Daily Egyptian

Saluki football notebook: Scouting the Illinois State Redbirds

Saluki+football+coach+Nick+Hill+confronts+a+referee+during+the+Salukis%27+45-39+loss+to+South+Dakota+State+at+Saluki+Stadium+while+junior+offensive+lineman+Austin+Olsen+looks+on.
Saluki football coach Nick Hill confronts a referee during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State at Saluki Stadium while junior offensive lineman Austin Olsen looks on.

Saluki football coach Nick Hill confronts a referee during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State at Saluki Stadium while junior offensive lineman Austin Olsen looks on.

Saluki football coach Nick Hill confronts a referee during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State at Saluki Stadium while junior offensive lineman Austin Olsen looks on.

By Sean Carley

Things will not get any easier for SIU football.

After the team lost its first two Missouri Valley Football Conference games, the Salukis will travel Saturday to Hancock Stadium to take on the Illinois State Redbirds.

SIU has a storied history with the Redbirds as it has only played Southeast Missouri more times than Illinois State. The Salukis have a 40-35-3 record against ISU, but are 17-19-2 in Normal. ISU won the 2015 matchup, 42-21.

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This year’s Redbird team is 2-4 after losing four straight games, including all three MVFC matchups.

Despite its record, the numbers show Illinois State is still a solid team.

Illinois State has allowed just 168 passing yards a game, ninth in the Football Championship Subdivision and best in the MVFC. The Redbirds have allowed just less than 50 percent of passes to be completed this season.

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan prepares to throw the ball during the first half of SIU's 30-22 win against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan prepares to throw the ball during the first half of SIU’s 30-22 win against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Even though their defense is strong, they’ve only forced five turnovers this season. Sophomore safety Mitchell Brees leads the team with five passes broken up this season.

The inverse can also be said for ISU’s defense as SIU’s No. 6 in the FCS passing attack will be the strongest the Redbirds have faced this season.

SIU’s key to success will be its ability to capitalize on a suspect Illinois State offensive line.

ISU ranks in the bottom 10 of the FCS in sacks allowed (24) and tackles for loss allowed (52).

Saluki senior inside linebacker Chase Allen tackles Jackrabbit junior tight end Dallas Goedert during the first half of the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki senior inside linebacker Chase Allen tackles Jackrabbit junior tight end Dallas Goedert during the first half of the Salukis’ 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Despite giving up all these negative plays, each Redbird starting offensive lineman is a senior that started all of last season as a unit.

If the Salukis can get into the backfield like they did in their two previous wins, it will be a big step toward a Saluki win.

When he gets time to operate, ISU sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe has been one of the most efficient players at the position in the conference.

He has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,405 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

More than a third of those yards have gone to senior wide receiver Anthony Warrum, a third-team All-American last season. Warrum is a constant big-play threat as he averages more than 15 yards per catch, but he only has two touchdowns on the season.

Jackrabbit junior running back Brady Mengarelli (44) is tackled by Saluki junior safety Ryan Neal (21) and senior inside linebacker Chase Allen (5) during the first half of the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Jackrabbit junior running back Brady Mengarelli (44) is tackled by Saluki junior safety Ryan Neal (21) and senior inside linebacker Chase Allen (5) during the first half of the Salukis’ 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

ISU has struggled to score all season, averaging 21.2 points per game, the lowest in the conference.

While the Redbirds struggle to get the ball into the end zone, the team is very disciplined. Its average of 4.83 penalties per game is the second-best in the MVFC.

Illinois State has the potential to frustrate the Salukis. But if SIU can stay level-headed and patient, it can get back to a .500 record.

If the Salukis feel the pressure, this game can go wrong fast.

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

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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