Daily Egyptian

SIU football special teams continues to excel through coaching changes

Saluki+football+players+attempt+to+block+a+field+goal+kick+during+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 football players attempt to block a field goal kick during SIU's 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki football players attempt to block a field goal kick during SIU's 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki football players attempt to block a field goal kick during SIU's 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

By Jonathon Thompson

Despite struggling overall on defense, the SIU football special teams defense has been consistently good the past four seasons.

Last year SIU’s special teams were able to block seven kicks on the season, which was good for fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision. This season they already have two in five games, which is tied for eighth in the nation and tied for first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The Salukis have had three different special teams coordinators in four years and numerous player changes but still have been able to stay consistent. The team had six blocked kicks under special teams coach Eric Schmidt in 2013, ninth-best in the FCS.

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“The staff has made a pretty good gameplay every year no matter who the coach is,” senior linebacker Chase Allen said. “The team really buys into special teams. It’s something we embrace.”

This season’s special teams coordinator Jay Nunez is in his first year at SIU, after three years with Minnesota as the special teams coordinator under former SIU head coach Jerry Kill.

“I like to have an aggressive unit,” Nunez said. “We look for kids who have have good [jumps off the line], good hands, a good nose for the ball. We work on that stuff all spring and fall camp then we identify our pool of guys and go from there.”

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)

Allen was able to get his first block against Southeast Missouri on Sept. 10. He totaled three in 2015, which was ranked for eighth in the FCS.

“You have to watch the guy you go up against each week — it’s kind of a one-on-one in special teams,” Allen said. ” We call it a man check. We prepare by watching film each week. We look for weaknesses and act on them in each game.”

His former teammate Brandon Williams was also a block specialist last season. He had an additional three blocked kicks, including one he ran back for a touchdown against Western Illinois.

Senior defensive end Deondre Barnett recorded his first collegiate block against Northern Iowa for the team’s second block on the season. He said the block came from practice preparation and habit recognition.

“I recorded a block that week in practice so I guess it translated into the game,” Barnett said.

The squad feeds off of these plays and are good confidence boosters for the team, he said.

“We work harder than anybody on special teams,” Barnett said. “All the other teams treat it like a play off, so when we make big plays in those situations. It feels good.”

Staff writer Jonathon Thompson can be reached at 618-536-3333 or [email protected].

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