Daily Egyptian

Saluki football notebook: Scouting the Missouri State Bears

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Senior wide receiver Billy Reed runs with the ball during the Salukis’ 22-14 loss to 14 loss to Indiana State Indiana State, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Senior wide receiver Billy Reed runs with the ball during the Salukis’ 22-14 loss to 14 loss to Indiana State Indiana State, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Senior wide receiver Billy Reed runs with the ball during the Salukis’ 22-14 loss to 14 loss to Indiana State Indiana State, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Sean Carley

After a brutal loss at homecoming to an Indiana State team in the bottom half of the conference, SIU football gets another chance against a lower-half conference foe.

The Salukis will travel to take on Missouri State at 2 p.m. Saturday in Springfield, Mo.

Last season’s matchup resulted in a 73-26 decimation of the Bears, who didn’t have a single win in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

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However, this year’s Missouri State team is much improved from last season.

“They have a lot of the same players that they had last year, and they’ve gotten better,” SIU coach Nick Hill said. “I think Coach Steck has done a great job. They’re not doing a lot of things differently. They just got better. They got stronger.”

The Bears are 3-4, 1-3 in the MVFC. Their one win came from last week’s opponent Indiana State in the first week of the conference season.

Missouri State also came within a field goal of upsetting No. 13 Western Illinois two weeks ago but was embarrassed by Northern Iowa on Saturday 61-7.

“Last week, the game got away from them a little bit,” Hill said. “We know how that is. The game in the dome last week snowballed on them, and they couldn’t get back in it. I thought they’ve done a great job all year competing. The team we just lost to, they scored 45 points on and beat on the road.”

The season has not come without some controversy for the Bears though as their starting quarterback Breck Ruddick was suspended by the team for the season after being accused of abusing a friend’s dog.

His replacement, senior Brodie Lambert, has been a serviceable replacement. He has throw for 854 yards with nine touchdowns in the six games he’s played.

Lambert has a tendency to be a bit reckless with the football though, as his seven interceptions are tied for the most in the MVFC.

Overall, the Bears offense is not that great. It ranks last in the MVFC in total offense (316.9 yards per game), ninth in scoring offense (25.0 points per game), ninth in rushing offense (133.6 yards per game) and eighth in passing offense (183.3).

The Saluki defense will likely have the opportunity to steal the ball for the offense as Missouri State’s 17 turnovers lost is the worst in the conference.

Nevertheless, SIU’s offense will have to be careful as the Bears have 15 takeaways of their own.

Senior linebacker Dylan Cole has been a turnover specialist for Missouri State with three forced fumbles and two interceptions this season.

Cole is keeping himself in the conversation for Conference Defensive Player of the Year as his 11.3 tackles per game is fourth in the Football Championship Subdivision.

The Bear defense as a whole is a middle-of-the-pack unit as far as scoring (sixth) and total defense (fifth).

“I think they’re just assignment sharp,” the Saluki coach said. “They’re rarely out of position. It’s similar to what we do on defense. Lineup and play your gap and play sound football.”

SIU coach Nick Hill reacts to a play during the Salukis' homecoming matchup against the Indiana State Sycamores on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. SIU lost the game by a score of 22-14. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU coach Nick Hill reacts to a play during the Salukis’ homecoming matchup against the Indiana State Sycamores on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. SIU lost the game by a score of 22-14. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Twenty-five points appears to be the breaking point for the Bears. They’re 3-0 when allowing less than 25 points and 0-4 when they allow more.

Junior wide receiver Deion Holliman can be a potential game-breaker on special teams as he is 11th in the country with 538 combined kick return yards.

“A lot of teams do things differently to try to contain him, so eventually he’s going to get the ball and you have to tackle him,” Hill said of Holliman. “All of his runs, he’s made somebody miss. We have to be great tacklers on him.”

The Bears have always been a well-disciplined team. Its 45 total penalties last season were third-best in the FCS and this team’s 38 is No. 23.

In summary, the Bears are a team that isn’t great at anything but also isn’t that bad at much.

SIU can beat Missouri State, but it will require a diligent, complete effort in all facets of the game.

A win in Springfield would be a bit of a band-aid on the Salukis’ wounds. A loss will be a shaker’s worth of salt rubbed in.

With games against No.South Dakota, No. 15 Youngstown State and No. 13 Western Illinois as the remaining games on the docket, this will be the best chance for a Saluki win in conference play.

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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