A rebound win Saturday would be the best medicine for the SIU football team after last week’s 24-3 defeat by Indiana State University.
Unfortunately for the Salukis, their opponents are the undefeated Redbirds of Illinois State University, who are ranked ninth in the Football Championship Subdivision and off to their best start since 1967.
Illinois State (5-0, 2-0) is strong on both sides of the football, as the team ranks second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in total offense and third in total defense.
Coach Dale Lennon, at his weekly press conference, said the Salukis must forget about last week if they want to succeed Saturday.
“You can’t let frustration enter in,” he said. “We have to number one, put last week behind us and number two, keep playing your position and doing your job. Believe in the fact that good things will happen, and just be ready for those opportunities that come.”
One positive for the Salukis is the chance that Illinois State’s star running back Darrelynn Dunn might not take the field. Dunn averages 105.8 yards per game for the Redbirds, but reports say he may be unable to play because of a possible hand fracture.
SIU (2-3, 1-1) might also be without it’s own primary rushing weapon, junior running back Mika’il McCall. McCall injured his ankle in Saturday’s contest, and Lennon said Monday his status will be evaluated throughout the week.
Junior wide receiver John Lantz said even if McCall is unable to go, the team has the ability to put together a positive effort.
“I know we have good running backs who can step up and do the job for him. He might be able to play this week. We’re not sure,” Lantz said. “Illinois State has a great offense. They’re 5-0, a top-25 team. We’ve got to have our best game. We still haven’t put our best game out there yet.”
Perhaps the most important factor in Saturday’s game will be the Salukis’ ability to convert on third down. SIU’s offense has converted only one opportunity in 26 tries in the past two weeks, and the team will be challenged by an ISU defense that has allowed opponents to convert only 28.6 percent (22 of 77) of third-down tries on the year.
“When we go three-and-out, it takes away from the momentum of the game,” Lantz said. “Our offense tends to get down on ourselves. We’ve got to work on getting first downs here and there and start moving the ball.”
Lennon said he strongly believes that once a few plays begin to go in the Salukis’ favor, more will follow.
“We’re capable of doing things offensively. It’s been frustrating the last two weeks, but we can move the football,” he said. “We can execute a game plan. We just need to go out and do it. That’s the message that we need to get across to the team and the confidence that we have to build this week. It’s really one of those things that once you get the momentum going, hopefully you can sustain that.”
Junior quarterback Kory Faulkner said a win with their backs against the wall could jumpstart the Salukis as they head into the thick of the conference schedule.
“We’ve got to refocus and get back to the basics and keep a positive attitude. None of us like losing,” Faulkner said. “We’ve got to get back to how we were. If we can go beat Illinois State, they are undefeated and everyone thinks of them as a top-tier program. If we could go back up there and get a win that would put this behind us.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.