Salukis fresh for stretch run

By Gus Bode

The difference between winning and losing in the SIU football team’s next game could come down to seven days.

That’s how many more days the No. 6 Salukis (7-1, 3-1 Gateway) have had to prepare for the No. 19 Western Illinois Leathernecks, who they play Saturday at 1:05 p.m. in Macomb.

SIU coach Jerry Kill said Western Illinois (6-3, 3-1) runs a unique defense, and Leatherneck coach Don Patterson said his team’s defense can cause problems to teams that have just a week to prepare.

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“The fact that SIU’s had two weeks rather than the usual one, I think is a plus for them,” Patterson said.

SIU senior running back John Randle said the Leathernecks’ defense is a 3-4 alignment, but with linebackers creeping up to the line of scrimmage.

Because of this, Randle said the Salukis are hoping to fatigue Western Illinois early in the game.

“That’s our plan, is to tire those linebackers down and get our heavy bodies on them,” Randle said.

The Leathernecks are fourth in the Gateway Football Conference in run defense, but lead the conference in pass defense and sacks.

Kill said Western Illinois tries to catch opponents off guard by moving players around and giving different looks, and the key for SIU becomes sticking to assignments.

“If you blow assignments, you’re going to pay the price against them,” Kill said.

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In addition to extra time to prepare, Randle said the Salukis were able to get their legs back for the stretch run.

Sophomore linebacker Brandin Jordan, the Salukis’ second leading tackler with 42, has also battled an injured toe lately.

He said the toe isn’t yet 100 percent, but it hasn’t gotten worse since he re-injured it Oct. 6 in a 24-17 win against Youngstown State. The bye week helped Jordan and some other players recuperate from injuries.

“It was an extra seven days for me to ice my toe and just stay off of it and give it some rest,” Jordan said. “We had a couple of others guys that were banged up, little injuries, and that one week off gives you a big advantage.”

Kill, however, said it’s uncertain how SIU will come out early at Western Illinois, as off-weeks can be beneficial or detrimental.

The Salukis lost 30-24 at No. 1 Northern Iowa on Oct. 13, after the Panthers had a bye week. In the game, Northern Iowa was able to jump out to a 10-0 lead.

“Time will tell if we’ve handled things well and done the right things in the off-week,” Kill said. “You never know. Sometimes you come out slow and sluggish and then you get better, or you come out like Northern Iowa did against us and you’re moving around pretty good.”

In the end, Kill said, SIU’s keys to victory will be the fundamentals – taking care of the ball, tackling and blocking.

Randle is third in the conference with nine rushing touchdowns, but Western Illinois junior running back Herb Donaldson leads the Gateway with 1,354 rushing yards.

SIU has averaged 221.1 yards per game on the ground this season, second in the conference to the Leathernecks’ 275.8.

The Salukis and Western Illinois are also tied for second in the Gateway standings, but Kill said the playoff picture is more important.

“It’s all about getting into the national playoffs and big for that matter, that’s for sure,” Kill said. “It’s big for them, big for us – every game is.”

Daily Egyptian reporter Scott Mieszala can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected].

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