Saturday marks the five-year anniversary of the last time the Salukis faced a team from the Mid-American Conference.
In that game, the Salukis scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull off an incredible 34-31 victory over Northern Illinois.
SIU will get a stab at another MAC team Saturday, but the situation is different.
The 2007 team, coached by Jerry Kill, won 12 games and made it to the Football Championship Series semi-finals before it fell to Delaware and star quarterback Joe Flacco 20-17.
The 2012 Salukis (0-1) are still searching for an identity following a season-opener loss to Eastern Illinois Aug. 30, but the team will face an arguably more talented team than NIU in the Redhawks of Miami University (0-1).
Miami heads into Saturday’s matchup a week removed from a 56-10 loss to Ohio State University and will be motivated for a win in its home opener.
The team’s strength is in its passing game, led by quarterback Zac Dysert and wide receiver Nick Harwell. Both players are considered NFL talents.
Harwell was college football’s second-leading receiver in 2011 with 129.6 yards per game. Dysert ranks second in Miami history with 8,833 career passing yards behind Ben Roethlisberger.
In his weekly press conference Monday, SIU coach Dale Lennon said controlling the Dysert/Harwell combo will be the Saluki defense’s focus.
“They’re going to be good,” he said. “They’re going to have success moving the football. They’re a good passing team. You just have to keep them in front, and you have to make sure you come up and make a tackle. You have to make them earn everything they get.”
While the defensive secondary is likely the Salukis’ largest question mark after it gave up seven aerial touchdowns to Eastern, Lennon said knowing the Redhawks will favor the pass is a major help when adjusting the game plan.
“We know what we are going to see, what their strengths are, and their strengths are very impressive,” Lennon said. “You do take comfort knowing that Zac Dysert is going to throw the football a little bit. You feel like you’re more prepared because you know how they are going to attack you.”
Senior cornerback Emmanuel Souarin said a focus for the secondary will be to work together to stop a player like Harwell and forget about the team’s subpar play last week.
“We are looking past Eastern. We are taking that game as history right now,” he said. “We’ve been focusing on communication. We’ve got a nice receiver that we are going against this week, so we’ve got to get focused and prepared as a team.”
Senior linebacker Jayson DiManche said while the team is forgetting about the result of the EIU game, the experience can be used for improvement.
“I think our guys are doing a good job of putting the game behind them,” he said. “You take the positives and learn from it, but we do have to get better. There’s no way we should allow 49 points in a football game.”
While the Saluki defense may appear weak when attacked through the air, the opposite is true in the pass rush. The SIU defensive line — made up of preseason all-conference selection seniors Kayon Swanson and Ken Boatright, as well as senior Eze Obiora, who had three sacks against Eastern — should have some success getting pressure against Miami, a team that allowed 44 sacks last season.
“We have to do a better job with our pressure package, getting to the quarterback, getting hits on him and forcing turnovers,” Lennon said. “We feel that we can do that going into every game. Hopefully that translates into improved performance.”
The Salukis will play the role of underdog Saturday.
The odds might seem insurmountable for an SIU victory, but stranger things have happened for SIU against MAC teams, including a 20-point fourth-quarter run to steal a win five years ago.
Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.