CHARLESTON — In the third quarter, Eastern Illinois put together a 14-play, 80-yard drive and found the end zone on Scotty Gilkey’s 3-yard run.
That was really the only positive EIU could take out of its offensive performance against Illinois State on Saturday at O’Brien Field. Those 14 plays accounted for 68.4 percent of EIU’s offense on the day, as the Panthers only managed 117 yards of total production in 60 plays.
Those were also the only points the offense put on the board, the other coming on a blocked punt, giving the 14th-ranked Redbirds plenty of chances to beat EIU.
While EIU’s defense did limit Illinois State’s offense at times, it wasn’t enough, as the Redbirds finished with 451 yards of total offense and 44 points as ISU won the 106th Mid-America Classic 44-13.
“It was as bad of an offensive performance as I’ve been associated with in maybe my 30 years of coaching college football,” EIU coach Kim Dameron said. “I know that we couldn’t block them, we couldn’t protect, couldn’t run it. They just completely mauled us. … Just a totally frustrating day.”
EIU falls to 1-2 on the season, and the No. 14 Redbirds improve to 2-0.
The Panthers did connect on two big pass plays that would’ve tacked on 104 more yards of total offense, but both plays were wiped out due to penalties.
Down 24-6 in the second quarter, quarterback Mitch Kimble hit Alexander Hollins for a 62-yard catch and run down to the Illinois State 16-yard line. But an illegal block nullified the play. EIU ended up punting from its 6-yard line.
Then in the fourth quarter, Kimble hit Hollins for another big gain, this time a 42-yard catch, but the play was called back due to a holding call on EIU.
“Our two biggest gains of the day are called back because of penalties,” Dameron said. “That’s what I am saying, it’s totally frustrating. I’ve been watching it for three weeks. We are going to get better.”
It was the biggest margin of victory for ISU in the series since Sept. 26, 1992, when the Redbirds beat EIU 48-7.
Illinois State’s game plan coming in was to stop the run, which EIU hasn’t been able to do well this season. The Redbirds held EIU to 14 yards rushing on 37 attempts with Gilkey, who came into the game as the No. 2 quarterback, leading the way with 14 yards.
The Redbirds also dominated the line of scrimmage on pass plays. ISU recorded six sacks for a loss of 38 yards in the game.
“If you’re going to win on the road, you have to pack your defense,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “That’s what we did. It always starts with the run. You can’t allow a team to run on you. We got a little pressure on their quarterback and mixed in some pressures they had a hard time with. Our down four played very well.”
Dameron said it was a mixture of the two teams, from what EIU couldn’t do on offense and what the Redbirds did on defense.
“(Illinois State) is pretty good. They’ve got good players and they are a good defense,” Dameron said. “Offensive they are real solid. They’ve got a good stable of running backs.”
Defensively, the Panthers gave up a few big plays in the form of a 22-yard touchdown run, a 57-yard touchdown run and an 80-yard touchdown pass.
The Panthers’ defense also had their backs against the wall for most of the game. ISU’s average field position to start drives was at the EIU 44-yard line. Out of the 17 drives ISU had in the game, only six started on the Redbirds’ side of the field, and three of those drives started past the ISU 40-yard line.
"(The defense) kept fighting. We missed some tackles. We gave up a couple of big plays trying to strip the ball where we missed tackles,” Dameron said. “I thought they fought hard and got some stops when they could’ve given up stuff. So I was proud of the way the defense fought. They didn’t worry about the scoreboard or where they were at on the field. They just went out and played and that’s what we challenge them to do every day.”
A Sean Slattery 35-yard field goal and a James Robinson 22-yard run in the first quarter gave ISU a 10-0 lead. Then the Redbirds got a 1-yard run from Robinson early in the second quarter to go up 17-0.
EIU forced the Redbirds to punt in their next possession, and redshirt freshman Julian Hess blocked the kick. Mack Weaver scooped the ball up at the ISU 15-yard line and ran it in for the touchdown to make it 17-6.
The Redbirds got the score right back, though, when on third-and-one, Markel Smith burst through a hole and went 57 yards untouched for the touchdown. Slattery added a 27-yard field goal for a 27-6 halftime lead.
EIU made it a two-score game with a 3-yard run by Gilkey to make it 27-13. The Panthers forced a three-and-out but had to give the ball right back on their own three-play drive.
The Redbirds put the game out of reach at that point when Jake Kolbe hit Robert Gillum for a big gain. He broke a couple of tackles and went 80 yards for the touchdown.
ISU added a 28-yard field goal, and Malachi Broadnax scored on a 16-yard run for the 44-13 win.