Special teams becoming pivotal to SIU football’s success

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

The Saluki football special teams unit has been just that so far this season: special.

SIU ranks first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in blocked kicks and blocked punts, and second in kickoff return defense and punt return defense.

Special teams may seem less important than offense and defense, but special teams coach Keith Murphy knows they are important.


“Any one of those plays can be a game-changing performance,” he said. “Every time they step onto the field, they want to do something for the offense or the defense.”

Junior cornerback Tareq Abulebbeh is one of the unit’s specialists. Abulebbeh has registered nine tackles on the year, mostly on special teams.

“I’m just a ball hawk,” Abulebbeh said. “Coach Murphy just has me run to the rock, and I love doing that.”

Abulebbeh said playing defense as a cornerback is different than special teams.

“As far as defense goes, you have to be more disciplined with your eyes,” he said. “You have keys to read, you got to react not only to the receiver but to where the ball is thrown to.”

Senior linebacker Brandon Williams is also making a name for himself on special teams this year. He is in a ten-way tie for first in the country with two blocked kicks. Williams blocked a field goal against Liberty and a punt against Western Illinois that he returned for a touchdown.

“It’s nothing really unexpected,” Williams said of the team’s success. “It’s just what you practice all week and you look forward to it.”


Williams said the team’s preparation every week is crucial.

“Coach Murphy does a great job of breaking it down,” he said. “All throughout the week we go over it. We look and see if there’s a point we can take advantage of it, then you get in the game and it’s the exact same.”

Murphy said head coach Dale Lennon is also a contributor to the special teams unit.

“He’s always in the meetings, backing up everything I do … there’s a lot of support around,” Murphy said.

While the special teams defense is near the top of the conference, the return unit is yet to match that level. The kick return unit is fifth in the conference and punt returns ranks third.

“They have to just fight and be physical,” Murphy said. “If you can finish a block out in open space and give that extra inch, the returner is going to get it done.”

The special teams and the rest of the Salukis play Missouri State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Saluki Stadium.

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SCarleyDE