Salukis face a mountain of a task

By Gus Bode

The SIU defense has kept its last two opponents out of the end zone, but no Saluki opponent thus far has posed the dual threat that Appalachian State’s quarterback Richie Williams does.

The Salukis (9-3, 5-2 Gateway Conference) will have to find a way to contain the passing/running attack of Williams at Boone, N.C., to make it past the second round of the Division I-AA playoffs.

SIU head coach Jerry Kill named Williams as one of the biggest concerns for the Salukis, comparing the senior to Vince Young of Texas because of his ability to run the ball as well as pass.

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“They got an outstanding quarterback,” Kill said. “He’s a very athletic kid. They run a lot of zone option game out of the shotgun with him.”

A preseason candidate for the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the best offensive player in I-AA, Williams has started all 12 games for the Mountaineers (9-3), passing for 2,255 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushing for 878 yards and four touchdowns. Williams’ average of 73 rushing yards a game is second on the team, and his six yards per carry is a team-high.

Williams has been nearly flawless when he goes to the air, passing for 187 yards per game and completing 64 percent of passes while throwing only four interceptions. In his four seasons at Appalachian State, Williams has thrown more than twice as many touchdowns (39) as interceptions (18).

Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore said Williams is not only a complete player by the numbers, but he has also proven to be a great leader on the field.

“Richie has been captain of our football team the past three years. He is a terrific leader,” Moore said. “Richie couldn’t come within 500 yards of telling you about any of his stats. He doesn’t care about any of that. He is a great team guy.”

Moore went as far as to compare Williams to SIU quarterback Joel Sambursky. Although Sambursky throws the ball more and runs less than Williams, Moore said both senior quarterbacks have the same mentality.

“I’d say the same thing about the quarterback they got,” Moore said. “Everything I hear about him, he’s just like Richie.”

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Williams said despite his stellar rushing stats, the team doesn’t center its rush-heavy offense on him, but rather focuses on sophomore running back Kevin Richardson. Richardson leads the Mountaineers with 98 rushing yards per game and 15 touchdowns.

When Williams struggled to generate offense early in the Mountaineer’s opening playoff game against Lafayette, Richardson exploded for 171 yards, helping to open up a passing game for his team. Williams threw three touchdown passes the second half, rallying his team to a 34-23 win.

“That really helps out the passing game when we can give it to him,” Williams said. “Kevin is the main load in the running game.”

In order to contain the Mountaineer attack, senior SIU cornerback Brad Brachear said his team is wary of both Williams and Richardson out of the backfield. He said the defense will have to make minor changes to compensate for the two without straying to far from the defensive philosophy that stifled the Salukis’ last two opponents.

“We make small adjustments every week depending on who we are playing,” Brachear said. “I’m sure we’ll have a few wrinkles in there for them.”

Reporter William Ford can be reached at [email protected]

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