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.
“That’s what the outcome is when you prepare,” ISU outside linebacker Tuvone Clark said. “They were a combination of what we had the past two weeks with perimeter plays and RPOs (run-pass option). Basically, we put it together and learned from our mistakes from Western (Illinois) and Missouri State.”
Southern (1-5, 0-3 in the MVFC) found the scoreboard on its first possession of the second half but had to settle for a 26-yard Nico Gualdoni field goal after a 17-play march.
"We really never got going offensively, defensively," Salukis coach Nick Hill said. "They dominated the line of scrimmage. They outcoached us. That happens, and that's what happens when that happens. You take a loss like that."
Smith shot up the middle and outraced the Saluki defense for a 51-yard third-quarter touchdown jaunt.
The cherries atop the ISU sundae were a 16-yard TD pass from Davis to Schnell and a 1-yard sneak into the end zone by backup quarterback Jake Kolbe in the fourth quarter.
The Redbirds suffered a 41-7 loss to the Salukis last season in Carbondale. Spack had promised his team he would shave his trademark mustache if they won by 35 or more points and showed up at his postgame news conference sans ‘stache for the first time as ISU coach.