Salukis prove they are contenders

By Tony McDaniel

SIU football (2-0) had its first real test of the season Saturday night against Eastern Illinois University (0- 2) and passed with flying colors.

The Salukis beat the Panthers in the second half and cruised to a 38-21 victory on the road. Eastern entered the game as the No. 14 team in the nation.

SIU’s first road win against EIU was also its first against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

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The win meant more than just a tally in the win column for the Salukis. In week one, SIU blew out Taylor University 45-0 and proved it has the potential to run the ball efficiently. The Salukis also displayed their powerful defense.

In the game against Eastern Illinois, SIU proved it could do the same things against an FCS opponent.

Senior running back Malcolm Agnew said he feels healthier than ever, and he certainly looked that way at EIU.

Agnew ran the ball with ease around the Eastern defense for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns. Agnew was the catalyst in the Saluki offense Saturday night.

Agnew ranks first in FCS in rushing touchdowns this year with 5, and sixth in rushing yards with 292.

Agnew is the type of running back who doesn’t stop moving his legs, even when it seems the play is over. Agnew showed that in Saturday’s game when he appeared to have been tackled by an EIU defender, but stayed on his feet and broke free for a 32-yard touchdown.

At quarterback, junior Mark Iannotti is beginning to settle into his role as the starter.

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The junior quarterback passed for 2 touchdowns and 233 yards Saturday night. Iannotti also completed 73 percent of his passes. He has thrown an interception in each game this season however.

Iannotti has not been called upon to carry the offense yet. But a time will come this season when he will need to lead the offense on a drive to get SIU a quick score. Whether or not he can handle the pressure is unclear.

Iannotti has proven he can be an effective quarterback early in the game, and while holding a lead. However, his ability to command the Saluki passing attack late in the game is yet to be advertised.

Senior receivers LaSteven McKinney and Tay Willis haven’t made an impact, but they haven’t been called upon to do so either. The Salukis have a real weapon with the speed of these two receivers, but have not had to put that weapon on display yet.

SIU is in luck though.

If Agnew continues to run the ball for 100 plus yards and multiple touchdowns in each game, the passing attack will be able to play with little pressure.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Salukis looked as if they had their hands full against Eastern in the first half.

EIU went into halftime with 339 total yards of offense and a 21-14 lead. SIU surrendered the lead to Eastern late in the half when junior quarterback Andrew Manley led EIU on an 11-play, 86-yard drive that only took one minute, eight seconds.

The Salukis also struggled with EIU’s junior quarterback Jalen Whitlow. Whitlow ran for 45 yards on just 6 attempts.

In the second half SIU’s defense looked completely different.

SIU held EIU to 112 yards in the second half and no touchdowns. The Salukis outscored Eastern 24-0 in the second half.

The difference in the game for the defense came from adjustments by head coach Dale Lennon, who said everything came together for SIU in the second half.

Senior linebacker Tyler Williamson’s 7 tackles and 1 sack were good enough for him to earn Missouri Valley Football Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week.

If the defense performs like it did in the second half against Eastern Illinois, the Salukis will be tough to beat for the rest of the season.

Next week the Salukis can be sure their No. 25 ranking will improve after knocking off the No. 14 team. SIU may even be able to break into the top- 20 thanks to this victory.

In SIU’s next matchup, Southeastern Missouri State will travel to Saluki Stadium in search of its second win of the season.

If SIU performs well in that game and earns a third win on the year, it could be on its way to a very special season, and it will be a lot of fun for all of us at SIU to watch.

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

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