YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Youngstown State had been the hard-luck team of the Missouri Valley Football Conference in October with three losses to nationally ranked teams by a combined 11 points.
Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium was nothing but hard times for the Penguins, courtesy of an overwhelming Illinois State performance.
Unstoppable on the ground behind tailbacks James Robinson and Markel Smith, the 16th-ranked Redbirds ravaged No. 19 Youngstown, 35-0, before a sparse homecoming crowd that numbered far below the announced tickets sold attendance of 12,723.
"It was very impressive. Effort was the key word," ISU coach Brock Spack said. "We played with great effort and energy. We were able to run the football on a very good defense."
ISU attempted only 12 passes and amassed 299 rushing yards while improving to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the MVFC.
"We didn't expect this kind of game at all," said Spack. "We thought it would come down to the last possession. It didn't. We came to play and played really well."
Youngstown dropped to 3-5 and 1-4 in the Valley with its fourth straight loss and was limited to 147 yards of total offense.
"I just want to apologize to everybody associated with Youngstown State University, our program, the city — that was an embarrassment," Penguins coach Bo Pelini said. "Obviously, I'm the head coach, and I've never been so disgusted in my life."
ISU wasted no time in seizing control.
The Redbirds took the opening drive 72 yards in nine plays for an 11-yard Robinson touchdown around right end.
"I felt like we had a lot of energy," Robinson said. "I just knew we were ready to play coming out of the locker room. The first play (a 14-yard gain) our line did a really good job. They blocked their butts off."
The ISU defense then turned in a huge play as blitzing linebacker Tyree Horton separated Penguins' quarterback Nathan Mays from the football with a crushing hit. Redbird tackle Matt McCown snatched the loose ball out of the air and rumbled 26 yards into the end zone.
"That was my first touchdown. I was in the right place at the right time and made the most of it," said the 285-pound McCown. "I saw the hit happen, and the ball popped right out. It was a pretty easy snag. I don't know how I could have missed it.
"I took off as fast as I could. I didn't want anybody to catch me because I know I'm not the fastest guy. It felt really good. There isn't much better feeling in college football than scoring a touchdown."
ISU then chewed up almost all of the final six and a half minutes of the half with a drive that culminated in a Smith touchdown charge on third and goal at the 1. Smith was hit head on by a Penguin defender at the 1 but powered into the end zone with seven seconds showing.
"We had to trust our technique and press the hole," Smith said. "We knew we had one guy to beat. Coach (running back Coach Lamar) Conard enforced earlier in the week what you've got to do when you get to the secondary. Trust your talent."
Robinson added second-half touchdown plunges of 2 and 3 yards.
Smith finished with 124 yards on 17 carries, and Robinson compiled 117 yards on 22 tries as the first ISU duo to surpass 100 yards in the same game since Marshaun Coprich and Tre Roberson in a 2015 playoff win over Western Illinois.
The ISU defense did not allow a play to cover more than 13 yards all afternoon. DraShane Glass halted the Penguins' best scoring chance with a second-half interception in the end zone. Horton recorded two of the Redbirds' six sacks.
The win was the largest ever for ISU over Youngstown in the 27th game of the series.