Salukis limp to Missouri State

By Tony McDaniel

It is make or break time for Saluki football.

No. 24 SIU (5-4) will travel to take on Missouri State (4-5) Saturday for a must-win game.

With three games left the Salukis have to finish the season undefeated in order to become playoff eligible, and unfortunately nothing seems certain about the Dawgs.

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On a positive note, SIU may reap the benefits of last week’s bye week.  The week off allowed sophomore guard Kijana Evans and sophomore wide receiver Billy Reed to heal from injuries and return to the lineup.

But on a negative note, the Salukis managed to lose three players during the week off.

Three key defensive players, senior cornerback Keith Suggs, senior linebacker Victor Burnett, and junior defensive end Adam Brandt were all suspended.

Junior defensive end Brandon Williams will fill in for Brandt while he is suspended. Williams is a great option for the Salukis; he has 19 tackles this season and recorded 4 sacks in 2013.

Burnett plays inside linebacker, one of the deepest positions on the roster. Sophomore Chase Allen and Senior Jordan Poole should be more than capable to pick up the slack.

Suggs is the toughest to replace.

The senior cornerback has started in all nine games this season. Expect to see junior corners Jory Cunningham and Brandon Willingham a lot more than usual on Saturday.

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The Saluki team taking the field Saturday at Missouri State’s Plaster Sports Complex will be different than the one fans are used to seeing.

Not only will there be different players in key positions, but the team will have to find a way to respond to some serious adversity. The only certainties in the coming game are on the sideline opposite the Salukis.

Missouri State’s offense does not rank high in many categories, but it does have a talented dual-threat quarterback that can create issues for defenses.

Senior quarterback Kierra Harris has thrown the ball for 1,525 yards this year. His 17 passing touchdowns are good for 10th in the Football Championship Subdivision. Harris also leads the team in carries, yards and rushing touchdowns, but is only completing 54.7 percent of his passes.

The depleted Saluki defense has to find a way to stop Harris or he could single-handedly control the game.

Harris has a couple of big-time receivers in the passing game.

Senior wide receiver Julian Burton has 41 receptions for 574 yards, far more than any other Missouri State receiver.

In the red zone Harris passes to his tight end, senior Gannon Sinclair. Sinclair only has 11 catches this season, but a team-high 6 receiving touchdowns.

Missouri State’s defense is mediocre at best, which is a relief for SIU’s Ryan West, who is making his first start at quarterback this season.

The Bears are 53rd in passing yards allowed in the FCS. West will not have to be spectacular to move the ball.

When it comes to stopping the run the Bears aren’t fantastic either, ranking 60th in the FCS. Even without Agnew, SIU’s leading rusher, the rested Saluki running backs can succeed on Saturday.

A victory Saturday would be a much-needed leap in the right direction for the Salukis, who have been wandering in the wrong direction for almost a month.

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