Salukis, Redbirds ready to renew rivalry in conference opener
Friday at 5:45 am
Rivals Illinois State and Southern Illinois have not met on the field since 2019, so Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams may have an extra spark.
While SIU played one game non-conference game last fall, both teams competed in the spring MVFC season. However, Illinois State cut its spring short because of an injury-decimated roster, and the Redbirds and Salukis scheduled April 3 game in Normal was subsequently canceled.
Yet, both coaches are downplaying any added intensity.
“Honestly I don’t think so,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said during Monday’s media address. “There’s nothing we can do about that. It’s 2021, that’s what I talked to our team about going into this season.
“That spring season is over. They (ISU) don’t care about that. We don’t care about that. When the ball gets kicked off nobody is going to be thinking about whether we played last year, they (ISU) stopped playing or any of that. It will have zero effect on this game, so if we let our minds go to anything that has an effect on the game then we’re not going to play as good.”
ISU head coach Brock Spack said, “It’s no surprise, but this is probably the best team they’ve (SIU) had in awhile. Defensively, they’re improved and they play hard. They rotate guys and they get after it up front . . . They’ll be a handful.”
Each team enters the game with a 2-1 record with each being defeated by an FBS opponent in week two.
Sizing up the Redbirds
Illinois State is fresh off a 31-24 victory at Eastern Illinois that made Spack the Redbirds’ all-time leader in coaching wins.
“That was a very gritty win down in Charleston. We’ve been through a few of those game with Eastern there; they’re never easy,” Spack said.
ISU lost starting quarterback Bryce Jefferson to a first half shoulder injury and is “doubtful” to play at SIU, according to Spack. Backup Jackson Waring helped lead the Redbirds past EIU with a rushing touchdown and a 5-for-7 passing performance.
Redshirt freshman running back Cole Mueller ran for 144 yards on 16 carries in the win over EIU.
Defenisve back Jarrel Jackson returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown in the victory.
Defensive lineman Braydon Deming, a transfer from Montana, was named MVFC defensive player of the week. Deming tied for the team lead with 10 tackles, added a crucial sack late in the game and tallied four tackles for loss in the victory over the Panthers.
ISU, however, came out of the game with more injuries. In addition to Jefferson, the Redbirds also lost defensive end Brandon Simon to a leg fracture. Spack said that he is likely out for the season.
The offensive line, already playing without tackle Peyton Asche (knee) after an injury against Western Michigan, saw center Drew Bones limp off the field late in the Eastern game.
Sizing up the Salukis
SIU, ranked No. 7 in this week’s STATS FCS poll, is coming off a 55-3 dousing of Dayton.
A home crowd of 7,338 watched the Salukis roll to their most lopsided win since beating Mississippi Valley State by the same score in 2017.
“It’s a really good offense,” Spack said of SIU. “They’ve always been difficult to defend.”
Southern’s 658 total yards were the sixth-most in school history and included 406 yards on the ground. Javon Williams led SIU with 123 rushing yards, including 73 on a first-quarter TD run.
The one-sided victory over Dayton allowed Hill to remove most of his starters in the third quarter and every player who dressed for the game saw playing time.
“Those backups are getting some valuable playing time,” Hill said. “A lot of guys are going to have to make contributions for us and you don’t know if it’s going to be Week 4, 5 6. We’ll be better for them getting that playing time early in the season.”
Asked what knowledge he’s gained from his team’s first three games, Hill said, “I don’t know if we learned anything that we didn’t know. From our time together in training camp, maybe we’re seeing some individual things, but we’re not too far off of what we thought we’d be.”
The Salukis will be without All-American defensive back James Caesar, who announced on Twitter that his injured shoulder requires surgery and he will miss the rest of the season. Caesar is expecting to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft, according to The Southern Illinoisian‘s Todd Hefferman.
Southern leads the series 41-38-3. However, Illinois State has won five of the last six meetings . . . The last meeting was in 2019 when the Redbirds won 21-7 . . . The teams had met every season since 1969 until ISU opted out of the teams’ scheduled April 3 game in Normal . . . It is SIU’s second longest series. The longest is versus Southeast Missouri (89 meetings) . . . The Salukis are 24-17-1 against the Redbirds in Carbondale.
Where to find the game
Illinois State at Southern Illinois Saturday, Sept. 25. Kickoff at 2 p.m. The game can be found on ESPN+ and on WJBC1230 AM & 102.1 FM (ISU radio) & at CILFM.com (SIU radio).