Oct. 29, 2011
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - In a battle of dueling quarterbacks, Matt Brown came out on top, guiding Illinois State to a 38-30 victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday.
The junior passer led the Redbirds (6-3, 4-2) to their fourth-straight victory, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns. He was especially deadly on third down, directing the offense to 11-of-17 third-down conversions.
Brown's passing out-shined a brilliant performance by Saluki quarterback Kory Faulkner, who completed 29-of-37 passes, scorching the ISU defense for 334 yards. Last week at UNI, Faulkner passed for just 91 yards, but today he hit his stride in his fifth game as the team's starting QB.
"Our plan on defense was to force them to throw the ball, and I guess you have to be careful what you wish for," said Illinois State head coach Brock Spack.
Since 1999, the only Saluki quarterback to pass for more yards in a game was Nick Hill, who threw for 436 against Northern Iowa in 2007.
Still, it wasn't enough to prevent the Salukis (2-6, 1-5) from dropping their fifth-straight game.
"We know they are the best 2-5 team we have ever seen," Spack said. "We have all been there in coaching. Things just haven't went their way and it's one of those years."
An early turning point in the game came on Southern's opening possession. After moving swiftly to the Redbirds' 38, Faulkner tossed a backward pass to LaSteven McKinney that was deflected and scooped up by defensive end Colton Underwood, who returned the fumble 53 yards for an ISU touchdown.
"We just can't give points away," said Saluki head coach Dale Lennon. "In the opening drive, we got things going, then we threw a lateral pass, we don't recognize it as a lateral and watch the defensive lineman scoop and score."
The Saluki offense, which has labored to put points on the board in recent weeks, had little trouble moving the ball against Illinois State. Southern had a season-high 27 first downs.
SIU's defense, on the other hand, struggled to contain the big play, as Brown completed six passes of 20 or more yards. Often, those completions came on third down, as the Redbirds converted at least one third-down on every scoring drive.
"We need to know when to be a little more aggressive with our coverage and not give easy throws that convert for first downs," said Lennon, whose team has lost four games by a touchdown or less. "It seems like each week it's a different scenario that we're trying to correct or learn how to play a little bit of a smarter game."
Southern again showed resiliency, rallying from a 31-14 deficit to make it 31-24 with nine minutes remaining in the game, as Faulkner threw a 28-yard touchdown to David Lewis, and Jackson MacLachlan booted a 33-yard field goal. On the ensuing drive, however, Illinois State marched 58 yards in eight plays for a Clifford Gordon touchdown run that sealed the victory.
Faulkner wasn't finished, though, driving SIU 78 yards in 36 seconds for a touchdown run by Jewel Hampton that took place on the game's final snap. It was the kind of stellar quarterback play Lennon has been looking for.
"We put a lot on Kory this week, a lot of checks," Lennon said. "We knew our running game was going to be challenged and that we couldn't just do the traditional running game. Kory did a very good job adjusting and getting us some good plays."
The frustration of losing so many close ones has not curtailed the effort put forth by Lennon's team.
"We don't quit -- that's the one thing I can hang my hat on and that's the one thing that I told the team in the locker room," he said. "I'm not going down without a fight. That's the mentality I want this football team to have and that's how you pick yourself up the next day."