Tough start to the season still brings a big win for Salukis

October 1, 2022

Coming into the 2022 season with high expectations for themselves and sights set on a national championship, the Salukis were thrown off track losing their first two games. The first loss being against Incarnate Word (64-29), and then to Southeastern Missouri State (34-31). 

While weeks one and two made it tough for the Salukis to keep their mentality good and their morale high, a big win came in week three against Big Ten school, Northwestern (31-24), putting them back on track. This past Saturday, SIU continued this momentum into another huge win over North Dakota (34-17).

“We had to have a win to keep our season alive, it was a tough task, but our guys found a way to do it,” head coach Nick Hill said. 

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After taking the lead and not allowing the Wildcats to score in the third quarter, the Dawgs then came out on top in the fourth, outscoring the Cats 14-10 to give the Salukis the win. 

“We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played a lot more sound football than we did in weeks one and two. Coming from SEMO, where we had 13 penalties to Northwestern having four, and only three were player penalties,” senior wide receiver Avante Cox said.

In week two against SEMO, a total of 108 penalty yards were accumulated just from their penalties. The following week against Northwestern, the Dawgs dropped that total down to 42 yards, where 15 of that came off an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Coach Hill.

Coach Hill talks a lot about the three battles a team needs to win in order to notch a football game: explosive plays, turn overs, and penalty yards. 

“You win 99% of your games if you do two out of those three things,” Hill said. 

The Salukis won all three of those battles against the Cats. They forced a total of four turnovers compared to week two against SEMO where they didn’t force any. 

“Speaking the obvious, we won the turnover battle for the first time this season. Then we won the explosive play battle,” Hill said. 

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“Coach says if you win two out of those three you’re most likely going to win the game and he hasn’t been wrong yet,” Cox said. 

Preparation in the week headed into the Northwestern game was another reason, among many others, that the Salukis came out on top. It was a day-by-day task for players and coaches to stay on track and prepare the team for a win. 

“As a coach, recognizing what the team needs through the week leading up to a game is really important…The coach cliches are out there for a reason, it’s one day and one game at a time” Hill said. 

Junior quarterback Nic Baker said that the energy around the locker room in the week before the Wildcats game was different than it had been earlier this season.

“The attitude around the building, we were not bowing our heads or taking no for an answer,” Baker said.

“The approach, the mentality, and the togetherness. I think everyone saw a team that was connected on the sideline, feeding off of each other. That is where the most growth has been,” Hill said. 

Coming off the big win at Northwestern, the Salukis took on the University of North Dakota for week four of the season. As Hill said they would, the team came out of the locker room with the same high hopes and strong mentality to bring home their second win of the season. 

Looking forward to the remainder of the season, the Salukis will be taking on tough opponents like #4 ranked Missouri State on the road in week six and #1 ranked North Dakota State at home in week ten for senior night Both teams the Salukis lost to previously in the 2021 season. 

“We have to take it day by day, we can’t look ahead. In college football any team can beat you. We learned that starting the season 0-2, we just have to take it day by day,” Baker said. 

Going into the rest of the season, Hill says that the Salukis need to come into the remaining games the same way that they came into their week three win.

“We have to attack these weeks the same way that we did at Northwestern, with the same mentality. We have to be able to create turnovers and take advantage of those turnovers,” Hill said.

After the wins at Northwestern and home against North Dakota the Salukis are back on top of their game. With a .500 record now, the Salukis might just have the momentum they need to roll of a long win streak.

You can catch the Salukis Saturday Oct. 1, in Normal, Illinois, taking on the Illinois State Redbirds at 6:30 p.m. where they hope to bring home their third win in a row.

Sports reporter Joei Younker can be reached at [email protected]

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