Sophomore defensive end Richie Hagarty has hassled quarterbacks all season, piling up a team-high 6.5 sacks for Southern Illinois. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)
By Barry Bottino
Losing its first Missouri Valley Football Conference game of the season Saturday at South Dakota offered a flashback for Southern Illinois, which started the season 0-2 before winning five games in a row.
“We’ve been through adversity,” sophomore defensive end Richie Hagarty said. “The first two games, we took a beating. So we understand how to come back from this.”
Thanks to Hagarty and his defensive teammates, the Salukis (5-3 overall, 4-1 MVFC) have enjoyed one constant this season – a healthy pass rush.
In Saturday’s loss, SIU tallied three more sacks to raise its season total to an FCS-leading 29.
Only two teams in all of Division I football – Bowling Green (32) and Liberty (30) of the FBS – have more sacks, according to the NCAA.
Hagarty leads the Salukis with 6.5 sacks, while fellow defensive linemen Dewey Greene (4.0) and Keenan Agnew (3.5) are close behind. Twelve different players have at least one sack this season for the Salukis, who lost all-time sack leader Anthony Knighton from last season’s team to graduation, along with 2021 sack leaders Jordan Berner and Kevin Glajchen (6.0 each).
Knighton and Berner combined for 42.5 career sacks in Carbondale.
“There’s always a concern when you lose guys that have had a lot of production over their careers,” Agnew said. “We knew with them leaving, that we all had to step it up.”
SIU’s sack total leads the conference and is eight more than both South Dakota State and Illinois State, who rank second at 21.
Hagarty has contributed because of his relentless effort.
“What I like most about Richie is he plays his tail off,” Agnew said. “He’s strong, athletic. He’s technically sound. He never really gives up on a play. About half of his sacks are just from running down the quarterback.”
SIU is on pace for nearly 40 sacks, which would be the highest team total since 2000.
Five different defensive linemen have sacks for SIU, including senior Quinton Lee and junior Kam Bowdry.
But the pressure has come from all levels of the defense, including safety P.J. Jules and cornerback David Miller (2.5 each) and linebackers Branson Combs and Makel Calhoun (1.5 each).
“P.J. has come in on his blitzes and caused disruptions,” Agnew said. “Branson has done a good job, along with David.
“That’s helped us,” he said. “You don’t want the defensive line to do all the work. For them to help us out is huge.”