Salukis face first major challenge in Northwestern

By Gus Bode

SIU head football coach Dale Lennon won’t have to remind his team of what it is capable of this weekend. Most of the players already know.

The Salukis will face Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) foe Northwestern University Saturday in Evanston. The Wildcats could become the third consecutive FBS victim for SIU in as many years.

SIU defeated Indiana University in 2006 and encored the win with a victory against Northern Illinois in 2007.


For Lennon – a coach who has yet to coach against the FBS level – the fact that most of the players have been in this situation before, makes it easier.

“They’ve been here before and they’ve done it before,” he said. “It’s not the type of case where I have to convince them that it can be done. What has been done can be done again and that is kind of our approach for this game.”

SIU comes into the game with a 1-0 record after defeating Hampton University 37-31 last weekend in Carbondale. Northwestern, meanwhile, brings a 2-0 record to the table and boasts 19 starters from a 2007 team that tied for seventh place in the Big 10 Conference.

The Wildcats run a versatile offense that features a relatively balanced attack on the ground and through the air.

Northwestern features a quarterback that averages 220.5 passing yards per game, which allows Wildcat running back Tyrell Sutton to take advantage of a stretched defense.

The tandem could pose a threat to the SIU defense, which allowed 31 points on 450 total yards of offense against Hampton.

Lennon said Northwestern’s offense should be one of the toughest the Salukis face all season. Consequently, Lennon said SIU will have to counterattack with a solid game plan of its own.


“They don’t run a lot of bells and whistles and they are very sound in their approach to the game,” he said. “That is something that we are going to have to do as well. We can’t afford to have the same first game mistakes we had last week.”

Lennon highlighted the need to limit the Wildcats to as few big plays as possible, referring to Hampton’s two scores from 60-yards or more.

“That was probably the most discouraging thing from the game,” he said. “We have to mature fast enough this week that we aren’t going to give up easy points.”

But a look at the stat sheet indicates the Wildcats are more interested in moving the ball slowly but surely and not via the big play.

While Northwestern has failed to record a pass or rush for more than 40 yards this season, it has averaged five yards per rush, 12.3 yards per reception and has recorded 39 first downs in two games this season.

“If you are going to beat them, you are going to have to beat them because they are not going to give you anything cheap,” Lennon said.

Offensively, the Salukis will look to continue their quality play they boasted during the Hampton game.

SIU will most likely have to find the scoreboard early and often as it takes on a team that has averaged 27 points per game while allowing just 15 points per game.

The Salukis could try to exploit the Wildcats’ rushing defense, which has allowed the only three touchdowns scored on Northwestern all season.

SIU will look to give senior running back Larry Warner a major role in the offense Saturday. Warner recorded more than 300 yards of total offense against Hampton and will receive a bulk of the running load with sophomore running back Richard White listed as doubtful with a sprained knee.

Sophomore fullback Lucien Walker will also get the ball often.

Warner said that the offense needs to execute a sound game plan and let the game unfold as it may.

“That is really the only thing that we can do against any team is go out there and execute our plays,” he said. “If we do that, it can only help us.”

Sophomore quarterback Chris Dieker said a sound game plan would include prolonged drives that eat up the clock.

Dieker, who will make his second career start against Northwestern, will look for receivers Jeff Evans and Damian Sherman against a defense that has allowed 198.5 passing yards per game this season.

“I just want to keep drives alive,” Dieker said. “It’s not so much about throwing touchdowns, but any way that we can score will help us win the game. If that means handing it off to one of our running backs then that is fine.”

Game time is set for 11 a.m. Saturday and can be seen on the Big 10 Network.

Brian Feldt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected].