Daily Egyptian

Saluki football notebook: Scouting the South Dakota Coyotes

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Junior running back Cameron Walter (22) makes a break past Missouri State senior linebacker Dylan Cole (31) during the first half of the Salukis' 38-35 loss to the Bears in Springfield, Mo. (Daily Egyptian File Photo)

Junior running back Cameron Walter (22) makes a break past Missouri State senior linebacker Dylan Cole (31) during the first half of the Salukis' 38-35 loss to the Bears in Springfield, Mo. (Daily Egyptian File Photo)

Junior running back Cameron Walter (22) makes a break past Missouri State senior linebacker Dylan Cole (31) during the first half of the Salukis' 38-35 loss to the Bears in Springfield, Mo. (Daily Egyptian File Photo)

By Sean Carley

With three weeks left in the season, things are only getting harder for Saluki football.

This week’s opponent, South Dakota, is one of the most improved teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Two years ago, the Coyotes went 0-8 in its first season in the MVFC. Now they’re 3-2 in the conference — 4-4 overall — with playoff aspirations.

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“[South Dakota] Coach [Bob] Nielson does a great job no matter where he’s at,” SIU coach Nick Hill said Monday. “It’s going to be tough. We have our work cut out for us.”

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)

Fans can expect a shootout Saturday as this matchup pits the two worst scoring defenses (36 points allowed per game for USD, 31.9 for SIU) against two of the top-three scoring offenses in the conference (32.4 points per game for USD, 30.9 for SIU).

One of the people responsible for the Coyotes’ high scoring offense will be a familiar face for Saluki fans. Former co-offensive coordinator Bill O’Boyle joined South Dakota this season as offensive line coach and run game coordinator.

O’Boyle’s rushing offense has been a big strength for USD as it has averaged 180 yards per game on the ground. The leading running back for the Coyotes is senior Trevor Bouma at 75 yards per game, but their leading rusher may remind fans of another former Saluki.

“[Junior quarterback Chris Streveler] runs similar to how Mark Iannotti did last year for us,” Hill said. “He can run through you, but he’s also really fast. You have to tackle well and you have to be assignment sharp.”

Streveler leads South Dakota with 83 yards rushing per game.

As a passer, the Minnesota transfer is not a barn burner, but is efficient. He has completed 60 percent of his passes this season for a modest 189.6 yards per game for 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.

When Streveler does pass the ball, he has myriad options to throw it to. Nine different Coyotes have caught 10 or more passes this season and only one averages more than 40 yards per game.

“They have a lot of capable guys out there,” Hill said. “It’s just similar to us, they rotate a lot of guys and play a lot of guys. There have been several guys who caught deep balls and done some good things. We have to be ready for them all to play well.”

South Dakota’s big struggle defensively is the inverse of SIU’s: it allows teams to run all over it. USD has allowed 217.4 yards rushing per game, more than 20 yards more than the next-worst MVFC team.

However, Hill said SIU’s top rusher — sophomore running back Daquan Isom — will likely be held out of the game again with a leg injury.

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)

USD’s pass defense has been a saving grace for the Coyotes. They have allowed just 232.4 yards per game while intercepting 10 passes this season.

But South Dakota’s secret weapon may be involved in less than 10 plays per game.

Senior Miles Bergner handles the kicking, punting and placekicking duties for the Coyotes, and does them all well.

He leads the MVFC in field goal percentage (87.5 percent) and net punting (46.2 yards per punt).

“You don’t see a guy kick, punt and placekick a lot, but he does all three,” Hill said. “It’s pretty rare these days. He’s a talented kid. Punting the ball, flipping the field, field position. We’ve not played in a game in over a month that hasn’t been decided by more than a possession. It always goes back to special teams.”

Last week started a four-game mountain of games with increasing difficulty. SIU can win this game if it exploits USD’s weaknesses. If they don’t, the odds of SIU’s first winless MVFC season in 22 years only grows larger.

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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