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Redbirds making the adjustment at quarterback after losing Roberson

FARGO--It's been two years since Illinois State has been on the North Dakota State football schedule, but that doesn't mean the Redbirds have flown off the Bison radar. Anything but, actually.

Illinois State Redbirds quarterback Jake Kolbe looks to pass against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field two weeks ago. USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Illinois State Redbirds quarterback Jake Kolbe (16) looks to pass against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

FARGO-It's been two years since Illinois State has been on the North Dakota State football schedule, but that doesn't mean the Redbirds have flown off the Bison radar. Anything but, actually.

It seemingly got to the point where Bison fans were just as familiar with ISU quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich as they were with their own players. Both are gone now-and that's where this year's Illinois State team is different.

It's been a case of good news/bad news for the Redbirds as they head into Saturday's game at North Dakota State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Redbirds routed Valparaiso, as expected, and went into Big Ten Conference member Northwestern and upset the Wildcats 9-7, which was unexpected.

At 2-0 with an FBS win, ISU was sitting pretty. But a home loss to Eastern Illinois and a 34-31 defeat in its Missouri Valley Football Conference opener at Indiana State last weekend left the Redbirds at 2-2.

Moreover, they had to deal with a shoulder injury to starting quarterback Jake Kolbe, who didn't start against Indiana State but came in relief of freshman Tristan Smith to almost rally the Redbirds. Kolbe hadn't taken many snaps all week and head coach Brock Spack was hesitant to risk further injury.

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"We rolled the dice and played the young guy," Spack said. "But we were down by 10 and starting to stumble offensively. So Jake said he felt fine warming up."

Spack said Kolbe's health is far better this week than it was a week ago and he's slated to start against the Bison.

Still, Kolbe is no Roberson, who was more experienced as a transfer from Indiana when he took his first snap with the Redbirds.

"You couldn't zero blitz Tre Roberson," Spack said. "Youngstown tried and he scored. You miss him and you're in deep trouble. (Kolbe) can run, he's a good athlete, but he's not that kind of guy."
Kolbe is more of a passing kind of guy and has been very accurate completing 71 percent ( 91 of 129) of his passes. Whereas Roberson was a threat to score from anywhere on the field-NDSU found that out in the 2014 FCS title game-Kolbe is averaging 1.6 yards per carry.

"That's what we're missing right now, our explosiveness," Spack said in his weekly press conference. "We have some receivers that can go make some plays and our backs are good players."

The big play receiver is returning all-conference player Anthony Warrum, who leads the team with 26 receptions for 403 yards and two touchdowns.

"I just think they're a lot more diverse in the throwing game," said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.

These teams last played in the regular season in 2013 because of the eight-game rotation in the 10-team Missouri Valley. That resulted in a 28-10 NDSU win at the dome. The benchmark game, of course, was the 2014 FCS title game.

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Both teams have changed a lot even since then. NDSU still has four starters from the '14 title game and the Redbirds just two.

"Their system is in place and it hasn't changed," Spack said of the BIson. "Same stuff, different year. Here we go."

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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