Salukis stoked to face another Top 10 Missouri Valley opponent
Saturday at 4:13 am
Playing an all-Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule this spring brings a different challenge each week for Southern Illinois.
The schedule also brings opportunity for the Salukis (3-1 overall, 2-1 MVFC), who are ranked No. 10 in this week’s STATS Perform national poll.
“When you keep winning big games, it allows you to keep playing in big games,” junior linebacker Bryson Strong said. “We’re excited more than anything.”
On Saturday at noon (ESPN+), SIU hosts No. 4 Northern Iowa, which brings the nation’s seventh-ranked scoring defense to Carbondale.
“They always play great defense,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “They play extremely hard. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”
In three games, the Panthers (2-1) have allowed only three touchdowns on defense. Only one of those scores has been on the ground.
The Salukis, on the other hand, have scored nine rushing TDs and are piling up 180.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks third in the MVFC and 25th nationally.
In addition, SIU averages a conference-leading 21.8 first downs per game.
They also have the biggest win in the nation this spring, beating then-No. 1 and defending national champion North Dakota State.
Despite their defensive prowess, UNI’s offense is ninth in the conference at 267 yards a game.
But when it comes to opponents, the Salukis are less concerned with the team across the sidelines each weekend.
“We’re pretty confident in what we do here, and we’re just going to keep trucking,” Strong said. “We worry about us.”
SIU offense on a roll
The SIU offensive attack is third in the MVFC with 27.2 points and 379.8 yards a game.
Sophomore running back Romier Elliott ranks second in the conference with 75.5 yards per game. He is averaging 4.8 yards a carry and has three rushing touchdowns.
Fellow sophomore Javon Williams Jr. is tied for the MVFC lead with five rushing touchdowns.
Quarterback Nic Baker, who is filling in for the injury Kare’ Lyles, has the second-best pass efficiency rating in the league (141.3). Baker’s favorite target, former high school teammate Avante Cox, ranks 12th nationally with 355 receiving yards.
Beware in the air
Saturday’s game will showcase two of the nation’s top pass defenses.
SIU ranks fifth in the nation against the pass, allowing 106 yards per game. Senior cornerback James Ceasar leads the Salukis with six pass breakups.
UNI ranks seventh nationally with 109 passing yards allowed. Eight different players have at least one pass breakup for the Panthers.
Where to find the game
The game will kick off at noon Saturday, March 13 in Carbondale and air on ESPN+. The radio broadcast is available at www.CILFM.com.