recovered.
Robinson was back in the game on ISU next series and finished with 81 yards on 10 carries.
"He just dropped the ball. James knows better than that," Spack said. "We have all the confidence in the world in him. The kid made a mistake and he straightened it out."
Special teams excel: After a disappointing special teams effort in the previous week's win over Eastern Illinois, ISU thrived in that area Saturday.
The Redbirds blocked an extra point (Matt McCown) and a field goal (Adam Conley), kicker Sean Slattery was perfect on two field goals and four extra points and ISU neutralized dangerous Bears kick returner Deion Holliman.
Slattery, who also boomed four kickoffs well into the end zone for touchbacks, was named Missouri Valley Football Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
Banks injured: ISU second-string safety Jalen Banks suffered a knee injury on the second-half kickoff and was helped off the field.
"He will have tests done to it, I'm sure, to see where it's at," Spack said.
Minimal impact: Missouri State held ISU to six first-half points despite playing without its leading tackler. Linebacker McNeece Egbim sat out because of a targeting penalty last week.
Egbim returned to action for the second half and had just one tackle. The Redbirds tied a school record with 28 third-quarter points.
Next up: ISU (3-0, 1-0) meets Indiana State in a 6:30 p.m. Missouri Valley Football Conference game Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
The Sycamores are 0-3, were idle this past week and will be playing their Valley opener.