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Odds and ends from Western Illinois

October 2, 2011

By Tom Weber
Saluki Media Services

Saturday’s loss to Western Illinois was particularly frustrating because it appeared SIU had momentum heading into a possible overtime. The team had rallied from a 14-point deficit, its running game was unstoppable, and the anxiety in the stadium was building. Had Southern properly defended the sideline pass to Terriun Cump that resulted in a 77-yard touchdown, Western would likely have taken a knee to run out the fourth-quarter clock on the next play.

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After losing to UNI the week before, Western Illinois played like a team with its back against the wall. They made a radical departure from their typical game plan by using the no-huddle offense. That strategy enabled the Leathernecks to create mismatches in the passing game, which they exploited for two quick passing strikes of 44 and 36 yards on the first series. Southern adjusted quickly to the no-huddle, but WIU had seized the early momentum.

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With Jewel Hampton in the backfield, the Saluki running game was dominant. I have not seen a Saluki tailback break that many tackles in a game since Brandon Jacobs in 2004. He got better as the game wore on, piling up 90 of his 146 yards in the second half. By the fourth quarter, Western’s defense had reached its breaking point.

Notably, SIU trailed, 14-0, before Hampton attempted his first carry. Look for Southern to get him involved in the game more quickly this week against North Dakota State.

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Coach Lennon will provide an update on Paul McIntosh’s shoulder during his Monday press conference. The only good news is that he injured his non-throwing shoulder.

In his absence, Kory Faulkner performed very well. In fact, the strategy didn’t change much, since the 6-foot-4, 214-pound sophomore is an excellent runner, just like McIntosh. In fact, Faulkner consistently tests as one of the top athletes on the team and is the fastest of the team’s three quarterbacks.

Kory Faulkner saw his first significant action as a Saluki quarterback on Saturday

Faulkner had the wind knocked out of him on a wicked shot in the second quarter. He left the field for two plays and was replaced by A.J. Hill. The Salukis only dress three quarterbacks on the road, and if they needed to go to a fourth, safety Mike McElroy would get the call.

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The Salukis shot themselves in the foot too many times with missed tackles and penalties. On Western’s second drive, SIU had the Leathernecks in a 3rd-and-12 situation, but a missed tackle near the line of scrimmage allowed Charles Chestnut to break loose for 36 yards. The drive ended in a touchdown for Western. On SIU’s next drive, it started at the Western Illinois 36, thanks to a great kickoff return by Steve Strother. But a personal foul penalty two plays later stalled the drive. Western’s third touchdown came on a quick slant pass to Crump. A missed tackle turned what should have been a short gain into a 24-yard TD. In the fourth quarter, SIU recovered a fumble at the Western 29, but another personal foul backed the offense up 15 yards and the drive produced no points.

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It was not a mistake for Southern to punt the ball on 4th-and-1 at its own 31 with the score tied and 1:05 remaining in the game. The Salukis were 0-for-2 on fourth down conversions in the game. If they didn’t get the first down, Western would have been in range for the winning field goal. Also, SIU had no timeouts left, so even if it converted on fourth down, the odds of scoring were slim. Austin Pucylowski then launched a 54-yard punt that pinned the Leathernecks at their own 15. The strategy was correct and should have resulted in overtime.

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Despite giving up 307 yards passing and the game-winning score, the defense was not without its bright spots. The pass rush continues to produce big plays, with five sacks and a fumble. Western averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. The defense has to eliminate the big play breakdowns.

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Saturday’s game against North Dakota State is critical for Southern’s hopes of winning a conference title. NDSU is one of three undefeated teams in the league. UNI and Indiana State are the others. The Salukis control their own destiny since they still play all three.

Safety Mike McElroy said it best, “it’s deflating, but right now you have to focus on the next game. You can’t change the outcome of this one. We have to put this one out of our memory, because North Dakota State is going to really come after us.”

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