Daily Egyptian

Saluki football notebook: Scouting the Indiana State Sycamores

SIU+football+players+celebrate+following+a+50-17+win+over+the+Murray+State+Racers+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+17%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Ryan+Michalesko+%7C+%40photosbylesko%29
SIU football players celebrate following a 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU football players celebrate following a 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU football players celebrate following a 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Sean Carley

SIU football’s best chance to win a conference game this season may come on homecoming Saturday.

“Losing three games in a row, you have to find a way to get back to work,” SIU coach Nick Hill said. “You have a bad taste in your mouth. We’ll get back to work like we always do.”

This year’s homecoming foe is the Indiana State Sycamores, who sit in a tie for eighth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at 1-3.

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The Sycamores’ one conference win so far this season was against the Illinois State Redbirds, who recently defeated the Salukis.

Since that win, Indiana State has lost three straight games, including a double-overtime heartbreaker Saturday against South Dakota.

Last season, SIU lost a 39-36 decision to the Sycamores in Terre Haute, Ind., the week before headcoming.

The status of  many of SIU’s key contributors for Saturday is uncertain. Hill said Monday that sophomore running backs Daquan Isom and Jonathan Mixon and junior wide receiver Connor Iwema are questionable, while sophomore wide receiver Jimmy Jones is doubtful because of injuries.

Sophomore running back Jonathan Mixon is tackled during SIU's 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Sophomore running back Jonathan Mixon is tackled during SIU’s 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

On the surface, ISU looks a lot like a more moderate version of last year’s SIU squad with an above average offense and suspect defense.

Offensively, the Sycamores run through sophomore quarterback Isaac Harker who is third in the conference with 285.9 yards passing per game.

This is the third year in a row ISU has a new starting quarterback, but Hill said he’s as prepared as the rest.

“They do a really good job with their quarterbacks,” he said. “It’s a good system and he does a good job of making it go. He does a good job at what they’re asking him to do.”

Much of Indiana State’s success comes through Harker’s ability to hang on to the ball. ISU is 2-1 when Harker does not throw an interception and 1-3 when he does.

Turnovers have been a struggle for the Sycamores as a team. Indiana State has turned the ball over to opponents 15 times this season, the most in the MVFC.

Harker has been the biggest offender in that category with nine total turnovers — five interceptions and four fumbles.

SIU’s rush defense should not have a difficult time handling Indiana State’s MVFC-worst running game.

What yardage the Sycamores do get on the ground comes from senior running back Roland Genesy and junior running backs Dimitri Taylor. The two combine for 110.6 yards per game with Genesy getting most of the goal-line touches.

The key for SIU’s defense will be to execute on its biggest strength: third down defense.

The Salukis only allow a MVFC-best 26.8 percent of third downs to be converted, while ISU converts a MVFC-worst 27.6 percent.

SIU senior quarterback Josh Straughan could have a field day with a Sycamore secondary that allows 264.1 passing yards per game, the second-worst in the conference.

SIU senior quarterback Josh Straughan runs with the ball during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

SIU senior quarterback Josh Straughan runs with the ball during the Salukis’ 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Once the Dawgs enter the red zone, they should have an easy time getting points on the board as Indiana State has allowed 96.3 percent of red zone drives.

The Sycamores’ biggest weaknesses all seem to line up with the Dawgs’ biggest strengths, so if SIU executes its game plan, it should be able to celebrate homecoming with a victory.

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.

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