Sep 16, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - Last night's 35-14 win over SEMO was precisely the confidence builder Southern Illinois needed as it heads into conference play this week. The Salukis were sharp in every phase of the game.
1. The three-touchdown margin of victory understates how thoroughly SIU dominated the football game. The Salukis out-gained SEMO 565 to 186 and had a 29-11 advantage in first downs. Southern had 272 yards of offense and three TDs before the Redhawks picked up a single first down. Most of the SEMO's offensive production came late in the second half, when the game was out of hand.
2. QB Kory Faulkner put up monster statistics (26-of-40 for 384 yards) on a rainy night that wasn't conducive to throwing the football. Yes, his yardage was aided by explosive runs-after-the-catch by TE MyCole Pruitt and WR LaSteven McKinney, but even so, his anticipation and ball placement were superb. To put Faulkner's numbers in perspective, in the last 12 years, only one other quarterback at SIU has passed for more than 300 yards in a game (Nick Hill did it once).
Kory Faulkner's 384 passing yards were the third-most in school history.
3. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has been touting his playmakers this fall, and last night, they made lots of plays. This is the kind of game I expected to see from Southern after watching Faulkner execute the offense during camp. The Salukis have a quarterback who has a solid grasp of the offense and can get the ball to his playmakers in space.
4. Tight end MyCole Pruitt is a beast who loves to initiate contact after he catches the ball. He had nine receptions for 121 yards, and his longest play of the night was also the most spectacular as he turned a short crossing route into a 35-yard gain. When he caught the ball, it appeared his best option was to run toward the sideline. Instead, he turned straight upfield looking for someone to hit. Redhawks' LB Blake Peiffer found himself in Pruitt's path and was promptly run over. Pruitt broke two more tackles for good measure. It's no wonder the sophomore is on NFL scouts' radar.
5. Wide receiver LaSteven McKinney is an explosive little player, and DeBoer and Co. are finding clever ways to get the speedy 5-9 wideout the ball. Last week, they handed it to him five times on the reverse for 27 yards. This week he turned a couple of swing passes into big gains. He also returns kicks. McKinney averages 90 all-purpose yards per game and is a tremendous boost for the offense.
6. More observations on Faulkner -- he did a nice job of speeding up the tempo when he felt SIU had an advantage. On the second series, he recognized that SEMO didn't have enough backs to cover the field, and he delivered a quick strike to WR David Lewis that went for an easy 39-yard touchdown...On a 3rd and 1 play, SEMO didn't bite on a Faulkner bootleg, but he pump-faked to an invisible receiver and managed to get a 1st down...One tendency Faulkner needs to avoid is wanting to force the ball to Pruitt when he's well covered. SEMO double-covered Pruitt on a number of occasions, and Faulkner should have checked down to another option on his only interception of the night.
7. Faulkner wasn't sacked, nor was he under heavy pressure, and that means the offensive line is improving. There were some missed opportunities in the run game, but the unit has gotten better each week since its poor outing in the opener against Eastern Illinois.
8. I liked the aggressive play calling when Southern was backed up near its goal line. A 99-yard scoring drive began on a beautifully delivered play-action pass from Faulkner to TE Dalton Morgan for 26 yards. In the third quarter, the Salukis were facing 3rd-and-12 at their own 1, and Faulkner made a pretty 22-yard toss to John Lantz on a wheel route.
9. Running back Mika'il McCall made his first start as a Saluki last night, scored two touchdowns and now has seven TDs on the season. He made some great runs, including a 32-yard touchdown scamper, but also fumbled twice. That's partly why the coaching staff has yet to turn the ground game over completely to the Iowa transfer. The other reason is that RB Steve Strother continues to be very productive and is a good change of pace to McCall's power-running style. Strother leads the team in all-purpose yardage with 353.
10. The area between the opponent's 35 and 25 yard line is turning into a no man's land for the Salukis. Their kickers are 0-for-4 on field goal attempts on the season, and there's no sense in punting when you are that close to the end zone. The only option is to go for it on fourth down, and fortunately, SIU converted its only fourth-down try last night.
11. SEMO's option offense stood no chance against Southern's defense. The front seven of SIU's 3-4 defense was simply too fast and athletic. You'd often see the backside outside linebacker chase down the play and make a tackle. The Salukis swarmed the football. Coordinator Bubba Schweigert had his group well prepared for the option. There was a bit of a letdown with two fourth quarter TDs, but by that point, Southern had pulled most of its starters.
12. The defensive line of Ken Boatright, Kayon Swanson and Eze Obiora had a big day, combining for 15 tackles. The unit is also developing depth, as sophomore Blake Miller was active with four tackles.
13. Coach Lennon said to keep an eye on redshirt freshman safety D.J. Cameron, who has been slowed by injury this fall. He was a force in run support with seven tackles.
14. Don't automatically dismiss SEMO as a second-rate opponent. They opened the season at FBS Central Michigan and led that game, 27-24, before the Chippewas staged a late rally. The Redhawks should be competitive in the OVC.
15. The Salukis need to build on this performance and prove that it wasn't a fluke and didn't simply come at the expense of a lesser opponent. Southern opens MVFC play at Missouri State this week, where it has won the last five meetings dating back to 2003. It's time to take the next step.