Delayed fall game gives SIU time to prepare and be diligent
today at 5:45 am
With Tuesday’s announcement that its lone fall game has been moved back a week, Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill’s Salukis have more time to prepare and more time to be diligent.
The annual game with regional rival Southeast Missouri State billed as the “War of the Wheel” — an homage to a series that dates back to 1909 when the teams crossed the Mississippi River by boat to play. This year’s matchup was originally scheduled for Oct. 23, but positive COVID-19 tests on the SEMO side caused the game to be pushed back seven days.
Hill shared that SIU had one positive test in its most recent results. Southern players and staff go through weekly tests.
“We can’t get tired of doing the right thing,” Hill said.
Practicing with caution
SIU has followed social distancing guidelines as much as possible “outside the white lines,” according to Hill.
“It’s like Pop Warner (youth football), everybody bring your water bottle to practice,” he said. “You give them water breaks and they go over and find a big jug that has their name on it and those type of things.”
However, “between the white lines, there’s really only one way to play football. You’re going to have to practice, and that’s what the testing and contact tracing and those things are for, to keep everybody safe,” Hill said.
At present, SIU players do not use the locker room. They instead get dressed for practice outside the stadium.
“We feel like we’ve done the best job we can outside the white lines of limiting everybody’s contact,” Hill said. “But once you get into 11-on-11, it looks pretty normal.”
Learning from others
The later date has also allowed Hill and his staff to learn from other college football programs that have played this fall.
“We get the opportunity to watch these guys go in front of us,” Hill said during last week’s media address.
The early fall games — often played without the benefit of full-contact fall camps — have been marred by sloppy play such as missed tackles, ball security issues and special teams gaffs.
There have also been unfortunate injuries.
“Tackling is such a big thing. We tackle in the games, so you have to practice, but then you want to get your team to the game as healthy as well,” Hill said.
As Hill elaborated, the fifth-year SIU head coach mentioned that in a “normal” year early-season games are often marred by shoddy tackling.
“That won’t change in this game,” he said. “We’ve got to be excellent teachers in finding unique ways of teaching tackling without putting our team at risk. Those things have gotten better with time and we do those things on a daily basis.”
In addition to live tackling, Hill said his staff has stressed drills and technique.
“It’s really on the player to hone into those details so when the game is live, they have the fundamentals to get players on the ground. That’s probably the biggest thing,” Hill said.
‘It’s a week at a time, a day at a time’
Hill showed the ability to be flexible and improvise when under pressure as a record-setting SIU quarterback. Today, as the head coach at his alma mater, he must do the same.
“In this day in age, I’ve been used to those (daily practice) schedules are in pretty light pencil, so you quickly get the eraser out and come up with a new schedule,” he said. “That’s really how we’ve been since the summer. It’s a week at a time, a day at a time.”
Why this game is important
In addition to regional bragging rights and a traveling trophy, this Friday night matchup at Saluki Stadium may well have implications on the spring season. Should SIU be fighting for one of the 16 spots in the FCS playoffs, this game may well be scrutinized as criteria.
“The importance of special teams and all those little details can come up in this game. You never now when those things are going to come up in a game, so you’ve got to practice them all,” Hill said.