Daily Egyptian

Column: SIU football’s mid-season progress report

SIU+football+players+take+to+the+field+prior+to+the+start+of+SIU%27s+matchup+against+Murray+State+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+17%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Athena+Chrysanthou+%7C+%40Chrysant1Athena%29
SIU football players take to the field prior to the start of SIU's matchup against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

SIU football players take to the field prior to the start of SIU's matchup against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

SIU football players take to the field prior to the start of SIU's matchup against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Sean Carley

We’ve reached the halfway point of SIU football’s season with the team sitting at 2-4, 1-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

It’s coach Nick Hill’s first season at the helm, so here’s how I would grade his first team through six games.

Offense 

Advertisement

Quarterbacks: A-

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan has been a pleasant surprise so far this season.

After Mark Iannotti’s record-breaking season in a brand new offense last year, expectations were probably a bit high for whoever replaced him.

Enter Straughan, a player hardly anyone knew anything about other than he had been a Division II star.

MORE: The Josh Straughan story: A loveable underdog narrative

But he has pronounced himself loud and clear in the conference.

Straughan — whose 308.7 passing yards per game is second in the MVFC — has been making tough throws and limiting unnecessary risks.

Throwing the ball away when under duress with no other options is a sign of maturity and poise in the pocket, one Straughan has shown repeatedly.

The only thing holding the graduate transfer back from an A+ is that he has had a few costly turnovers this season. Straughan only has four interceptions, but when he does turn the ball over, he has shown the ability to brush it off and move on.

Running backs: Incomplete

Incomplete grades are college students’ worst nightmares outside of an outright failing grade.

For those who have been out of the education system for a while, incomplete grades are given when students complete a majority of the work in the class but cannot complete the class for some reason.

So here’s why the backs get an incomplete: there’s just too many of them to draw one opinion.

But that’s not a bad thing. Each of them brings something else to the table.

Sophomore Daquan Isom was predicted to be the feature back coming into the season and had runs to prove it. But he only averages 10 carries a game and has nagging injuries.

SIU sophomore running back Daquan Isom (5) breaks past Murray State junior defensive back Dylan Boone (22) during the Salukis' 50-17 win over the Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU sophomore running back Daquan Isom (5) breaks past Murray State junior defensive back Dylan Boone (22) during the Salukis’ 50-17 win over the Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Senior Aaron Stanton was ready to take the backseat as a third-down or situational back and has done well in that role. Stanton’s biggest strength so far has been his ability to get in space and get key receptions.

This season’s biggest surprise has been true freshman D.J. Davis. He has shown flashes of Isom’s big-play talent, but also does well in the trenches.

Sophomore Jonathon Mixon was someone I thought deserved more touches this year and he has gotten them as the short-yardage back. His size provides a great service to an otherwise small backfield.

Lastly, junior Cameron Walter has been a good backup feature back that steps up when he needs to like he did on Saturday.

Overall, the Saluki backfield is a strong unit, but one that lacks identity, so a full grade cannot be given.

Wide receivers/Tight ends: B

SIU’s wideouts are quietly putting together a very solid season.

The four main receivers — senior Billy Reed, junior Connor Iwema and sophomores Jimmy Jones and Darrell James — have combined for 1,327 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Sophomore wide receiver Darrell James and junior wide receiver Connor Iwema celebrate a touchdown in the third quarter of SIU's 30-22 win against Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Morgan Timms | @Morgan_Timms)

Sophomore wide receiver Darrell James and junior wide receiver Connor Iwema celebrate a touchdown in the third quarter of SIU’s 30-22 win against Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Morgan Timms | @Morgan_Timms)

Reed has taken a slight back seat in his final season but is tied with a team-high three touchdowns, which shows he knows when and where to show up.

Iwema’s confidence has grown noticeably. Last season’s issue with dropped passes is gone and he’s become the sure-handed possession receiver that Saluki fans thought he can be.

Jones is repeating last season’s performance as a big-play threat while James is joining him.

Redshirt freshman tight end Jacob Varble has also been a solid red zone target.

The only thing keeping the wideouts from an A is the backfield stealing a lot of targets.

Offensive line: C-

The big men out front have taken the biggest step back from last season.

This year, SIU has allowed 20 sacks in six games. They only allowed 11 all of last season.

But the 2016 squad has four new full-time starters so the room to grow is there.

Regardless of how the line is performing with the limited numbers used to represent them, SIU’s offense is still No. 12 in the FCS. So, they have to be doing some good things.

Defense

Defensive line: B+

The defensive line is the most improved unit across the entire team from last season.

In last year’s 3-4 defense, rushers were unable to get the push needed to get into the backfield.

This year’s team has 44 tackles for loss and the Valley No. 5 rushing defense, both far improvements from this point of last season.

Part of this may come thanks to the team’s transition to a 4-3 defense. Regardless, the defensive line has shown strides.

Moving senior Deondre Barnett to defensive end has paid off with three forced fumbles and a team-high five tackles for loss and four sacks.

Linebackers: C

What can be said about senior Chase Allen that hasn’t already been said?

The preseason All-Conference selection has been impressive again this year, leading the team in tackles (39) and quarterback hits (seven).

Saluki senior linebacker Chase Allen tackles SEMO junior quarterback Jesse Hosket during the first half of the Salukis' matchup against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki senior linebacker Chase Allen tackles SEMO junior quarterback Jesse Hosket during the first half of the Salukis’ matchup against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Even when he’s not recording a stat, Allen is constantly disrupting plays.

The rest of the unit is where it falls short. Other linebackers have been consistently fading in and out on drives.

Junior Markese Jackson has been a bright spot, but other young players plunged into starting roles need to continue to grow to limit opposing offenses.

Secondary: D

The Saluki secondary is once again the weakest link on the team.

Its problem is rather easy to identify: they give up just too many big plays.

In the team’s four losses, SIU has allowed 14 plays of 30 yards or more. Eight of these big plays resulted in touchdowns as well.

Plays like this tend to take the life out of a team and it’s been visible that the Salukis suffer from this.

Saluki sophomore safety Jefferson Vea tackles SEMO redshirt freshman wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson during the first half of the Salukis' matchup against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Saluki sophomore safety Jefferson Vea tackles SEMO redshirt freshman wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson during the first half of the Salukis’ matchup against the Redhawks on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

The defensive backs have improved, so they don’t deserve a failing grade.

There are plays where the secondary shows promise, but then it’ll give up a huge play to break its spirits.

Once the defensive backs start limiting game-changing plays, then this defense, and the Salukis in general, will be a lot better.

Special teams: C-

SIU’s special teams is a huge mixed bag of positives and negatives.

The kicking game has been all over the place. Senior Austin Johnson was shaky early and lost his job to freshman walk-on Matt Sotiropoulos. Now, Johnson is back kicking long field goals while Sotiropoulos handles extra points and short field goals.

Freshman punter Lane Reazin has been marginal with an average net punt distance of 34.9 yards, seventh in the MVFC.

D.J. Davis has been a star returning kickoffs with a Valley-best 28.8 yards per return.

Meanwhile, punt returns have been virtually non-existent.

Overall, the last squad to be graded isn’t hurting the Salukis too much, but not too many favors are being given either.

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

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

Advertisement

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




The student news site of Southern Illinois University