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Saluki Football — A look back, a look ahead

November 19, 2012

Scott Gierman
Saluki Media Services

Won 6, Lost 5. That’s how the 2012 Saluki Football season will be represented in next year’s media guide, but that doesn’t begin to describe how close the season was to greatness.

After Saturday’s 35-0 win over Western Illinois, Coach Dale Lennon said he thought it was a must-win game for SIU. He stressed to the team in the week leading up to the season finale that it was a statement game. It was a chance to finish in the top half of what most consider the nation’s best FCS conference. It was a chance to send the seniors out on top, enter the offseason with a lingering smile and show the Missouri Valley and the nation that Saluki Football is headed back in the right direction.

The margin between the Salukis and the playoffs this season was two conference losses, on consecutive weekends, to North Dakota State and South Dakota State on Oct. 20 and 27. SIU held a fourth quarter lead in both games. If the Salukis won either of those games, they would’ve finished tied for second in the MVFC instead of tied for third, and if they won both of those games, they would’ve won the conference outright.

After a 0-2 start, the most remarkable aspect of this season was how quickly and impressively SIU was able to reverse its fortunes due to the play of the defense.

In the first two games of the season, Southern allowed 10 touchdowns and 79 total points. With the Valley as stacked as it’s been in years, some had already written off the Salukis’ season. No one could predict that Southern Illinois would finish the year leading the conference with 35 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries and 24 forced turnovers. It was also the first team in program history to shutout two conference opponents.

The Salukis ended the season with a 35-0 win over Western Illinois in the Blackout Cancer game.

The momentum for the season dramatically shifted in Week Six at Illinois State.  Entering the game with a 2-3 record and matched up with the No. 9 team in the nation, SIU seemed to be facing long odds. However, the Salukis made a statement. They took control of the game with a blocked punt in the first quarter and shut out the potent Redbird offense in a 17-0 win. That started a three-game winning streak and served notice that SIU was a contender within the conference.

In addition to the blocked punt at Illinois State, SIU blocked three more punts on the season and returned three of the four for touchdowns. The Salukis also had a 100-yard fumble return and a 100-yard interception return in back-to-back weeks. Week after week, SIU defused the explosive offenses of its conference opponents, surrendering just over 15 points per game in the Valley. In fact, the Saluki defense and special teams scored nine touchdowns and averaged seven points per game.

When honors and awards are announced in the coming days and weeks, it will be interesting to see how many SIU players’ names are called because it was not a defense that relied on one or two stars to make big plays. Every week it was a different player making the game-changing play, and it wasn’t limited to the starters. SIU had three players win MVFC weekly honors this year, and only one of them was a starter. Tyler Williamson won Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Illinois State when he replaced an injured Jayson DiManche. Safety Anthony Thompson was second on the depth chart when he earned Newcomer of the Week honors with three takeaways in the Youngstown State game.

Looking ahead to next season, SIU will lose most of its front seven, with the lone exception of leading tackler Bryan Presume. Impact players such as Williamson are waiting in the wings, however. In 2013, it will be the offense’s turn step up. Quarterback Kory Faulkner will be a senior with a year and a half experience as a starter under his belt. Tight end MyCole Pruitt will be back for his junior season and have a chance to break virtually every Saluki tight end receiving record in the books. Receivers John Lantz and LaSteven McKinney will return as well. The Salukis will also look for more consistent production from Mika’il McCall out of the backfield after he showed flashes of brilliance in his first year with the Dawgs.

However, for the playmakers on offense to succeed, they will need the offensive line to continue to improve. The Salukis will only lose one senior in Richard Wilson from the starting offensive line, and they will have eight returners on the line from the two-deep roster next fall.

In the next few months, the coaching staff will finalize its recruiting class for 2013, followed by spring ball, summer workouts and ultimately the 2013 season. In college football, the season never really ends.

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One Comment
  1. bill mcgraw permalink

    AMEN!~ I had the good fortune to attend the Western game and it is a tribute to the entire team that they conducted themselves admirably to make their”statement” about SALUKI football. Thanks for a great season and best to the seniors in their future careers. BILL MCGRAW CLASS OF 1969!

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