SIU Football prepares for second consecutive inner state face-fff against Western Illinois

By Cole Daily, Staff Reporter

SIU will travel to Macomb, Illinois, this weekend to play the Western Illinois Leathernecks (1-3; MVC 1-0) in another grutest.  Followed by a Salukis win in their previous matchup 35-17 against rival Illinois State (2-2; MVC 0-1) on Sept 25.

The victory last Saturday had its challenges. The Salukis were down by 17 points In the third quarter, and the team had to crawl their way back.

Senior tight end Cole Steward said the offense was a little slow to start the game, and the team doesn’t want to make that a recurring issue.


“There’s always places that the team can get better at. And in terms of this week, we could’ve started better […] you always want to make sure you start and end each half (playing) well. ” Steward said.

Head Coach Nick Hill said, despite the slow start, his players did a good job shaking off the cob webs.

“We talk about this a lot; we’re really early in the season and there’s gonna be a lot of times throughout the season where all three phases need to rely on each other […] I felt like our guys were resilient and found a way to win,” Hill said.

Hill said a big win to start out conference play is going to pay huge dividends for the Salukis long term, especially a game in which the team proved they can play through adversity.

“It was a great win to start out conference play. I thought it was a really great atmosphere and it was a great way to get a win,” Hill said.

Sophomore offensive tackle Beau Branyan said going on the road to Macomb won’t affect the veteran Salukis. Even after two impressive home games.

“We like staying in the hotel and getting in a routine where there are less distractions […] Going places and whooping people’s butts on their own turf feels amazing,” Branyan said.


He said the  players are determined to make a statement this Saturday against another Football Championship Subdivision team from Illinois.

“In my honest opinion, I think we’re the best college football team in the state of Illinois […] we’re just getting prepared for Western and we’re hoping to go 2-0 in Missouri Valley Conference play,” Branyan said.

Though the Leathernecks are 1-3, the Salukis are not taking them lightly. Western Illinois has lost its last two games by a combined total of nine points.

Hill said Western Illinois is going to be a tough test, like all games in the Missouri Valley Conference. The worst thing the Salukis can do is underestimate the Leathernecks.

“They’re a well-oiled machine on offense. They’re streaky, and they can score in a hurry [..] they just score in chunks,” Hill said, “You’ve got to be very disciplined with your eyes and when getting lined up.”

Western Illinois runs a mostly man-coverage defense, which allows for quick wide receivers to make explosive plays. Western Illinois just recently allowed the most passing yards ever in a first half when playing against Eastern Washington. The FCS record was set by senior quarterback Eric Barriere, who totalled 487 yards.

Steward said he’s sure the Salukis will try to utilize this potential weakness. If the team runs the ball effectively, that’ll open up more lanes in the passing game through play action.

“I’m sure we’re going to have a great mix of everything. Coach Hill does a great job utilizing both the run and the pass. I’m sure we’ll have the whole playbook open this weekend,” Steward said.

The Leathernecks offense also mixes plenty of run plays and passing schemes, and Hill thinks the defense will be ready for it all. The Salukis’ defense is disciplined and has had no problem stopping opposing offenses all year.

Freshman wide receiver Izaiah Hartrup has had a major impact on SIU this season. Junior wide receiver D’Ante’ Cox’s injury helped Hatrup emerge into an increasingly important role.

Steward said Hartrup has been one of the biggest difference-makers for the team.

“Izaiah Hatrup is a guy that really had a great week last week. He’s somebody who clearly has a ton of talent. He’ll be around here a long time and he’ll make a lot of big plays for SIU football in  the future,” Steward said.

A pivotal moment in SIU’s comeback against Illinois State came when Hartrup made a one-handed catch over the middle of the field. The play gave the Salukis an enormous amount of momentum during their comeback.

However, the team is certainly missing Cox, and if he was on the field, it would give the Salukis another weapon on offense.

“He’s got the jets just like his brother, it’s really rough for him to go down. But luckily, Izaiah has really stepped up,” Branyan said.

Right now, SIU isn’t reminiscing about what could’ve been without injuries. Branyan said the team understands they come with the game of football. The Salukis currently have their head down, and are focused on the Leathernecks.

Hill said the Salukis are excited for a challenge against another interstate rival. The team loves to prove themselves and want to build their pedigree around the FCS.

“I’ve got a ton of respect for Jared (Elliot; head coach at Western Illinois), he’s got those guys playing an extremely tough schedule to challenge themselves […] We’re playing a good football team, and I’m excited about another week of preparation,” Hill said.

The Salukis will play Western Illinois at 3 pm on Oct. 2. The game will be held in Macomb, Illinois, at Hanson Field.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter