The Southern Illinois Salukis were searching for an identity two weeks ago when they were embarrassed by South Dakota State 49-14. This past Saturday, the Salukis may be a step closer to figuring out what kind of football team its wants to be after defeating No. 15 Illinois State 42-7 in front of its homecoming crowd.
Whether the Dawgs are a top 20 FCS team or no, is yet to be determined. They still have to play three more top 20 teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference (Western Illinois, Youngstown State and South Dakota.
However, Saturday’s performance was as encouraging as the brilliant sunlit Saturday the game was played under.
“Today was a complete abomination,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said about his team’s performance. “We just got our butts kicked.
“I haven’t seen this poor of a performance since 2010. “We couldn’t defend the long ball. Our defense has been winning games for us, but it was awful today.”
SIU had 549 yards for the day. SIU’s passing game had 368 of those 549, and the Salukis also ran for 181 yards. ISU had led the FCS nationally in rushing defense coming into the game with Southern.
ISU is quite stout up the middle as far as defense. So, SIU coach Nick Hill game planned his running game to bite the Redbirds on its flank, running many edge plays featuring Saluki speedy back DJ Davis.
Davis ended up with 144 total yards (66 rushing and 78 yards, two receiving touchdowns). SIU quarterback Sam Straub had 368 yards passing with four touchdowns, which he distributed unselfishly to four key receivers.
“Davis is a playmaker and it’s our job to get him the football,” Hill said. “Sometimes, we have to get creative in how we get it to him because opposing coaches game plan against him. But when he touches the football, good things happen.”
Straub also spread the passing love around to his other wideouts.
Connor Iwema led the way with 118 receiving yards, transfer Ralph Leonard had 86 yards (including a 73-yard scoring catch), and Davis had 78 yards.
Darrell James had five catches for 70 yards. He would have had more catches, but was interfered with several times — picking up penalty yards for the Saluki offense.
“Our team just was ready to play and we set the tone for the game from the get-go,” said Saluki Safety Jeremy Chinn. “Coming off a rough week (the loss to SDSU) we knew we had to come out ready to play.”
Chinn’s defensive mates certainly were ready, as eight Saluki defensive players responded with five or more tackles. The Dawg’s offense was ahead 21-0 at half and outscored ISU 21-7 in the second half.
Now it’s up to this young Saluki club (3-3, 1-2) to stop patting each other on the back and get ready for a road trip to Terre Haute to meet the 0-6 Indiana State University Sycamores. Kickoff at 2 p.m. on Saturday.