NORMAL — Southern Illinois arrived at Hancock Stadium with an injury riddled secondary.
To make matters worse for the Salukis, standout safety Jeremy Chinn sat out the first half after a targeting penalty last week.
So how did the 12th-ranked Redbirds attack the SIU defense?
Run James Robinson, run Markel Smith, run, run, run.
ISU gouged the Salukis with 254 first-half rushing yards and steamrolled to a 51-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference demolition before a homecoming crowd of 11,247 Saturday.
“That’s what we do. That’s what we’re good at. We wanted to establish that,” Redbird coach Brock Spack said. “The backs did a great job and we blocked them up front so we were able to run with some success.”
While improving to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Valley, ISU set up a showdown against No. 1-ranked North Dakota State next Saturday in Fargo.
Robinson rushed for a career-high 202 yards on 25 carries and Smith added 143 on just 11 attempts as the Redbirds finished with 409 yards rushing and 541 yards of total offense. Robinson also became the 12th rusher in school history to reach 2,000 career yards.
“We practiced hard this week and came out very strong,” said Robinson after ISU ran the football on 15 of its first 16 snaps. “Coming out we ran power. We just kept running power and it was getting open. Why go away from it?”
The Redbirds snapped a streak of three games without a first-quarter offensive score when Robinson capped an 87-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
ISU only picked up speed in the second quarter.
After JT Bohlken's 35-yard field goal made it 10-0 Redbirds, quarterback Brady Davis hit Andrew Edgar for a 10-yard touchdown strike.
A 44-yard Robinson scamper set up a 3-yard touchdown toss from Davis to tight end Robert Gillum as the ISU advantage swelled to 24-0.
“For the first time in a couple weeks the offense was able to get going,” said Davis, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 118 yards and threw his first interception of the season on his 142nd attempt. “I was confident in the game plan.”
A 29-yard Robinson burst and an 18-yard pass from Davis to Spencer Schnell jump started ISU's final drive of the opening half. Davis faked a handoff and found Braxton Haley over the middle for a 4-yard touchdown, the first of Haley's career.
Robinson rushed for 150 of his yards in the first half as the Redbirds carried a 31-0 margin into halftime.
No. 8 JSU pulls away from EIU in 3rd quarter
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — The Eastern Illinois football team was able to hang with eighth-ranked Jacksonville State in the first half. The Panthers were able to move the ball down the field but they couldn't quite finish the drives.
Nick Bruno hit field goals of 27, 40 and 36 yards in the first half for the Panthers.
The Gamecocks were also able to move the ball down the field on EIU in the first half a bit and took more advantage of their opportunities than the Panthers. JSU found the end zone three times in the first half and went into halftime with a 21-9 lead.
Then Jacksonville State pulled away in the second half. Zerrick Cooper found Josh Pearson for 35- and 31-yard touchdowns on back-to-back possessions and the Gamecocks pulled away for a 35-9 lead.
EIU did add two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but it was too late as Jacksonville State went on to win 49-22.
EIU falls to 1-6 overall and 1-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference. JSU improves to 6-1 and 4-0 in the OVC.
JSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the third quarter when Mark Williams picked off a pass to get EIU back into it. EIU got into the red zone but that led to Bruno's first field goal of 27 yards. Then a little later, DySaun Smith picked of a pass and that led to a 40-yard field goal by Bruno to make it 14-6.
JSU went up 21-6 and EIU was driving to end the first half but a sack forced Bruno to kick the 40-yard field goal. Then JSU connected on the two touchdowns after halftime.