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Saluki Football vaults back into contention for MVFC title

October 14, 2012

By Tom Weber
Saluki Media Services

Saturday’s 34-31 win over Northern Iowa was one of the most thrilling Saluki football games in a series between two schools that has produced many heart-pounding moments. Both teams rallied from big deficits. Both teams made huge, spectacular plays. With every snap, you could sense the desperation of a must-win game on both sides. In the end, the Salukis all but eliminated UNI from post-season consideration and continued their improbable march toward contention for the MVFC title.

1. There were so  many turning points in the game, but none bigger than the shocking 100-yard fumble return by LB Bryan Presume. The play started with CB Terrell Wilson stripping UNI ballcarrier David Johnson just shy of the goal line. The ball landed in Presume’s hands, and after what seemed like an eternity, he lurched across the goal line at the opposite end of the field and collapsed in the end zone. The stadium went berserk. A touchdown by UNI would have given the Panthers a 15-point halftime lead. Instead, the game was tied, 21-21, and SIU had the momentum.

2. Credit SIU’s coaches for not getting caught up in the mayhem of the Presume touchdown and calmly deciding to go for the two-point conversion. They knew the Panthers were still in shock, and the coaches had a clever misdirection pass to TE Adam Fuehne designed just for the occasion.

3. Stats don’t tell you everything you need to know about a quarterback. How he performs in the clutch is often the best indicator. Case in point — Kory Faulkner’s passing numbers lately won’t wow you, yet the marathon 19-play, 58-yard scoring drive he engineered in the fourth quarter won the game for SIU. First, there was a critical 3rd-and-9 conversion when Faulkner hit MyCole Pruitt along the sideline to keep the drive moving. Then there were completions to Mulku Kalokoh, LaSteven McKinney and Ray Agnew that generated positive yardage. SIU converted a pair of fourth-down plays, before finally settling for Austin Johnson’s game-winning field goal from 24 yards out. Faulkner showed he can lead the team when a game is on the line.

4. Dale Lennon’s first instinct was to kick the field goal when facing 4th-and-1 at the UNI 10 and 2:41 remaining in the game. During the timeout, the offense convinced him otherwise, and he sent the unit back onto the field, where Kalokoh squeezed out a 1-yard gain. It was the right call on multiple levels. One — it gave the offense an opportunity to build confidence in itself. The defense has been carrying the team, and this was the offense’s turn to create its own identity. Two — that confidence will help the team in a similar situation somewhere down the road in the final four games as it contends for a conference title. Three — practically speaking, it allowed SIU to burn 90 more seconds of clock time, leaving UNI in desperation mode for their final possession.

5. With eight touchdowns, RB Mika’il McCall has accounted for more than half of the offense’s 15 TDs this season. During the final drive, he had just one carry, converting a 4th down by picking up two yards, but nearly fumbling for the second time in the game. He was chastised by an offensive lineman for not taking care of the football and did not return to the game thereafter. McCall is still not at 100 percent after spraining an ankle two weeks ago and concerns about ball security prompted the coaches to go with Steve Strother and Kalokoh down the stretch. Still, this team needs McCall to return to his earlier form.

Salukis celebrate a 34-31 win over UNI.

6. The Salukis had two linemen get hurt on the final drive. G Richard Wilson cramped up, but later returned. LT Clayton Melville limped off and did not return. The Salukis don’t have a lot of depth on the line and can’t afford injuries. The line is playing better each week and it needs to maintain its continuity.

7. UNI’s final possession turned out to be scary for SIU, because a long kickoff return, plus an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave UNI the ball at Southern’s 39 with 50 seconds to go. Defensive coordinator Bubba Schweigert wasn’t going to let UNI QB Sawyer Kollmorgen just pick them apart. He came with the blitz. First, OLB Jayson DiManche picked up his team-high fifth sack of the season. A panicky Kollmorgen was then dumped by blitzing OLB Kevin Reed on second down, causing a fumble that was recovered by UNI. For good measure, Schweigert turned OLB Tyler Williamson loose on fourth down, and he pressured the QB into throwing a harmless incompletion.

8. Faulkner averaged 37 pass attempts per game in the first five games, but that average is down to about 20 in the last two games. The coaches feel that excessive passing behind a still-developing offensive line is a bad combination. Faulkner hasn’t thrown an interception in the last two games, and while the offense hasn’t been explosive, at least it’s not handing points to the opposition.

9. Conversely, SIU has had back-to-back season highs in rushing attempts the last two weeks with 47 and 49, respectively. The coaches are convinced they must run the ball to be successful. To that end, they’ve added lots of new wrinkles to the running game — draws, misdirections and motion — to confuse defenses. When you can’t line up and run over people, sometimes you have to disguise your intentions.

10. There was nothing specific in the game plan for Kory Faulkner to rush 14 times for 73 yards. Those plays just naturally presented themselves. However, the coaches have been encouraging the athletic Faulkner to use the pocket, step up and move around, thereby creating throwing lanes and the opportunity to run, if needed.

11. For the second week in a row, the punt-block team has come up big. This time it was Ken Boatright who pushed through the wall of blockers to get his mitt on the ball. Southern’s coaches had noticed that UNI punter Kyle Bernard had a tendency to get too close to his last line of defense, and Boatright was able to get just enough penetration to disrupt the kick.

12. If you want to re-live the excitement of the game from a different angle, check out the Photo Gallery on the official website.

13. After starting the conference season 1-1, including a modest win over Missouri State and a lopsided loss to Indiana State, the Salukis have quickly righted the ship. Unlike last season, they haven’t succumbed to the concept of losing, as evidenced by the team’s stunning victories over Illinois State and UNI. Now, they face the daunting prospect of playing at Youngstown State (which beat Pittsburgh earlier this year) and at defending National Champion North Dakota State the next two weeks. If they survive that challenge with title hopes intact, the Salukis return home to face South Dakota State, which is 5-1 overall and atop the league standings at 3-0.

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