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Salukis face defending champs

By Ben Conrady

The Salukis will contend with a new factor in Saturday’s matchup with No. 3 North Dakota State University: noise.

The 2011 Football Championship Series national champion Bison play at the Fargodome, which is one of the loudest college football stadiums in the country. Stadium noise was measured at 130 decibels throughout North Dakota State’s playoff run last season. To compare, the sound of a jet engine registers at 140 decibels.

“Right now, there is a craze going on about Bison football,” SIU coach Dale Lennon said at his weekly press conference. “The fans know when to make noise and it won’t just be loud on third down. It’s going to be first down, second down, third down. So that really does put some pressure on your offense to make sure you can execute everything that you want to execute, because it is deafening. You cannot hear the person standing next to you. That’s how loud it can get.”

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The Salukis practiced this week with the Saluki Stadium stereo turned to maximum volume to prepare for Saturday’s game.

Sophomore tight end MyCole Pruitt said the Saluki offense will likely use a silent count on snaps to avoid confusion throughout drives.

“We’ve got to be ready for the noise in the dome,” Pruitt said. “We’re going to use a lot of silent cadences. I heard the fans are pretty hectic up there, so we’ve got to look past that and play the game.”

As if noise levels weren’t enough to deal with, SIU must also be ready for a Bison team that scores 41.3 points per game and allows 8.4. Both numbers top the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Pruitt, who leads the team in receiving at just fewer than 57 yards per game, said it will be crucial for the Saluki offense to establish lengthy drives early to keep the Bison and quarterback Brock Jensen off the field.

“We’ve got to make a couple drives, a couple first downs. If not to score, just field position-type drives,” he said. “When the defense is that good, you’ve got to take advantage of opportunities. If our defense helps us out with a turnover, we’ve got to be able to score off of those turnovers.”

Jensen is the MVFC’s most efficient passer and has passed for 12 touchdowns while turning the ball over three times.

“When you’re averaging 44 points per game, that’s pretty good,” Lennon said. “You just have to be able to play sound defense. There is no magic formula here. You have to be able to defend the run. They still want to run the ball at you first and, at the same time, you have to be sound in your coverage responsibilities. When they do catch it, you have to come up and make the tackle.”

Senior defensive end Ken Boatright said his confidence in the Saluki defense has never been higher.

“We’re a good defense. If we keep focused and everybody does their job, we will be fine,” Boatright said. “I have confidence in every guy that steps on the field.”

Saturday’s winner will share the conference lead, as SIU (5-3, 4-1) heads into the game with a three-game win streak and a tie with Indiana State University for first place. The Bison (6-1, 3-1) are only a half game behind.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

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