Saluki football hosts rival Illinois State for Homecoming


Ryan Michalesko

Football fans fill the stands during the Salukis’ 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium.

By Nathan Dodd

The annual tilt between SIU football and the No. 15 Illinois State Redbirds takes place in the midst of a grand Homecoming celebration Saturday in and around Saluki Stadium.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference match-up will feature a Redbirds squad that remains unbeaten in MVFC play. In search of their first conference win, the Salukis will try to defend their turf and send ISU back Normal with an unsatisfied feeling.



Team Histories

Saturday’s game will be the 80th overall meeting between the two storied Illinois schools. In the history of the series with Illinois State, SIU claims a 23-16-1 home record and leads the overall series with a record of 40-36-3.

The Redbirds have been victorious in the last three meetings against the Salukis, including a 31-28 win a season ago in Hancock Stadium.

Saturday’s battle will be the first time that SIU hosts Illinois State for a Homecoming game since Saluki Stadium was opened in replacement of McAndrew Stadium in 2010.

A scan shows part of the Daily Egyptian front page from Oct. 28, 1938, discussing the plans for the dedication of McAdrew Stadium

The last time that the Salukis and Redbirds met in Carbondale during Homecoming was back in 2009 during the final season at McAndrew Stadium. SIU — ranked No. 6 at the time — rolled over ISU with a 43-23 victory. Saluki senior running back Deji Karim had a historic game with 273 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the contest. SIU also put up the fourth-most total yards in program history with 613 against the Redbirds.

The Illinois State football team played its first game in 1887. It was not until 1937 that ISU was assigned to the classification of the NCAA College Division, which they competed in until 1972. From 1973-75, the Redbirds were classified as part of NCAA Division II before being moved to NCAA Division I in 1976-77.

Their status once again changed for the 1978-81 seasons, when they were a part of the NCAA Division 1-A. Along with SIU and the rest of the MVFC, the Redbirds now are a part of NCAA Division 1-AA/FCS series.


The Saluki football program, who played its first season in 1905, shares a similar series of classifications with ISU. The only difference in the teams’ history is from 1973-77; while ISU bounced between Division I and II, the Salukis remained constant as a Division I team.

Both schools have also shared a variety of conference memberships in their history — making them familiar foes.

Until 1924, the Redbirds and Salukis both competed as Independents with no conference affiliation. From 1925-49 the squads played as members of the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. In 1950, the schools became a part of the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, with Southern remaining a member of the IIAC until 1961 with ISU staying put until 1969.

The clubs remained in limbo through the 1972 season, once again playing as Independents from 1973-76. The Salukis were a Division I Independent while ISU competed as a Division II Independent during that time.

In 1977, SIU cemented itself as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, and Illinois State joined SIU in the MVC in the 1981 season. From 1985 to now, both squads have been featured members of the Gateway Football and Missouri Valley Football Conferences.

As members of the MVFC, the Salukis have claimed five conference titles — third most in MVFC history. Illinois State has accomplished the feat three times — most recently repeating in 2014 and 2015 in a tie with North Dakota State.

Daily Egyptian File Photo
McAndrew Stadium, the former home of SIU football, torn down after the 2009 season. The last Homecoming meeting between SIU and ISU took place here on Oct. 10, 2009, with the Salukis winning 43-23.

This Season’s Matchup

The Redbirds bring five preseason All-MVFC honorees to Carbondale in a matchup with seven Salukis who were given the same honor.

SIU boasts a pair of All-MVFC Honorable Mention defensive backs in senior Craig James and sophomore Jeremy Chinn to match up against ISU junior wide receiver Spencer Schnell. The defensive duo will have a tough task in handling Schnell, who has amassed 27 catches for 344 receiving yards for an average of 70 yards-per-game as a part of an ISU offense that averages an impressive 32.6 points per matchup.

The ISU secondary features a defensive back duo of seniors Devontae Harris and Alec Kocour, tasked with matching up against junior SIU receivers Darrell James and Raphael Leonard along with senior Connor Iwema. James is third in the MVFC with his five touchdown receptions to go along with 23 catches for 343 yards. Leonard and Iwema have also combined for another five Saluki TD grabs.

The ISU defense ranks towards the top of the MVFC, allowing a minuscule average of 14.4 points per game to opponents while limiting them to under 220 yards per contest. To be successful against the stout Redbirds defense this weekend, the Saluki offense is going to have to be diverse and get results through the air and on the ground to keep ISU guessing.

The challenge does not get any easier this week for SIU junior running back Daquan Isom. After a small workload against SDSU, Isom must face a tough front seven for the Redbirds that has only allowed 239 total rushing yards to opponents this season while forcing their opponents to lose 200 yards on the ground.

Senior offensive tackle Austin Olsen – a preseason All-MVFC First Team honoree — and the rest of the Saluki offensive line will have to come together to protect its junior starting quarterback Sam Straub. The Redbirds bring an aggressive defensive pass rush that ranks second in the MVFC with 18 total quarterback sacks.

When comfortable — and able to stand in the pocket — Straub has been an effective offensive threat. The junior is tied for second in the MVFC with 13 total TD passes this season. Pressure from defenses and bad decisions at times have resulted in six interceptions and a 53 percent completion rate for Straub.

If there was a game for SIU to go quarterback hunting and ballhawk for interceptions, this will be it. Illinois State’s junior starting quarterback Jake Kolbe has completed an impressive 60 percent of his passes for a 135.6 QB rating this season. However, Kolbe has already thrown five interceptions of his own to compare to only seven TD tosses on the season.

Silencing the ISU defense and protecting the ball with limited turnovers are the keys to the game for the Salukis according to head coach Nick Hill. If SIU’s offense can figure out a way to overcome a dynamic Illinois State defense, Saluki fans may be in for a treat during Saturday’s Homecoming clash.

Sports reporter Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

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