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Reflections on the Ole Miss game

September 11, 2011

By Tom Weber
Saluki Media Services

With the exception of a disastrous first quarter, Southern Illinois played a highly competitive game in a 42-24 loss at Mississippi on Saturday and should emerge from the contest with great confidence.

The worst nightmare of Dale Lennon came true in the opening period, as the Rebels scored three touchdowns in six minutes. The Salukis were teetering on their heels after Jeff Scott’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown made it 21-0, and a raucous crowd of 58,000 was settling in for a laugher.

“That punt return for a touchdown was disappointing because they had an all-out block on, and we had some guys free down the field and gave up the contain,” Lennon said. “I think the speed affected us to a degree and the atmosphere affected us to a degree. We did weather through it. There’s a lot of positives we can take out of this game.”

Not the least of which was outscoring Ole Miss, 24-21, the rest of the way and finishing with almost 100 more yards of total offense. When Paul McIntosh threw a touchdown pass to Cam Fuller that cut the deficit to 35-24 with six minutes to go, you could feel tension building in the stadium.

The Salukis then stuffed the Rebels in a quick three-and-out series, prompting a smattering of boos from an anxious crowd. It was punter Tyler Campbell who may have saved the day with a booming 49-yard punt that landed out of bounds at Southern’s 14. It was one long-field too many for SIU, which couldn’t sustain the momentum and went three-and-out.

“We know that we have heart on our team, and no matter what, we won’t stop playing,” said running back Steve Strother, who had his second career 100-yard rushing game. “We weren’t afraid of them at all. We know we can play with anybody.”

Saluki linebacker Jayson DiManche said the talent level between the teams was more narrow than one would expect.

“There wasn’t that much of a gap,” he said. “The size and depth were the biggest things. They were rolling guys the whole game. They had a lot of fresh legs in there.”

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The advantage in special teams clearly went to Mississippi. Besides Scott’s spectacular punt return, Campbell demonstrated a mastery of the rugby-style kick. He punted five times, and four of them pinned Southern deep, with SIU drives starting at their own 3, 6, 6 and 14 yard lines.

“They did a great job of kicking a ball that was almost impossible to field,” Lennon said. “We were kind of helpless with that.”

None of Campbell’s five punts were returnable.

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The Salukis are getting exactly what they hoped for from their running backs and wide receivers.

At tailback, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Strother is getting about 10 carries per game and has exploded for several big runs, as his 10.4 yard average shows. Jewel Hampton is a power back who can get the tough yards inside an opponent’s 20 with four rushing TDs already. A week ago, BYU could manage just 91 rushing yards against Ole Miss. Southern had 223.

At wide receiver, the sure-handed John Lantz has been effective in the slot, leading the team with seven catches. Fuller is the big-play man with a whopping 30.4 average per catch and two TDs. MyCole Pruitt, LaSteven McKinney and Luke Standiford have also flashed big-play ability.

Luke Standiford hauls in a 53-yard catch with Ole Miss corner Marcus Temple draped over his back.

Standiford’s 53-yard reception was remarkable. Ole Miss corner Marcus Temple was draped over Standiford’s back and used his left arm to block the receiver’s vision. Somehow, he held on. Likewise, Fuller made a phenomenal TD catch with Rebels corner Senquez Golson in tight coverage.

After two games, I’m sold on Southern’s receivers.

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The four interceptions by McIntosh were costly, but at least two of them were the result of great defense. The first pick was a terrific play by 6-foot-6 defensive end Wayne Dorsey, who batted a screen pass up in the air and caught his own deflection. The last interception came on a fade route to the end zone on third-down. Mac correctly identified the one-on-one coverage, but the defender made a great play.

The other two interceptions were overthrows that he’d like to have back, but as Coach Lennon said, the window for an open receiver is very brief against an SEC-caliber defense. There’s a big adjustment for the quarterback in a game like this.

On the plus side, McIntosh threw for 197 yards and two TDs, and he ran for 80 yards. He still looks like the man.

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Southern’s offensive line played incredibly well. It allowed just one sack for a loss of one yard. It opened up big holes in the running game. Even when key guys like David Pickard and Bryan Boemer had to sit out for a few series with cramps, the backups did a solid job.

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Coach Lennon will probably give an update on nose tackle Kayon Swanson’s ankle injury in tomorrow’s press conference. Let’s hope it’s not too serious, because it’s hard to imagine a more dominant nose tackle in college football than the way Swanson has played the last two weeks.

Nose tackles are supposed to absorb blocks — not put up flashy numbers. But Swanson leads SIU with 14 tackles, four for loss and two sacks. Ole Miss couldn’t block him.

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