After dropping consecutive heartbreakers, SIU squares off with FCS juggernaut NDSU

Southern Illinois hosts No. 4 North Dakota State Saturday at Saluki Stadium. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

Coming off a bye, Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill knows what Saturday holds.

“We’re sitting at 5-4 (overall and 4-2 in conference), and like I’ve said all year, you earn what you get,” Hill said during his weekly media address.

The Salukis are indeed 5-4 overall, but have lost two consecutive games — both in last-second fashion.

Those losses dropped SIU out of the national FCS Top 25 rankings and put the Salukis in a precarious position for postseason play.

Standing in SIU’s possible playoff path is FCS juggernaut North Dakota State, national champions in nine of the last 11 seasons.

“You humbly prepare every week with a respect for your opponent, and obviously these guys . . . there’s tons of respect for what (NDSU) Coach (Matt) Entz has done (and) has continued to do.

“It’s not easy to take over a national power like he has and keep getting better and keep winning.”

While NDSU has dominated the series with SIU, the Salukis did score one of the biggest wins in school history with a 38-14 upset of the then No. 1-ranked Bison in the COVID-spring 2021 season.

“This game is going to come down, if we want to play well, to executing,” Hill said. “It sounds simple, but most teams lose games before they go out there and make a bunch of crazy plays and win it. It’s really about just playing good football, executing the details and not hurting yourself.”

This week’s opponent

North Dakota State rolls into Carbondale after throttling Western Illinois 56-17 in Macomb last weekend.

The Bison (7-2, 5-1) are ranked No. 4 in the Stats Perform FCS poll and Coaches FCS Top 25.

(Kickoff: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN3; Radio:

Key matchup to watch

SIU run defense vs. NDSU running game: For much of this season, the Salukis have been solid against opponents’ ground games. In fact, SIU ranks No. 9 in rushing defense (100.1 yards per game) in FCS.

However, during its two-game losing streak SIU has been run on, particularly in the Oct. 22 loss at South Dakota. In that game, a pair of Coyotes ran for over 100 yards and 205 yards as a team.

The Bison rushed 55 times for a season-high 453 yards and seven touchdowns in last week’s victory at Western Illinois.

MVFC Offensive Player of the Week TaMerik Williams ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, while TK Marshall added 118 yards and two TDs on six carries against the Leathernecks.

Then there’s fullback Hunter Luepke, chosen as the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s FCS national championship game.

The NDSU backs often run behind the solid blocking of tackle Cody Mauch, listed at 6-foot-6 and 303 pounds.

Both Luepke and Mauch have been invited to the Senior Bowl.

What’s at stake?

SIU needs the upset win to keep alive its dimming playoff hopes.

Quick hits

Hill said that running back Justin Strong, who recently missed time with a hand injury, practiced during the bye week and “will be available for the game.” … According to the Massey Top 10 strength of schedules, SIU ranks 10th. South Dakota, 3-6 overall but with that 27-24 win over the Salukis, tops the list. … Receiver Avante Cox has the fourth-longest streak of games with a catch in MVFC history, according to a SIU play-by-play announcer Mike Reis. Cox has caught at least one pass in 41 consecutive games. South Dakota State’s Jake Wieneke holds the record with 53 straight games. …

SIU announced dates for its 2023 Family Weekend and Homecoming games. The Salukis will play Missouri State on Sept. 30 and South Dakota State Oct. 21, respectively.

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