Key matchups could determine SIU, Western outcome

By Gus Bode

Western Illinois running back Herb Donaldson has rushed for more than 1,200 yards this season and leads the nation in scoring.

The Salukis defense has not allowed an opposing rusher to run for more than 100 yards in four consecutive games and boasts the best rushing defense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Something has to give.


SIU head coach Dale Lennon said that stopping Donaldson would be nearly impossible.

Limiting the Payton Award nominee, Lennon said, would be a more reasonable game plan.

‘You want to find ways to limit their success and that has a lot to do with the run game,’ he said. ‘You don’t want to give up the big plays, if anything. My philosophy is to make them earn the points they get and if you do that, it will slow the run game down.’

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson said Donaldson will have to rush for at least 100 yards for the Leathernecks come away with a victory.

‘(Donaldson) would tell you if we could win the game and he have just 50 yards he would be thrilled,’ Patterson said. ‘I doubt that would produce a win. I would say we have little or no chance to win if Herb rushes for only 50 yards.’

SIU will undoubtedly need strong performances from its defensive line and its linebacker corps if it hopes to stop Donaldson.

But the defensive unit has been successful thus far.


The Salukis have limited opposing rushers to just 100.8 yards on the ground this season, but have been particularly stifling in the last four weeks as many players and coaches have said the defense has begun to fully understand Lennon’s 3-4 scheme.

‘We have gotten better each week and that has been big for us,’ said nose tackle Chris Arthurs. ‘I think if we can take control of the line of scrimmage and clog the holes that (Donaldson) has, then that will be useful in limiting his running yards.’

The Salukis could take a cue from a team they have already defeated this season.

Northern Iowa defeated Western Illinois last week 30-6 and held Donaldson, who averages 150.9 yards per game, to just 116 yards and no scores.

Patterson said the Panthers’ success stemmed from forcing turnovers and pressuring Western’s quarterback.

‘We have to protect the ball,’ Patterson said. ‘Last week, we were minus three in turnovers and any time you do that you are in trouble … it all ties in with not being as poised as we needed to be.’

Another matchup, meanwhile, on the opposite side of the ball could be equally important.

Leathernecks linebacker Jason Williams headlines one of the best defenses in the nation while SIU’s offense is quickly becoming one of the most potent in the league.

Patterson said Williams, a Buck Buchanan Award nominee, is similar to the four SIU linebackers.

‘They are all five exceptional athletes,’ he said. ‘They all do a fine job of getting to the ball and when they do get to the ball, they are athletic enough to generate a turnover or at least provide a hard enough hit to make the carrier think about it the next time he has the ball.’

The Salukis feature the only Valley running back not better than Donaldson in Larry Warner, who has rushed for career-highs in two consecutive games.

And the offense, Lennon said, has continuously progressed to a point where quarterback Chris Dieker has become comfortable with the system.

‘He has progressed each game,’ Lennon said. ‘We have been able to give him a little more with the offensive package and put a little more on Chris’ shoulders. He is an experienced quarterback now going into the ninth game and our expectations are he can perform at a high level.’

Brian Feldt can be reached at

536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected].