Jordan Poole sacks Nathan Scheelhaase.
Oct. 17, 2013
By Tyler Wooten
CARBONDALE, Ill. - With Saturday's showdown versus No. 1-ranked North Dakota State looming on the horizon, the Saluki defense is hitting its stride at just the right time.
After ranking near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories through the first six games, Southern's D bounced back last weekend with its best performance of the year at Northern Iowa. The Salukis held the Panthers' vaunted rushing attack to just 37 yards, a measly 1.9 average and two first downs. They also stymied the passing game, limiting UNI to 198 yards through the air.
Southern will need a similar performance against the Bison, who are averaging 36 points per game and feature a dynamic 1-2 punch at running back in Sam Ojuri and John Crockett. The duo rushed for 165 yards combined in last year's 23-17 NDSU win, although the Saluki defense generated a score on its own, as Brandon Williams returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.
No one knows the importance of big plays more than Saluki senior linebacker Jordan Poole. In the first quarter of the season opener, Poole shot through the middle of Illinois' offensive line and sacked quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for a loss of 11 yards. It was the first play Poole was on the field this season.
Through seven games, Poole is second on the team in sacks with 3.0 and has one of the unit's four interceptions. He's third on the team overall in tackles with 34.
"I just try to have a knack for the football and try to make a big plays," Poole said. "So far I've had a little success, so I'm just going to try to build off that and keep trying to play at that level."
After sitting behind talented linebackers throughout his career at Southern, Poole is getting his first opportunity to start. He didn't start at Illinois but has since started six-straight.
"Those guys always practiced hard, day-in and day-out. They prepared hard in the film room and the weight room, too," Poole said. "Those things kind of combined to help me take my game to the next level and get ready to be at that level of play and start."
Listed at 6-0 and 222 pounds, Poole's size and athleticism fit perfectly into defensive coordinator Bubba Schweigert's 3-4 scheme, which relies on a smaller, quicker defender to help stifle the run and pressure the offense into a one-dimensional passing attack.
"We pressure a lot, which gives us the opportunity for big plays," Poole said. "That makes defense fun -- getting big plays, getting sacks. You have a little more speed on the field than the average defense, so you can just fly around and make plays. That's what we try to do every week."
However, Poole sees the bigger picture both as a member of the Saluki Football team and in his academic work. As an economics major, he intends to become a jack-of-all-trades in order to make himself more marketable in the business world once he leaves SIU.
"I always wanted to do something in business, and I kind of wanted to do something that was a broader scale rather than something concentrated," Poole said. "I feel like if I studied a broad scope it would help me figure out later on in my career and life what I want to. I chose economics because it's a broad-scale overview of everything and it gives you the ability to do many different jobs."
His academic goals are a metaphor for his style of play and his place in Southern's defense -- be well-rounded, adaptable and always ready to make the big play. In football, though, his personal emphasis is solely on the team goals and successes.
"Of course our expectations are to win the conference and win the national championship," Poole said. "I think that's what your expectations have to be in order to be successful."
The Salukis will try to take a big step toward those goals on Saturday.