In the War Room with Warfel: Saluki football trending up

By Adam Warfel, Sports Editor

We are now three games into the Saluki football season and as of right now, things are trending up for football at SIU.

Southern beat their first FBS opponent since 2007 in week two against UMASS, and they beat UT Martin this weekend at home.

The win against UT Martin marked the first home win for SIU since October of 2017. 

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Over 8,900 fans came to see the win, which was the largest attendance at Saluki Stadium since Homecoming in 2016 against Indiana State.

Three games in, it is still hard to identify what this team will look like at the end of the season, but one thing is for sure.

When freshman running back Javon Williams Jr. is on the field, Southern is a better team offensively, especially with the likes of senior running back DJ Davis piling up yards with him.

Williams is a spark to this offense, and that, on top of what looks to be an improved defense from last year, makes this a fun team to watch.

Watching the game on Saturday, Williams’ athleticism can truly be seen on a play in the third quarter when he was running the ball and literally leapt over his defender.

A UT Martin player attempted to do the same on their next possession, and he was pummeled by two Southern defenders.

In week two against the Minutemen, it was Williams’ 85-yard catch that ended with a touchdown. This got the scoring started for the Salukis as they reeled off 35 unanswered points.

With SIU down 14-0 in the second quarter, Williams put up 52 yards on the ground for Southern’s scoring drive to cut the Skyhawks’ lead in half.

Davis has also played well in his first three games of the season, having put up 311 rushing yards on the season so far.

The biggest change in SIU football from last year to this year is how much the defense has improved; granted, we are three games in and a lot can change still.

The defense looked porous in their first game against SEMO, but since allowing that first touchdown to UMASS in the first quarter, they have stepped up.

They have held opponents to 468 rushing yards through three games, take away the 281 yards they gave up to the Redhawks, and that’s 187 rushing yards.

In comparison, last season they gave up 463 rushing yards through three games, but that includes the Murray State game where the defense held the Racers to 87 rushing yards.

One of the biggest problems last season was the rush defense. While the numbers may seem similar to last season, I believe there is hope for a turnaround.

Consider the fact that after the first quarter in both the UMASS and UT Martin games, Southern scored 35 and 28 unanswered points.

For a defense that is returning 10 of their 11 starters from last season, if they can continue the success they have had the last two games in particular this team could put the Valley on watch.

If SIU can go on the road and beat a good FBS program in Arkansas State and head into their bye week 3-1, I believe there could be some definite buzz around SIU football.

So far this year, the program has made a couple steps forward, but let’s hope they don’t take two steps back in their next two games before returning home.

If the Dawgs can return to Saluki Stadium with a 3-2 or even 4-1 record in the game against Illinois State on October 12th, I would expect another record attendance.

The keys to do that, from what I’ve seen in this team so far, is establish the run game and let the defense do their business.

Adam Warfel, Sports Editor, can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.

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