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Reasons for optimism after loss to North Dakota State

October 9, 2011

By Tom Weber
Saluki Media Services

If you just looked at the final score (9-3), you wouldn’t know how well Southern played yesterday against the No. 4-ranked team in the country.

The first half was complete domination, as Southern moved the ball at will, while North Dakota State could not record a single first down. However, Southern’s 218-21 advantage in total yards never translated into a blowout on the scoreboard.

Every time SIU was about to put points on the board, the offense seemed to hit a brick wall. There was a goal-line stand, a failed fourth-down conversion deep in NDSU territory, a spectacular interception in the end zone, and a missed field goal.

“We probably got every bit of good fortune,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl.

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It would be easy in retrospect to criticize the play-calling when Southern had three cracks with the ball just inches away from the end zone on its opening drive. Two quarterback sneaks were stuffed, and Jewel Hampton was tripped up shy of the goal line on fourth down.

But as Coach Lennon explained afterward, the Bison have been superb in goal line defense this season. Film study from earlier in the week showed their ability to get backfield penetration.

SIU’s decision was simple and was not made on the spur of the moment. Take your athletic, 6-foot-4 quarterback and drive him into the end zone behind your stud center and offensive guards. It just didn’t work.

On fourth down, there was no hesitation to go for it. Hampton ran behind right tackle and appeared to dive across the stripe. The officials marked him down shy of the goal line. It’s a shame there is no instant replay in MVFC football.

“If I had to do it all over again I would,” Lennon said, of the call-playing sequence at the goal line. “You want to come out and you want to send a message that we’re going to play to win.”

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The Salukis played a disciplined game. Entering the game averaging six penalties per contest, SIU committed just two penalties against NDSU for 10 yards.

In fact, Southern was so well disciplined, it may have backfired on one situation. In the second quarter, OLB Travis Littles had Bison quarterback Brock Jensen dead to rights for a safety. Jensen made a pump fake, and Littles pulled up — not wanting to risk drawing the late-hit penalty. That allowed Jensen just enough time to throw the ball away.

There were other times when SIU was careful not to get baited into penalties. NT Kayon Swanson showed great discipline by pulling up on Jensen in the fourth quarter just as the quarterback was running out of bounds. If Swanson had hit him, he might have gotten away with it, but didn’t risk it.

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Kory Faulkner found little running room against North Dakota State

The Salukis aren’t the only ones watching film. After seeing Falukner burn Western Illinois for 70 yards on the ground last week, NDSU was extremely aware of Faulkner’s movements on the field. Many of the designed running plays for Faulkner were stuffed for no gain or a loss of yardage. On the day, he carried 13 times for 12 total yards. He had a long gain of 15, but the negative plays out-weighed the positives.

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Don’t be too hard on Faulkner for throwing three interceptions. Keep in mind it was his first start and he was going against the league’s best defense. He made a number of excellent throws. There were some drops as well. They weren’t lack-of-concentration drops — instead the defender just knocked the ball loose a split second after it appeared secure. NDSU has an outstanding secondary. A couple of those guys look like pros.

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Lennon said the offense had “more of a conservative game plan than what we like to do.” Part of that was due to Faulkner making his first start. Part of it was due to playing a defense like North Dakota State’s that forces you to take what little it gives you. The staff didn’t want to risk a bunch of downfield throws against the Bison secondary.

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SIU’s ball carriers did a fine job of protecting the football against the Bison — a team that creates a lot of turnovers. NDSU had defenders punching the ball and aggressively going for the strip, yet Southern did not lose a fumble. In fact, they’ve lost only one all season.

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Southern’s open-field tackling was the best it’s been all season. After a couple of weeks where the tackling was suspect, SIU’s defenders consistently wrapped up the ball carrier in the open field. They also gang-tackled the ball carrier better.

Outside linebacker Jayson Dimanche told me they had an up-tempo week of practice with much more contact than is usual for this time of year. Give the coaches credit for correcting a weakness.

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No one is more frustrated with himself than kicker Jackson MacLachlan. Since kicking the winning field goal against Missouri State two weeks ago, MacLachlan has missed chip shots from 28 yards out in each of the last two games.

He was remarkably consistent throughout training camp, so it may be a brief slump he’s going through. Kickers are often compared to golfers. Sometimes, the swing gets out of whack.

Lennon said the offense needs to get the ball inside the 20 yard line before he’ll attempt a field goal with MacLachlan. Twice, SIU was just outside of that range and was unable to score. They went for it on 4th-and-5 at the NDSU 25 in the first quarter and were unsuccessful. On 4th-and-7 at the NDSU 26 in the third quarter, backup kicker Chris Adams lined up to attempt a 43-yarder. Actually, the Salukis were going to have him take a direct snap from center and punt the ball, but they could not get the play off before the play clock expired. They wound up punting from the NDSU 31.

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