Football game at Busch Stadium a success on all counts for SIU

    John Lantz averages 20.3 yards per catch.

    John Lantz averages 20.3 yards per catch.

    Sept. 22, 2013

    By Tom Weber

    ST. LOUIS, Mo. - The Saluki football team is back to .500 with a solid victory over SEMO at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. There were so many things that went right for Southern Illinois on Saturday.

    1. The most important drive of the season for Southern was the one that began the second half. Malcolm Agnew carried the ball six-straight times for 44 yards. Stop it if you can, was the message the Salukis were sending to SEMO. Although SIU ultimately settled for a field goal, it had finally established a power-running game for the first time this season.

    2. The ability to impose its will in the running game has been a missing component of SIU's offense the last few years. When healthy, Agnew is a special player who can take over a game, help the offense control the clock and set up the passing game. Credit should also go to the offensive line, which was boosted by the return of RG Jake Notario and the emergence of LT Jarien Moreland.

    3. After QB Kory Faulkner injured his left shoulder in last week's game against the University of Charleston, the expectation was he'd miss about four weeks with the injury. Coach Lennon even listed redshirt freshman Ryan West as the starter on SIU's depth chart. By midweek, however, Faulkner had made a dramatic recovery, and after demonstrating in practice that he was ok, was given the starting nod on Saturday.

    4. Faulkner wasn't as sharp as he looked in the first three games, throwing a couple of interceptions, yet he still leads the league with 10 touchdown passes and a 5-to-1 TD to INT ratio. He took a couple of big hits on the shoulder and showed no ill effects from the injury. A week ago, there was grave uncertainty at the quarterback position, and now that problem is happily resolved.



    5. If you had told me that John Lantz was going to be second in the MVFC in yards per catch after four games this season (20.3), I wouldn't have believed it. I wrongly labeled him a "possession receiver" after he averaged 9.6 yards per catch last season and 10.7 the year before. He is routinely making big downfield catches for Southern and is creating a picture album full of diving grabs.

    6. Southern did a great job shutting down SEMO's option running game, holding the Redhawks to 53 yards. The defense is still struggling agains the pass, however. QB Kyle Snyder had only thrown for 234 yards on the season prior to Saturday's game, but had 249 yards and three TDs against the Saluki defense. The Salukis can't afford a similar performance next week against Youngstown State's savvy senior quarterback Kurt Hess.

    7. It rained on Thursday and Friday in St. Louis, and several Saluki players told me after the game that the footing at Busch Stadium was slippery. I walked across midfield after the game, and there were large chunks of turf everywhere.

    8. More than 90 percent of non-BCS schools play on artificial turf, so it's a rarity anymore when Southern has to play on grass. There used to be a time when natural grass was the norm, and playing on a pock-marked field was just part of the game. Real grass is expensive to maintain, which is why so many non-BCS teams have switched to high-quality artificial.

    9. The Cardinals are getting some grief from the media today for allowing a football game to tear up their field. Dual-sport stadiums used to be common in pro markets where an NFL game would be played on one day and a Major League Baseball game the next. The Cardinals are to be commended for giving SIU and SEMO the opportunity to showcase their programs at Busch Stadium.

    10. The teams had no sooner stepped off the field Saturday when the Cardinals' ground crew started doing triage on the turf. The Cardinals ordered truckloads of sod to replace the damaged outfield and expect the facility to be in fine shape by Monday.

    11. I've heard lots of positive comments from fans who enjoyed the football experience at Busch Stadium. The 14,618 attendance was higher than what officials at both schools projected. SIU's campus recruiters had great success using the event as outreach to attract new students to Southern. Chalk this game up in the win column for Southern Illinois on all accounts.

    12. The Salukis now enter the MVFC meat grinder with Youngstown State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State on successive weekends. Those teams are a combined 12-2, and the only losses were to Nebraska and Michigan State.