NORMAL — Sam Straub dropped back and saw wide receiver Raphael Leonard with about a step and a half on his defender in the end zone.
The fifth-year senior quarterback set his feet... and fired over Leonard and his defender's head toward the tents beyond the south end zone. It was that kind of day for Straub and the Saluki offense Saturday at 12th-ranked Illinois State.
The Redbirds went up 31 points at the half behind three touchdown passes by Brady Davis, and rolled over the Salukis 51-3 in front of an announced Homecoming crowd of 11,247 fans. Running back James Robinson scored on a 3-yard run in the opening quarter and had 150 yards at the break at Hancock Stadium.
Robinson finished with a career-high 202 yards on 25 carries for his fourth game of 100 yards or more. SIU (1-5, 0-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference) had 202 yards of total offense and dropped its fifth straight game after defeating Murray State on the road 49-10 Aug. 30.
"They stick to the run, and, just didn't do a good enough job," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "It's the second time this year somebody's gone over 200 yards, and they got two good backs. They're gonna run for a lot of yards, but we gotta make 'em earn it. Too many big plays too many times. That's what that offense is going to try to do to ya, but we've gotta have answers."
Illinois State (5-1, 2-1) rushed for 409 yards and three scores, and quarterback Brady Davis tied a career high with four touchdown passes on 15 attempts against a wounded Saluki secondary. Starting safety Jeremy Chinn had to sit out the first half after getting called for targeting last weekend at Youngstown State, and Qua Brown didn't start in his first action since recovering from a knee injury. SIU was also without both of its starting cornerbacks, as Torian Lewis missed the game with a shoulder injury and backup C.J. Jennings was also out.
The Redbirds scored on five of seven drives in the opening 30 minutes, punting after going three-and-out on the first drive of the game and ending another on Davis' first interception of the season.
Markel Smith, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound junior, scored on a 51-yard run straight through the middle of the defense and finished with 143 yards on 11 carries. Illinois State's 409 rushing yards were the fifth-most for a single game in school history.
"Establishing our run game was, obviously, important, and be able to throw when we chose to, it makes it a little easier for you," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.
SIU couldn't keep up without its top-two backs against the seventh-best scoring defense in the FCS. Senior Jonathan Mixon missed the game because of an injury, and D.J. Davis, the Salukis' all-purpose yards leader, went out in the third with a knee injury. Hill said after the game he didn't think it was anything too serious, but won't know for sure until later in the week.
SIU also played without starting center Jacob Marnin, who could not come back from a strained MCL suffered at Youngstown State, and starting tight end Nigel Kilby (hamstring injury). The Salukis got three first downs in the first half but reached the Redbird 4-yard line before having to settle for a Nico Gualdoni field goal.
Straub completed a 30-yard pass to Raphael Leonard, one of his team-high seven catches, to reach the Illinois State 12. Davis rushed for two yards to the 10, when he apparently injured his knee. Straub escaped pressure on the next play before reaching the 4 to set up a third-and-2.
Backup running back Chris Perkins appeared to reach the 2-yard line, but a false start penalty knocked the Salukis back to the 9. Pressured by linebacker Decxavier Kelly-Martin on the next play, Straub had to toss it out of bounds. Gualdoni connected from 26 yards out for SIU's only points of the day.
The Salukis could get some of their injured players back next week when they host Indiana State for Homecoming, but must deal with a battered team that is all but assured of another year out of the playoffs. Even if SIU is able to win out, the best it could finish would now be 6-5.
"We have to come in tomorrow and watch this film, learn from it, get better. We have to keep focusing on the future and not let these last few games get to us," Leonard said. "Know that we have games to play, and we don't let these past games affect us."