The Saluki football team kept within striking distance of Miami University for most of Saturday’s game, but it could never take control and fell 30-14 in Oxford, Ohio.
SIU fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2001, but coach Dale Lennon said the team’s play was much improved in comparison to the season opener, a 49-28 loss to Eastern Illinois University.
“I think our team took a step forward,” Lennon said. “I’m definitely not going to feel good about a loss, but I’d be feeling real down and out if I didn’t think we got better as a football team. We battled. I had no gripes about our effort out there on the field.”
The Redhawks were the first to score as star quarterback Zac Dysert shed tackles from multiple Salukis in the back field and then found wide receiver Andy Cruse 100 yards downfield in the end zone with 5:39 left in the first quarter. The touchdown pass was the 50th of Dysert’s career.
The Salukis responded with a 10-play, four-minute drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown for junior running back Mika’il McCall to tie the game at 7-7.
After forcing Miami to punt, the Salukis had possession of the ball with a chance to take the lead, but an interception thrown by junior quarterback Kory Faulkner was returned 24 yards by Pat Hinkle to give the Redhawks a 14-7 advantage, which held into halftime.
Faulkner had two picks in the game and finished 19 of 34 for 195 yards.
“It took a little bit to get going,” Faulkner said. “We got better towards the end, but it was a little too late, so we just have to start earlier.”
The Saluki ground game was again the highlight on offense, and after the Redhawks started the third quarter with a field goal and touchdown to take a 24-7 lead, McCall pounded another one-yard run in to bring SIU within 10 at 24-14 with 3:14 left in the game.
McCall finished the day with 81 yards on 16 carries. The pair of scores brought his touchdown total to five so far in the season. Fellow running back senior Steven Strother also had success on the ground and finished with 46 yards on 10 carries.
A 16-yard run by Miami’s Spencer Treadwell with under a minute to play made the game’s final score.
The Saluki defense held strong against the Redhawks for the majority of the game. While the pass rush did well at getting to Dysert in the pocket, he had the savvy to escape tackles and make plays downfield. Dysert finished the game 28-36 for 225 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked twice.
“We got some pressure,” senior defensive end Ken Boatright said, “But we had opportunities to get some sacks that we didn’t make, so we need to work on finishing.”
Lennon said the defensive effort was a step in the right direction for a secondary that allowed seven passing touchdowns the week before.
“I was very pleased with our defense overall,” Lennon said. “Looking at what happened the week before, to be able to regroup and play a team of this caliber with a quarterback as good as what Dysert is and receivers as good as (Nick) Harwell and (Dewan) Scott. We knew we were going to be tested, and I thought our guys stood in there.”
Harwell, who ranked third in the nation for receiving yards with 129.5 per game last season, was limited to just three catches and 21 yards.
The Salukis’ home opener is Saturday against Southeast Missouri State. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.