Struggling WIU brings big guns to town

By Gus Bode

Salukis insist Western’s offense is better than recent results suggest

A fluke, an aberration, an insanely effective defensive effort by its opponent.

Whatever one calls it, No. 1 SIU is not buying Western Illinois as a struggling offensive team despite its – loss at Northern Iowa last week. Western Illinois, the Salukis say, is still an outstanding offensive football team.


And the SIU defense, which was lit up by the Leathernecks for 32 points last year, expects some fireworks as Western Illinois tries to stop the Salukis from running their home winning streak to a school-record 11 games.

“I don’t expect them to come back down here, just lay down and put up those kind of numbers,” said SIU safety Alexis Moreland, who has been around the ball just about every time SIU has caused a turnover in the last three weeks. “I think they’ll come in and give it everything they got.”

Big plays are welcome for SIU football, but the true focus will be on containing the Leathernecks’ plethora of playmakers. Western Illinois has speedy, elusive players at just about every skill position, and the Salukis hope to make sure they cannot turn a corner and turn it into a big play.

Head coach Jerry Kill said he is particularly concerned with Reggie Gray and All-Gateway receiver James Norris, who are averaging 19.9 and 17.3 yards per catch, respectively. Kill compared the two to SIU big-play receiver Quorey Payne.

Despite the loss of Russ Michna, who was an NFL-caliber quarterback, Western Illinois’ receiving corps has been outstanding, and Moreland said the defense would be on its toes.

“They can score, and that’s because they can get down the field,” Moreland said. “When they break, they can get to the end zone.”

The key, Kill said, to stopping the Western Illinois receivers will be stopping running back Travis Glasford. Glasford has rushed for 933 yards on 5.4 yards per carry, and Kill said if he can be stopped, the secondary will be able to hold its own.


“If they can run and throw it, they’re tough,” Kill said.

Western Illinois has scored 35.8 points per game this season but the defense, regarded as the team’s Achilles heel, has given up 33 points per game.

SIU should have plenty of opportunities for big plays, which is not lost on Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson.

Patterson knows his defense has struggled, and proposed an imaginative solution to beating one of the best offensive teams in Division I-AA.

“Maybe our best chance is to let the air out of the football,” Patterson said. “Maybe they couldn’t handle it quite so well if we took the air out of it.”

Failing that, it could be a long day for Western Illinois’ defense. SIU ran for 350 yards last week against a below average defense at Southwest Missouri State, but the Leathernecks are far more porous than the Bears.

Not only is Western Illinois dead last in the Gateway in scoring defense, it is last in rushing defense – by a lot. The Leathernecks give up 247.2 rushing yards per game, more than 30 yards than second-to-last SMS. The fact Terry Jackson is expected to play is not likely to help the Western Illinois defense, either.

SIU, on the other hand, gives up 99 rushing yards per game. But quarterback Joel Sambursky said those stats will not necessarily translate into a victory.

“I’m sure our defensive stats weren’t great two years ago, and we found a way to win,” said Sambursky, who needs three touchdown passes to tie the school’s all-time record.

SIU has a chance to top the 54 points it scored the last time Western Illinois was in Carbondale, when the Leathernecks were supposed to have a terrific defense.

This time, it’s the exact opposite, and the Salukis are more than happy to be on top – and deal with the pressure that comes with it.

“They were the hunted and we were the hunters,” Sambursky said. “And now the roles have switched.”