Daily Egyptian

Salukis set sights on Indiana State following first MVFC victory

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Nathan Dodd

Following a stunning victory in Carbondale last Saturday, SIU football will attempt to reach .500 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference when they travel to Indiana State University on Saturday.

Homecoming at SIU culminated with a convincing 42-7 Saluki victory over No. 15 Illinois State University to earn the Dawgs their first MVFC win of the season.

The 0-6 Indiana State Sycamores are trying to accomplish exactly what SIU did last week — claim their first MVFC victory. In 2016, the ISU Sycamores spoiled the SIU Homecoming with a 22-14 win. This year, the Salukis will try to turn the tables when they travel to Terre Haute, Indiana.

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Despite their host owning a winless season thus far, SIU head coach Nick Hill and the rest of the Salukis will not take the Sycamores lightly as Indiana State’s record may not depict an accurate picture of their competitiveness.

“They’ve had a few really tough games,” Hill said. “They could have a few wins. They’ve played a lot of teams really close.”

Of the six teams that ISU battled this season, five of them have been nationally ranked in either the FBS or FCS. Saturday’s game against SIU will be only the second time this season that the Sycamores will not square off against a ranked team.

“It’s a tough league,” Hill said. “We lost our first five games in the conference last year and we felt like we had a good team. They’re a good football team.”

Indiana State features an offense that has two quarterbacks capable of getting the nod to start against SIU. Last season it was then-sophomore quarterback Isaac Harker who was under center for the Sycamores in their trip to Carbondale. Along with Harker, Indiana State could turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Cade Sparks to run the offense.

“Harker’s just a gamer,” Hill said. “He makes things happen. The other one [Sparks] likes to sit in the pocket. They have played both of them in the last couple weeks, so we will have to be ready for both.”

The Salukis offensive explosion against Illinois State forces the Sycamores to prepare for an efficient aerial attack from SIU.

Named Co-MVFC Offensive Player of the Week, SIU junior starting quarterback Sam Straub is coming off arguably the best game of his collegiate career. Against a highly talented Illinois State defense, Straub threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns spread across three different Saluki receivers.

“We challenged [Straub] to be critical of himself in practice,” Hill said. “That’s what the best ones do.”

Neither Hill nor Straub were satisfied with the junior quarterback’s completion percentage in the previous weeks leading up to the Illinois State matchup. The team made an emphasis to increase Straub’s efficiency, leading to a 64.7 completion percentage on Saturday.

“Completions, completions, completions,” the Saluki head coach said. “You’re never going to get in trouble for a completion. We’re getting our playmakers the ball and eventually, our playmakers will make that guy miss.”

Having definitive offensive weapons at various positions is something that Hill and the Salukis take great pride in.

“We have playmakers all over the field,” Hill said. “If you have more answers out there on the field, you can do different things to set things up.”

The Saluki defense also took a step forward over the weekend, forcing five turnovers and five 3-and-outs. Three of the five turnovers came via the SIU secondary, with three different defensive backs claiming an interception in the game.

“We know what our strength is on defense — we’re athletic,” Hill said. “Indiana State likes to shift, motion and play with a few different personnel groupings. We have to be sharp this week and locked into the game plan.”

A win on Saturday will improve the Salukis to 2-2 in the MVFC and play a significant role in keeping the team’s postseason hopes alive.

“We said as a group that this was a must-win this week,” Hill said. “If we’re sitting here at 0-3 [MVFC] and 2-4 [overall], this is a different press conference with a different mentality. We would still be playing, but what’s on the line?”

SIU’s game against Indiana State will take place in Terre Haute, Indiana at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff for ISU’s Homecoming game is scheduled for 3 p.m.

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

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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