High-powered offenses clash as SIU kicks off fall with nationally ranked foe

SIU wrapped up its fall camp Aug. 21 with a dress rehearsal scrimmage. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

By Dan Verdun

Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill will find out fast where his Salukis stand when they kick off the 2022 season in a non-conference battle of nationally ranked teams Saturday.

“I like it. I think it’s a great opportunity for our team,” Hill said on SIUSalukis.com. “I think that we’ve got to show our maturity and experience, going on the road, on a flight trip, going to a place we’ve never been before. We just have to be focused.

“Our job is to go out there and play the game, and play it at a high level, and come out of there with a win. That’s our only focus. You like being tested. You see those games all over the country, where you go out and test yourself, and play in a big-time game. We want to continue to schedule those games at SIU.”

SIU, which has made appearances in the last two FCS playoffs, is ranked No. 9 in both the AFCA Coaches Top 25 and the Stats Perform Top 25.

This week’s opponent

Incarnate Word, a private university in San Antonio, enters the game ranked 14th in both FCS polls. The Cardinals are coming off a 2021 season with a 6-0 record at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium, their second Southland Conference Championship and a trip to the second round of the FCS playoffs.

SIU running back Javon Williams Jr. likes the Saluki non-conference schedule that also includes the annual rivalry game with Southeast Missouri State and a trip to Northwestern.

“It’s going to set us up to see some good talent and learn some more of our weaknesses and just continue to work at our craft and become a better team, a better offense, a better defense and special teams too,” Williams Jr. said.

(6 p.m. kickoff, TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: link posted on SIUSalukis.com)

One matchup to watch

SIU’s secondary faces a strong challenge from UIW’s pass-oriented offense.

Graduate transfer Lindsey Scott Jr. begins his first season with the Cardinals after transferring from Nicholls State. His prime target will be senior Taylor Grimes, a preseason All-America first team receiver who began his career at Illinois State.

Both Scott Jr. and Grimes are on the Walter Payton Award preseason watch list.

Quick hits

SIU also has two players on the Payton watch list: quarterback Nic Baker and receiver Avante Cox, high school teammates at downstate Rochester. Cox suffered a broken left hand in fall camp and could miss the opener . . . SIU’s roster includes 22 players who transferred from FBS programs . . . SIU announced Thursday that Hill has been signed to a five-year extension. His base salary begins at $250,000 this season and increases by $15,000 each season thereafter . . . Scott has been at five schools in his collegiate career — LSU, East Mississippi Community College, Missouri and Nicholls State before transferring to UIW in the spring.

What’s at stake?

A win gives the Salukis a victory over a Top 15-ranked opponent, which could come into play when post-season pairings are discussed.

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