The Salukis will again try to get out of their five-week tailspin as they use their conference-best pass defense to matchup against the conference’s most potent pass offense.
SIU (2-6, 1-5 Missouri Valley Football Conference) has now lost five straight games, no longer holding the No. 12 ranking they had when the slide toward the bottom of the conference began. The Salukis now focus their attention on the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State (3-6, 2-4 MVFC) in an attempt to salvage the remainder of the season. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday in Brookings, S.D.
Senior inside linebacker Connor James tries to bring down Illinois State University tight end James O’Shaughnessy Saturday at Saluki Stadium. The Salukis play South Dakota State University Saturday in Brookings, S.D., where they’ll try to break a five-game losing streak against the 3-6 Jackrabbits. STEVE MATZKER | Daily Egyptian
The last win for the Salukis was the Sept. 24 home opener against the 1-8 Missouri State, the same team the Jackrabbits beat 43-36 in double overtime Saturday to rebound from back-to-back losses.
They did so with 377 passing yards and only 104 yards on the ground.
Coach Dale Lennon said the combination of freshman quarterback Austin Sumner and his top two receivers, senior Dale Moss and junior Aaron Rollin, is a major concern for the Salukis’ defense.
Moss has 722 yards on 49 catches and four touchdowns on the year, with an average of 80.2 yards per game, while Rollin has 704 yards on 51 catches and five touchdowns on the year, with an average of 78.2 yards per game.
Lennon said the defense didn’t put the adequate pressure on Illinois State’s quarterback Saturday, and it is something they need to improve on in order to have a competitive game.
“They’re going to challenge us at the secondary,” Lennon said. “When we have an opportunity to take the quarterback down, we have to take him down.”
Sumner has been a staple for the Jackrabbits’ offense; however, starting quarterback sophomore Kory Faulkner has also played more of an integral role in the Salukis’ offensive scheme.
Faulkner had a career-high day against Illinois State when he completed 29 of his 37 passes for 334 yards and one touchdown. With his 44 rushing yards, Faulkner accounted for 93 percent of the Salukis offense against the Redbirds.
Faulkner said he has consistently become more comfortable during his four weeks in the position. He said the comfort is directly related to his confidence in his own ability.
“The more passes I completed, I kind of got in a rhythm where I felt like everything was there,” Faulkner said. “I just have to keep preparing and hopefully get better and better every week and hopefully finish the season with some wins.”
While the Jackrabbits have the top passing offense in the conference, the Salukis have established themselves as having the top pass defense in the MVFC. SIU has limited opponents to an average of 198.6 passing yards per game.
Sophomore cornerback Terrell Wilson said the team has had success in recent weeks but hasn’t been able to finish the games when needed. He said preparation will be the key to success in the Salukis’ three remaining games.
He said it’s important that the defense consistently puts pressure on the quarterback and they capitalize on the momentum-changing opportunities.
“When you get a hold of the quarterback, like our defensive line does, you’ve got to get them down. You can’t let them scramble,” Wilson said. “That’s when receivers get away and they make the big plays. We need to make the big plays.”