Motorcycle riders will again lead the Salukis onto the field prior to Saturday’s kickoff in the annual Hawgs & Dawgs event. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Dan Verdun
Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill and his staff met with their players on the Labor Day Monday holiday, two days after being thrashed in their season opener.
Southland Conference member Incarnate Word, which entered the game ranked 14th nationally, shellacked then-No. 9 SIU 64-29 Saturday in San Antonio.
“Obviously a disappointing way to start the season. It just felt like everything that could go wrong really went wrong,” Hill said Monday. “We didn’t play well in all three phases . . . It was a collective butt whupping that we took.
“Honestly, for this team, (that) was something that we needed (because there are so many unknowns each season). How we respond to this will tell what this team, the 2022 team, is about.”
Saturday’s result moved UIW (1-0) to No. 8 in the Stats Perform FCS poll while SIU (0-1) dropped to No. 17. The FCS Coaches poll put the Cardinals ninth and the Salukis 19th this week.
This week’s opponent
The Salukis host non-conference foe Southeast Missouri State in the annual “War for the Wheel” rivalry game.
The Redhawks began their season with a 42-10 loss at Iowa State, a member of the FBS Big 12 Conference.
Former SIU assistant Tom Matukewicz is in his ninth season as SEMO head coach.
“The mutual respect is high,” Hill said of his relationship with Matukewicz, which dates back to Hill’s SIU playing days. “They’ll be tough, physical and play good sound football and that’s what we have to be ready for.”
(Kickoff: 6 p.m.; TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: Varsity Network App)
Key matchup to watch
SIU defense vs. SEMO offense: A week after being torched for nearly 400 passing yards and seven touchdowns (6 passing, 1 rushing) by UIW quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., the Salukis are tasked with stopping the catalyst of the opposing offense.
“It was a collective ‘undisciplineness’ when you think about making them earn it,” Hill said of the explosive plays UIW had against SIU. “(There were) too many wide open guys.”
Southeast Missouri quarterback Paxton DeLaurent threw for 222 yards and one touchdown and ran for 74 yards against Iowa State.
“The (SEMO) quarterback is a good player. I feel like they got a good transfer in him,” Hill said.
DeLaurent transferred to SEMO from NAIA member Central Methodist (Mo.) University where he earned Heart of America all-conference honors last fall.
Meanwhile, redshirt senior running back Geno Hess was the Preseason Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year following a 1,116-yard, 14-touchdown season a year ago.
Hess had just six carries for eight yards against Iowa State.
“The way the game went, he didn’t have the carries in that game (when) they got behind,” Hill said.
What’s at stake?
Following its week one thrashing, there’s far more at stake in this game than just retaining the traveling wheel trophy from the SEMO rivalry. SIU must right the ship with a victory if it is to be a true Top 20 FCS team.
Despite SIU gaining 31 first downs against UIW, Hill said his team had 108 yards “of negative offense,” which he defined as “sacks or negative runs” . . . “We had 14 runs that went for zero or negative yards,” Hill said . . . Saluki Athletics has partnered with Black Diamond Harley-Davidson to host Hawgs & Dawgs for Saturday’s game. Motorcycle riders lead the Salukis onto the field prior to kickoff . . . Saturday is the first of five home games for SIU.