Salukis look to shake off loss

By Gus Bode

The SIU football team this season has dealt with star injuries, positional uncertainties and triple-digit heat during weekday practices, but this week marks the first time the Salukis enter the field on a down note.

The No. 9 Salukis (6-1, 2-1 Gateway) were dealt their first loss of the season Saturday at No. 1 Northern Iowa, 30-24. The defeat snapped their league-high, six-game winning streak, dropped them two spots in the Football Championship Subdivision poll and knocked them out of the top spot in the Gateway.

Starting running back John Randle said the team needs to have a tough week of practice to get back into the winning mentality.

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“Nothing out of the ordinary, just go back and keep our head,” Randle said. “It’s all mental from here. Just make sure everybody’s keeping their head on – keeping their head on strong.”

Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said the Panthers were able to become the first team to notch a win against the Salukis this season by taking away what they do best on offense – control the ground.

Coming into the game, the stable of SIU rushers had averaged 240.7 yards and 3.7 touchdowns per game, led primarily by Randle and junior running back Deji Karim.

Randle and Karim were held to just 30 yards and no touchdowns between them against the Panther defense as the Salukis failed to establish their proficient ground game throughout the contest.

The Salukis’ offensive mentality in the loss was no different than it had been in any of their previous six wins, Randle said. They were simply playing situational football.

“We did everything today that we usually do, we just couldn’t finish,” Randle said. “We didn’t change a thing. We heard the same plays from (quarterback) Nick (Hill) that we hear every game.”

Randle said the ability of the Panther defensive tackles to twist out made it difficult for the runners and blockers to adjust. The Panthers’ linebackers also backed out of the box frequently, leading to more opportunities for he and other receivers to catch the ball on the check, Randle said.

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Randle finished the game with a season-high 92 receiving yards and senior wide receivers Alan Turner and Justin Allen both had career days with 157 and 107 yards, respectively.

Hill, who was named Tuesday as one of the nominees for the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding player in the FCS, threw for a school-record 436 yards against the adjusted defense of the Panthers, but also threw a career-high three interceptions.

Hill and the offense also failed to convert on three fourth downs.

“The season is going to go through its ups and downs,” Hill said. “There hasn’t been one team I’ve ever played on that hasn’t gone through its ups and downs. We just have to learn from this and move on.”

The Salukis look to gain back ground in the conference Saturday as they face the Missouri State Bears (4-3, 1-2) at McAndrew Stadium and the undefeated Panthers head to Macomb to face Western Illinois (5-2, 2-0).

Daily Egyptian writer Sean McGahan can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected]

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