Daily Egyptian

SIU football making small improvements with new defense

Saluki+senior+inside+linebacker+Chase+Allen+tackles+Jackrabbit+junior+tight+end+Dallas+Goedert+during+the+first+half+of+the+SIU%27s+45-39+loss+to+South+Dakota+State+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+8%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Jacob+Wiegand+%7C+%40JacobWiegand_DE%29
Saluki senior inside linebacker Chase Allen tackles Jackrabbit junior tight end Dallas Goedert during the first half of the SIU's 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 SIU's 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 SIU's 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

By Jonathan Thompson

Saluki football is still experiencing some growing pains in the early parts of this season after the signing of new head coach Nick Hill and defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson.

SIU allowed 5,145 yards and 34.6 points per game last season, which both ranked second-worst in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

In an attempt to fix the problem, Hill brought in Paulson who changed the defensive scheme from last year’s 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense, which puts four down defensive lineman with three linebackers and vice versa on a 3-4.

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The team has already progressed statistically from last season, cutting down on yards (467.7 to 427.2) and points (34.6 to 32.8) allowed.

Despite the marginal improvements, the Salukis have improved greatly at ending opponents’ drives on third downs.

SIU has allowed third down conversions just 28.9 percent of the time, the lowest rate in the conference. Last season, the Salukis allowed 41.8 percent of third downs to be converted.

“Biggest thing about third downs is how many yards they have to go,” Paulson said. “When you’re giving a lot of third and ones, it’s hard to get a good percentage. We’ve been getting a lot of third and four or fives. If you can get that, you have a much better chance and that’s what we’ve been aiming for.”

Reagan Gavin | Daily Egyptian

Reagan Gavin | Daily Egyptian

Paulson is in his first year at SIU, but he has 30 years of collegiate coaching experience under his belt and has spent the past 17 seasons at Utah State, Montana and University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

He won eight conference championships while with Montana and made three national championship games with the team.

“We trust what coach Paulson says,” junior defensive end Khari Waithe-Alexander said. “With all the experience he has … we trust his experience and what he preaches.”

MORE: Column: The (college football) times are changing | South Dakota State’s offense too much for SIU football

As expected, the Salukis are in a transition period with their new schemes. They have given up 21 touchdowns this season, fourth-worst in the conference.

SIU is currently last in the MVFC in penalties and penalty yards per game, including the 17 penalties for 150 yards on Oct. 1 against Northern Iowa.

“It’s still kind of early in the season — I feel like our defense is still improving,” senior inside linebacker Chase Allen said. “We made a lot of errors on our part and penalties against UNI. I think [we have] a lot to show.”

SIU will be looking to bounce back when it faces Illinois State at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 in Normal.

Staff writer Jonathon Thompson can be reached at [email protected].

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