Onto the next one: Salukis hope to bounce back against Missouri State after tough loss to Northern Iowa

By Cole Daily, Staff Reporter

SIU football (6-2; MVC 5-1) is set to play Missouri State (5-3; MVC 4-2) on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 12 p.m. in Saluki Stadium. This is the #7 Salukis’ highest ranked matchup the rest of the season, as the Bears are currently #17 in NCAA.com’s Football Championship Subdivision rankings. 

Head Coach Nick Hill said he has seen a couple similarities between Missouri State and Southern Illinois. The Salukis are going to have to give the Bears all they got. 

“They have won a couple close games just like us. So we have to go out and have a great week of practice like we always preach,” Hill said. 


The Bears run a spread offense, which allows their playmakers to get into the open field and make the defense’s life difficult. Freshman linebacker Branson Combs said Hill and his staff are sure to have a solid game plan that will slow Missouri State’s offensive schemes. 

On the defensive side, the Bears have junior cornerback Montrae Braswell, who was first-team all-defense in the Missouri Valley Conference last year as a sophomore. Saluki sophomore offensive tackle Beau Branyan said SIU is always ready for its next matchup because Hill keeps the players humble. 

“When you play teams in the Missouri Valley, the players are always going to be great top to bottom, so we always have to be solid all-around,” Branyan said.

The Salukis’ depth at every position certainly helps the team. Football is a physical game, which means injuries are bound to happen. 

This depth means the team won’t have much of a talent drop-off if they are forced to go to their bench. Combs said many of the players behind the starters on the depth chart are ready to go. 

“We can rotate tons of different guys and there’s never really a drop off,” Combs said, “There are a lot of six-year guys that are on this team because of the COVID year, but there are now players who have prepping for a longer period of time so when they get in the game, they can still play.” 

Combs was thrown into this situation last weekend. Senior linebacker Bryce Notree was ejected in the first quarter after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, so Combs had to fill his role. The freshman showed out, totaling six tackles and two interceptions. 


Hill said Combs’ contribution really helped the team stay in the game against Northern Iowa.

“He’s made plays in every conference game we’ve had. He’s made big plays with some tackles and interceptions now, he’s just so young and his defense is going to keep getting better,” Hill said. 

This isn’t the first time younger players have stepped up during the Salukis’ season. After junior wide receiver Avante Cox suffered a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for a couple of weeks, freshmen wide receivers Izaiah Hartrup and Zach Gibson made big contributions. 

Along with the team’s depth, the players said they have a strong faith in their coach, which Combs said will help the Salukis be victorious on Saturday. 

“He’s brought a whole new life to the program. The way he carries himself on and off the field […] he’s honestly a great man for us to look up to as players,” Combs said.

SIU will be happy to return home after their heartbreaking loss on the road against Northern Iowa, where they lost 23-16. 

“We love playing in front of our fans, especially because it’s the black-out cancer game. These guys (Missouri State) got us last year, so we’re excited to get our revenge,” Branyan said. 

Hill said failure to convert in the red zone was one of the main reasons the Salukis lost to the Panthers last week.  

“You have to give Northern Iowa a lot of credit, there were a couple missed opportunities on our part,” Hill said, “We were able to go on some drives, but we couldn’t really come away with scoring opportunities so we have to learn from that.” 

Combs said the loss had an effect on the players for a little while, but now it’s back to work. SIU wants to prove to everyone last weekend was a fluke.

“Some plays just didn’t go our way. It was a game where we just never really got in the flow of the game […] but now we’re just correcting things and we’re only thinking about Missouri State ,” Combs said. 

Branyan said there will be good things that come out of SIU’s first FCS loss. 

“The loss could serve as a wake-up call for us. You have to show up and play every week in the Missouri Valley, there’s no easy wins,” Branyan said, “And of course we’re going to get everyone’s best game each week because of our success.” 

With the previous game in the rear-view mirror, Combs said he thinks Southern Illinois can take its game to the next level. 

“As a team, if you face a little adversity and you can respond, that’s the sign of a really good football program. I think that’s the type of team we have here at SIU,” Combs said. 

For the Salukis, right now it is about building momentum in their next three games before Selection Sunday, Nov. 21. Missouri State is just one stepping stone on the end goal for the Salukis.

“It’s back to business where we get better and just have that humble confidence about ourselves that we talk about all the time. We’re ready for this big game on Saturday,” Hill said.

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

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