Homecoming foe will pass heavily

By Tony McDaniel

Saluki football will not catch a break in its next game.

No. 24 Indiana State (4-3, 1-2) will travel to Carbondale for a Missouri Valley Football Conference collision Saturday against No. 19 SIU.

Indiana State has been a surprise this season. In 2013 the Sycamores were just 1-11, and their only victory came over Quincy University, a Division II school.

Advertisement

Indiana State was picked to finish last in the MVFC before the season began. Since then, ISU has defeated Ball State, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, and Northern Iowa, which is ranked No. 23 in the Football Championship Subdivision.

In the last few games, though, ISU has struggled. The Sycamores have dropped their last two games, just like SIU.

The difference this season for the Sycamores has been the play from their quarterback position and a defense that forces turnovers.

Senior quarterback Mike Perish has blossomed into one of the more impressive passers in the FCS. Perish is No. 22 in completion percentage and No. 12 in passing yards per game.

He is likely to set career highs in passing yards, touchdowns and completions this season. He has thrown for 1,569 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has thrown an interception this season, which is the third-least amount in the FCS.

Perish likes to spread the ball around to his receivers. 13 players have caught a pass from the quarterback this season.

Junior wide receiver Gary Owens leads the Sycamores with 539 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver A.J. Johnson is second on the team with 363 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Advertisement

Indiana State’s receivers are not physically imposing. Only one player, sophomore Robert Tonyan, stands taller than 6 feet.

Tonyan has 229 yards receiving and a score.

The Sycamores are lucky their passing game works, because the rushing attack is one of the worst in the FCS at No. 116.

Senior running back Logan Buck and sophomore running back LeMonte Booker each have 3 touchdowns, but have only combined for 594 yards. SIU’s leading rusher, senior Malcolm Agnew has more yards on the ground than the two players combined. Agnew will not play in Saturday’s game against Indiana State.

The Saluki defensive backfield has looked shaky at times this season. If that group of players can shut down Perish and his receivers, SIU should earn a victory.

The Sycamore defense is not overpowering, but can force turnovers and defend the pass well.

Indiana State’s defense has forced 16 turnovers this season, and the offense has only allowed 5 turnovers. The 16-5 turnover ratio is the second best in the FCS.

The Salukis will need to be careful with the ball.

ISU also has a good passing defense; it is No. 11 in the FCS in the category. Two Sycamores contribute greatly to that ranking.

Junior defensive back Travis Starks has 2 interceptions this season and is No. 9 in the FCS in passes defended.

Junior linebacker Connor Underwood is regularly in the offense’s backfield putting pressure on the quarterback. Underwood has 7 sacks this season, which is good for No. 13 in the FCS. He is also No. 4 in tackles for a loss.

The Salukis can take advantage of an average rushing defense on Saturday. The Sycamores are No. 59 in the FCS when it comes to stopping the run.

SIU coach Dale Lennon’s running back by committee system should be able to move the ball just fine against the Sycamores.

A win in SIU’s homecoming game will be a tough task for the Dawgs, but is attainable. The key for SIU will be finding a way to stop Perish and the rest of the Sycamore passing attack.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], on Tiwitter @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 256

Advertisement