Change wouldn’t hurt the SIU football program

Change wouldnt hurt the SIU football program

By Tony McDaniel

The SIU football team may have one more game left, but after yesterday’s loss the Salukis’ playoff hopes are as dead as disco.

SIU needed to win seven games against Division I opponents to become playoff eligible, and after Saturday’s 40-21 shellacking from Northern Iowa, that is no longer a possibility.

After the Salukis’ 4-1 start against Division I teams, it seemed that SIU was a shoe-in for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, but alas, the Salukis will get an early end to the season.

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So who is to blame for this disappointment? It shouldn’t be the defense. While the statistics do not show it, the defense has done everything it can to keep the offense in games.

The offense on the other hand, has not done its part. The blame should not sit on the players’ shoulders however; it should sit on the coaches’.

If head coach Dale Lennon woke up feeling like he was on the hot seat Sunday morning, it’s because he probably should.

Missing the playoffs this season is unacceptable.

This is arguably one of the most talented teams to grace the Saluki Stadium field in the Lennon era. The team can boast an All-American tight end who is probably on his way to the NFL, a running back who cruises to 100-yard games with ease and a defense that has the ability to be stifling.

So what went wrong?

Senior running back Malcolm Agnew went down with an ankle injury Oct. 18 against Youngstown State. While an injury to the team’s leading rusher is no coach’s fault, it quickly became clear just how much this team relies on the run.

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It is fine to base the offense around the rushing attack, as long as the best rusher is on the field. Redshirt freshman running back Cameron Walter made the rush work against Missouri State, but that was the one time SIU ran well without Agnew.

After Agnew was hurt, the team continued to run the ball to no avail. That’s like burning yourself taking a pizza out of the oven, but doing the same thing again. It’s insane.

Sophomore quarterback Ryan West should not have started a game this season. Junior quarterback Mark Iannotti was on his way to a nice season. He was added to College Football Performance Award’s watch list for player of the year and tied a school record for touchdown passes in a game with 6 against Southeast Missouri State. Iannotti was solid until the game against North Dakota State Oct. 11. A poor performance against Youngstown State seemingly made the coaching staff fall out of love with Iannotti.

On Oct. 25 against Indiana State, Iannotti turned the ball over twice in bad field position to earn himself a seat on the bench.

West came in for Iannotti and was competent against Missouri State. He threw 3 touchdowns, but only one of those was for more than 6 yards.

Saturday against Northern Iowa West showed he was not the quarterback SIU needed. West threw 2 interceptions in awful field position.

His second interception was taken into the end zone for a Panther touchdown and seemed like it would get him benched—his situation was just like Iannotti’s when he was benched against Indiana State.

West, however, remained in the game until he threw a third interception in the second half.

Iannotti entered the game and played pretty well in relief of West, reminding everyone why he was the starter to begin the season.

Why West remained in the game is a mystery; he giftwrapped the victory for UNI.

What standard this university holds its football team to is unclear.

In the Jerry Kill era of Saluki football, from 2001 to 2007, SIU made the FCS playoffs five straight times. Since Lennon has taken over, the Salukis have twice gone to the postseason, and those were the two seasons after Kill’s departure, so the teams were mostly made up of Kill’s players.

The teams Lennon recruited have not won in the post season. Lennon’s 48 wins is good for fourth all-time at SIU, but only one win came in the post season. Lennon is one of three SIU coaches to win 10 games in a season. His regular season accomplishments are nice, but teams don’t play to win regular season games, they play for championships.

Lennon hasn’t won a conference title since 2009.

It is unlikely Lennon and SIU will part ways after this season, he signed a contract extension through 2016 earlier this year. Lennon will have at least one more season to prove himself.

The university needs to decide what it wants this football team to be.

If it is comfortable with the team coming up short of the playoffs year after year, then Lennon and his staff are exactly what the team needs.

If SIU wants to return to the glory days when the postseason was an expectation, not a hope, then it should look elsewhere for the coaching staff to run its football program.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected] or in twitter @tonymcdanielDE

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