Can Salukis outrace Jackrabbits in Top 10 FCS road showdown?
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Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference showdown between Southern Illinois and South Dakota State has all the makings of one of the top FCS games of the season.
It’s the No. 2-ranked SDSU Jackrabbits hosting the No. 7 Salukis in a Missouri Valley Football Conference game.
South Dakota State is 4-0 overall and 1-0 in MVFC play. Southern Illinois is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference.
The game is a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal playoff game in Brookings, S.D. in which the Jackrabbits rallied from a 20-7 deficit to edge SIU, 31-26. The Jackrabbits have won the last six meetings between the schools.
The Salukis are bidding to open conference play with three-straight wins for the first time since 2009.
SIU wide receiver Avante Cox is questionable for the game, while center Calvin Francis is not expected to play against South Dakota State.
Chasing the Jackrabbits
The Jackrabbits finished the unprecedented spring FCS season as the national runners-up, losing the title game to Sam Houston State.
SDSU features a punishing run attack led by senior back Pierre Strong.
The Jackrabbits have overcome the losses of running back Isaiah Davis and freshman sensation quarterback Mark Gronowski — an Illinois native who was injured in the spring national championship game.
Strong averages 8.8 yards a carry this season.
“We’ve gotta continue to do the same things that we preach all the time,” SIU coach Nick Hill told The Southern Illinoisan‘s Todd Hefferman. “(Strong) is gonna have some yards. We just gotta get him tackled. He really lives off explosive plays. I mean, he’s got a knack. When you look back to his big days, he rips off some big runs, and so, we gotta tackle well. We’ve gotta be in position.”
SDSU’s offensive line averages 303 pounds and is a junior-laden group. Right tackle Garret Greenfield was the league’s offensive lineman of the week after a 44-0 demolition of Indiana State in the Jackrabbits’ lone MVFC game to date.
South Dakota State also boasts twin receivers Jadon and Jaxon Janke. Both stand 6-foot-3 and have combined for 21 catches for 410 yards and four touchdowns. While Jadon has three touchdown catches, Jaxon averages 24.1 yards per reception.
The Jackrabbits have three receivers with three touchdowns each, including top pass-catching tight end Tucker Kraft.
In Gronowski’s absence, SDSU has turned to transfer quarterback Chris Oladokun. The 6-foot-2 graduate transfer began his career at FBS South Florida before playing two seasons at Samford.
Oladokun has completed 50-of-80 passes for 721 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He has yet to be intercepted.
Saturday’s game marks the 13th meeting on the gridiron between SDSU and SIU, but the third time in less than seven months that the two squads have played each other.
South Dakota State holds a 9-3 series advantage. The Jackrabbits have won each of the last six meetings and nine of the last 10.
News & notes
Southern Illinois was 3-1 vs. Top 5 ranked teams in 2020-21. The lone loss came at No. 2 SDSU in the FCS playoffs . . . The last time the Salukis started 2-0 in the MVFC was 2014 . . . Though he’s played just 11 games in his Saluki career, SIU quarterback Nic Baker is in 18th place on SIU’s career passing yards list with 2,035 passing yards . . . Running back Javon Williams Jr. ranks 14th on SIU’s career rushing yards list with 1,843 yards and may be the key to the Salukis’ success Saturday.
Where to find the game
Southern Illinois at South Dakota State, Saturday, Oct. 9. Kickoff at 2 p.m. The game can be found on ESPN+ and at CILFM.com (SIU radio).