Too soon to panic after Saluki Football starts 0-2

    Kory Faulkner ranks 4th in the FCS in passing yards.

    Kory Faulkner ranks 4th in the FCS in passing yards.

    Sep 8, 2013

    By Tom Weber

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saturday's double-overtime thriller between Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois had the aura of a playoff game. Both teams fought and scrapped every minute of regulation and through the two extra periods, with the Panthers finally prevailing, 40-37. As heartbreaking as the loss was for Southern, there were plenty of positives to build upon.

    1. The Salukis are going to win a lot of games this season with the level of quarterback play they are currently getting from Kory Faulkner. After two games against quality opponents, he ranks fourth in the nation in passing yards with 606. He's completed nearly 60 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Faulkner is also SIU's leading rusher and is averaging nearly six yards per carry. On one play late in the game, instead of sliding, he lowered his head and delivered a blow to an Eastern Illinois linebacker, picking up a couple extra yards. He is playing with passion and toughness.

    2. After struggling to move the ball on the ground last week at Illinois, the Salukis picked up 209 rushing yards against Eastern and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Oregon State transfer Malcolm Agnew made his debut in the second half and carried nine times for 55 yards and a 6.1 average. He was very impressive and will be the key to SIU's running game going forward.

    3. Southern was creative in the running game. Speedy wide receiver LaSteven McKinney ran the ball eight times on either a direct snap or reverse. Tay Willis took a number of delayed handoffs. There were several quarterback draws. The only thing you didn't see was a consistent, power-running attack -- which appears to be the only missing piece of the offensive puzzle.

    4. That's why it's too early to say the running game is fixed, despite the 200+ yard game against Eastern. The Salukis' inability to execute their downhill running game hurts them in the red zone. Three times, the Salukis got inside the EIU 10 and had to settle for field goals. They ran the ball five times inside the 10 and netted just 13 yards.



    5. You have to admit, it's nit-picky to criticize an offense that totaled more than 500 yards against the Panthers. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer did a fine job of getting the ball to his playmakers. TE MyCole Pruitt made eight catches. McKinney and Willis each touched the ball 15 times between the run and pass game. WR John Lantz caught three balls. Both fullbacks made catches. There were many more things right than wrong on offense.

    6. That's not the case with the defense, which surrendered 622 total yards -- the most by an SIU team since 1999.

    7. The Salukis have played two of the hottest quarterbacks in college football in the last two weeks. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is fifth in the FBS in passing yards, and he followed up his big game against Southern with an incredible performance Saturday versus a very good Cincinnati team. Jimmy Garoppolo leads the FCS in passing yards and he torched both San Diego State and SIU. You can argue that SIU just ran into two buzz-saw offenses.

    8. Eastern Illinois gave the Salukis some unexpected looks in the first half that resulted in numerous mismatches and big plays for the offense. For example, on the fourth play of the game, All-American WR Erik Lora lined up in the backfield, then ran straight down the center of the field defended by LB Bryan Presume. That's a defensive coordinator's nightmare and resulted in a 40-yard completion.

    9. Southern's strategy in this game was to drop back into zone coverage, keep the ball in front of them, eliminate big plays, and force Eastern to execute the entire length of the field. That strategy was ineffective in the first half, as they gave up pass plays of 40, 25, 36, 32 and 22 yards. They were modestly more successful against the big pass play in the second half, yielding three big ones of 22, 32 and 21.

    10. The number of 3rd-and-long conversions SIU's defense allowed was discouraging. Four times, Eastern converted when it was in a situation of 3rd-and-8 or longer.

    11. Both teams feel they are playoff-caliber squads, and that's why Saturday's game was so heated. You saw it on the special teams, where Eastern twice tried to execute an on-sides kick. You saw it late in the game when Southern blocked what should have been an automatic 20-yard field goal as time expired.

    12. How close was Southern to going for a game-winning two-point conversion in the first overtime? Lennon said he had made the decision to go for it, then changed his mind during the timeout. There's no right or wrong answer, though, in such a scenario. Once the decision is made, it's up to your team to execute, and the Salukis failed in that regard.

    13. SIU started 0-2 last year and rallied to nearly make the playoffs. It's too soon to panic about this season. Clearly the Salukis will need to finish near the top of the MVFC standings and will have to knock off a couple of playoff-level teams along the way, in order to qualify for the post-season. It can be done.