4-1 Salukis still need to improve

4-1 Salukis still need to improve

By Tony McDaniel

Saluki football pulled a win in its first conference game Saturday night, but only looked decent in the first half.

In the victory over Western Illinois University SIU had to lean on a strong second half performance for its fourth win. This has been a theme for the team all season long.

In the second half of games, the Salukis outscore opponents 83-13, but in the first half of games, they haven’t showed the same killer instinct.

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Three times this season the team has trailed going into halftime.

Head coach Dale Lennon said he wants to be a four-quarter team instead of just a second-half team after the loss to Purdue University. They were still not a four-quarter team in Saturday’s game.

The Salukis trailed for part of the first half and went into the half behind 14-10.

It is hard to explain why the Salukis are so good in the second half. Lennon said a football game is a process and he learns things about the other team throughout.

“You do kind of figure out what they’re doing on offense and defense as the game progresses,” he said. “You just try to counteract their game plan.”

The reason for the Salukis’ second-half dominance may not be the players on the field, but the men on the sideline. Lennon and his coaching staff seem to make all the right adjustments to get the team clicking.

The Salukis also seem better conditioned than their opponents this season. This was evident against Western Illinois when its no-huddle offense wore the Leathernecks out, but not the Salukis.

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“The second half felt like we had more energy,” sophomore linebacker Chase Allen said. “We had more, I guess, desire to win and it seemed like it showed toward the end.”

The Salukis will need to be equally good in both halves the next few games. In the next three weeks the Salukis will run into No. 1 North Dakota State University, and No. 12 Youngstown State University. Those teams will make the Salukis pay if they are slow out of the gates.

SIU is a good team, but have to put all four quarters together to be a great team.

The Salukis’ rushing game, which was dominant to start the season, has been anything but dominant the last two weeks.

Senior running back Malcom Agnew hasn’t been as explosive. In the first three games Agnew averaged 150 rushing yards; he has just 94 yards combined in the last two games.

Senior running back Mika’il McCall has still been a nice change of pace running back. He led the Salukis in rushing against Western Illinois, but left the game late with an injury.

Lennon said McCall is banged up after the game, but did not give any specifics on his injury. If McCall does have to miss time Agnew, or another running back, will have to fill the void.

Luckily for the Salukis their All-American tight end is playing out of his mind.

Senior MyCole Pruitt has 35 catches, 412 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is on his way to his best season at SIU.

The Salukis have been able to lean on Pruitt in the last two games when the rushing attack has been lackluster. Pruitt has 19 catches, 242 yards and 2 touchdowns just in the last two games.

As long as he remains healthy he will shatter his previous season bests in yards, catches and scores. Pruitt will certainly be in the conversation for postseason awards.

The Saluki special teams deserve a mention as well. Each week the unit is impressive.

Seniors Tay Willis and LaSteven McKinney have been fantastic on returns. McKinney is just 20 yards away from his personal record, 170 punt return yards in a season. He is averaging 18.9 yards a return.

Willis has 321 kick return yards and is averaging 32 yards a return. The only thing more amazing than Willis’ play in the return game is that opposing teams still kick to him.

Both players have come close to return touchdowns and are giving the Salukis offense great starting field position.

Freshman punter Nick Neidig also had a tremendous game Saturday. He punted the ball 4 times for 207 yards, including a 75-yard punt, the fifth longest in SIU history.

SIU has plenty to build on going forward, but has to continue to improve. The schedule will only get tougher starting this Saturday against the University of South Dakota.

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

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