Nic Baker (8) was chosen as Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week after SIU defeated Northwestern. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Dan Verdun
Still feeling the positive effects of last weekend’s victory over Big Ten member Northwestern in Evanston, Southern Illinois now turns its attention to the rigors of its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule.
“It was a special day for all of Saluki Nation, (and for) so many Chicago alumni and past players,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said Monday. “For me as a coach, to allow them to have a moment and a day felt good.”
But, like any coach with Saturday in the rearview mirror, it’s back to business. SIU is about to embark on its eight-game conference schedule.
“You can’t think about it as two months, you have to look at what we need to do today,” Hill said.
The Salukis posted a 1-2 record in their non-conference games. Certainly optimistics can feel better about SIU’s opening week loss at Incarnate Word given the fact that the Cardinals are 3-0 and have risen to No. 4 in the latest Stats Perform FCS poll.
Additionally, SIU’s narrow, down-to-the-wire defeat by regional rival Southeast Missouri came at the hands of a team Hill predicts will win the Ohio Valley Conference.
This week’s opponent
SIU hosts North Dakota (2-1, 1-0) Saturday at Saluki Stadium. Both teams enter the game ranked in the Stats Perform FCS poll: UND at No. 19 and SIU at No. 24.
The Fighting Hawks pulled out a 27-24 non-conference win last weekend over Northern Arizona. UND already possesses a Missouri Valley victory, slipping past Northern Iowa in week two. UND began the season with a loss to Big Ten member Nebraska.
The Fighting Hawks are coached by Bubba Schweigert, a former SIU assistant.
Quarterback Tommy Schuster has completed nearly 71 percent of his passes. The junior has five touchdown throws and just one interception.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” Hill said of Schuster. “If he gets sacked, he’s right back at it ready for the next play.”
(Kickoff: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: Varsity Network App)
Key matchup to watch
SIU defense vs. UND offense: Following the upset of Northwestern, Hill said the entire Saluki defense was “player of the week.” SIU will need a similar effort Saturday.
“They control the football,” Hill said of the Fighting Hawks. “They do a variety of things to get different guys touches.
“It really does come down to the basics. It’s two really good teams and there will be those six or eight plays that will probably decide the game, whether it’s a critical mistake, turnovers, points off turnovers, or giving up an explosive play. Explosive plays for touchdowns are hard to overcome.”
What’s at stake?
SIU certainly wants to build on the momentum gained last week. More importantly, a victory over UND means a 1-0 start in the conference and a win over a ranked opponent.
SIU quarterback Nic Baker earned Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week after the win at Northwestern. The junior completed 23-of-34 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored Southern’s final touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak that put the Salukis ahead, 31-17, with 5:09 left in the game. Excluding sacks, Baker had 35 yards rushing, including a key 20-yard bootleg to convert a fourth-quarter fourth down . . . Following Saturday’s game, the Salukis will be on the road for consecutive conference games at Illinois State (Oct. 1) and Missouri State (Oct. 8).