Daily Egyptian

Once an opponent, new SIU defensive coordinator becomes ally on sideline

(DailyEgyptian.com file photo of SIU football Coach Nick Hill)

(DailyEgyptian.com file photo of SIU football Coach Nick Hill)

By Jacob Gaertner

This season won’t be the first time Saluki head coach Nick Hill and defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson share a football field.

In late 2006, Saluki football (9-4), led by Hill as a junior quarterback, traveled to face off with the second-ranked Montana Grizzlies (12-1) in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Kraig Paulson

Kraig Paulson

The Grizzlies touted the 10th best defense in the nation, led by Paulson, their then-defensive coordinator who now coordinates the same defensive scheme at SIU.

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“It was freezing cold and it was the loudest stadium, still to this day, that I’ve ever played in,” Hill said, remembering the contest.

It was the coldest game the Salukis played all year, with a kickoff temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

The stadium held 18,800 fans that day, nearly 2,000 more than capacity at McAndrew Stadium — SIU football’s previous stadium — and 4,000 more than Saluki Stadium, the current field.

“It was really nice to play at home,” said Paulson, who was added to the Saluki team by Hill in January. “We knew that would be a distraction for them.”

Members of the SIU football team attempt to block a field goal during Saluki football’s Du Quoin scrimmage game April 1 at DuQuoin High School. Saluki head coach Nick Hill, an alumnus of DuQuoin High School, played for the Indians' football team. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

Members of the SIU football team attempt to block a field goal during Saluki football’s Du Quoin scrimmage game April 1 at DuQuoin High School. Saluki head coach Nick Hill, an alumnus of DuQuoin High School, played for the Indians’ football team. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

During the 2006 season, the Salukis averaged nearly 400 yards, but Paulson’s defense held them to only 129 yards in the game.

“They were one of the top defenses in the country,” Hill said. “They kicked our butts.”

Hill said Montana’s success against him as a player had an impact on his decision to bring Paulson to Carbondale.

“We joke about it now, but he definitely got the upper hand,” Hill said of Paulson.

MORE: Want to play for SIU football? Here’s your chance

SIU rode the back of Walter Payton award finalist Arkee Whitlock all season. He rushed for 1,841 yards (141 per game) and 25 touchdowns, the fourth most yards and most rushing TDs in the nation entering the game.

Paulson’s defense emphasizes rushing the passer with only four down lineman, freeing up the linebackers and defensive backs to protect against passes and stuff the run.

“We knew we were going to have to stop him,” Paulson said of Whitlock, who most recently played for the Edmonton Eskimos in the professional Canadian league. “We wanted to get them into predictable passing situations.”

Saluki football players celebrate on the sidelines after their 38-31 overtime victory against Youngstown State University at the homecoming game Oct. 24, 2015, at Saluki Stadium. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

Saluki football players celebrate on the sidelines after their 38-31 overtime victory against Youngstown State University at the homecoming game Oct. 24, 2015, at Saluki Stadium. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

The Grizzlies held Whitlock to only 84 yards on 20 carries and no touchdowns.

Future NFL player and 2007 Defensive Player of the Year Kroy Biermann helped Montana’s defense with his pass rushing from the defensive end position, totaling 11 sacks in 2006.

Paulson said his 4-3 defense is designed to create maximum pressure on the quarterback while minimizing the amount of players it takes to create it.

Before this game, SIU only had less than 300 yards in a game twice, and hadn’t been held under 200 yet that season.

Hill boasted about the Salukis’ high-powered offense (34 points per game, fourth in the country) that season, but admitted that the Grizzlies got the best of them.

SIU football coach Nick Hill talks to reporters March 17 in Tedrick Auditorium. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

SIU football coach Nick Hill talks to reporters March 17 in Tedrick Auditorium. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

The Salukis punted on all five of its first half drives, getting only one first down in the process.

SIU finally got on the board with a fourth quarter field goal, the only points of the game.

“They didn’t give up many points that season,” Hill said of the Grizzlies. “They just played hard, good football.”

Saluki fans will get their first chance to see Hill and Paulson on the same sideline at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 in SIU’s home opener against Southeast Missouri.

Staff writer Jacob Gaertner can be reached at [email protected] or at on Twitter @JGaertnerDE.

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