Dober, what do you mean, first playoff game? The Salukis are in a must win situation at 5W-4L. They have to beat the Bison and then YSU to punch their ticket to the post season. It is win or stay home this off season. For the Herd, if we lost, it brings up would we be a seed team, with a first round bye. The stakes are high for both teams.
What do we know about SIU? Can you spell schizophrenia? The Salukis after two straight playoff appearances with first round wins came into the fall with the euphoria of being ranked as high as 9th in the pre-season polls. The roster had a lot of 5 and 6 year players looking to cap their careers with a great season and a deeper playoff run.
First game out of the blocks they get boat rushed by Incarnate Word 64-29! How can the Salukis control the ball for 39:50 in TOP, outrush their opponent (gained 239 yards to 124), have 31 1st downs to 19 and lose? Next up, they faced arch rival Southeast Missouri State at home. They were heavily favored in this matchup. They lose 34-31.
Now they faced the prospect of starting 0-3 since their next game was with Big 10 Northwestern. The Wildcats turned into pussycats by committing 4 turnovers to the Salukis one. Minus three in TO’s is a recipe for losses. Now SIU had breath and opened with four straight MVFC wins. They soundly beat UND 34-17 (outgaining them 458 yards in total offense to 271). Next they dispatched the Red Birds in a defensive struggle 19-14.
Next they were on the road to take on a reeling Mo. State team that was within a whisker of beating #10 ranked Arkansas to go 3-0 in non-conference play. The hangover was big with the Bears losing its first two MVFC games to the Jacks and UND. They had to right the ship to get back in the playoff hunt. They jumped out quick and led 14-0 after the 1st qtr. The Salukis scored 38 straight points to spank the Bears. The next week they easily took care of business against the winless Leathernecks 30-7.
Wow, what a turn around by SIU, an FBS victory and opening 4-0 in the MVFC. When you surveyed their remaining 4 games three were very winnable. Next up was 1-5 and winless in MVFC play USD, followed by a struggling 3-4 UNI Panther squad. These should be very winnable games. The Bison would be a tough game, but YSU to end the season was within grasp of the win column. An 8-3 season in the MVFC would guarantee them the playoffs and maybe even a seed.
They forgot to take their meds. Schizophrenia struck again. They lose to the Coyotes in Vermillion 27-24. USD pounded the running game with their two RB’s, Lawrence (122 yards in 11 carries) and Travis Theis (108 yards in 21 carries). That’s 230 yards and 7.2 YPC.
Two weeks ago they lose to UNI in a shoot out 37-36. This was more like a Southland or Big Sky game than a MVFC game. Bad defense was played by all. The Panthers out rushed the Salukis 131-55 (3.4 YPC to 2.5). SIU filled the air ways to the tune of 485 yards to 330 for UNI. Total offense was 461 for the Panthers on 70 plays; the Salukis totaled 540 on 70 plays. As I said earlier, this was a horrible display of defensive football.
Which Saluki team shows up Saturday? I think the hot/cold angle doesn’t matter. You can rest assured coach Hill will have installed some new wrinkles and as with every MVFC team they will bring their best shot. The real question is if the Bison are on top of their game, does SIU have enough talent to take them down?
My answer to that question is no and here is my analysis as to why the Herd should win.
First I think our Rams are playing at a very high level and are better than their DL. If USD can run on them, so can we. They are playing better run defense this year over last, but aren’t as good in scoring D (24.8 to27.2) Total D is within a couple of yards this year to last. With a very similar D last year they couldn’t stop our run game. We ran for 389 yards at 6.3 YPC. Montana State had a very good run defense last year in the Natty and we shredded them for 371 yards at 7.1 YPC. Our OL and backs are functioning at that level again.
Second; our complimentary pass game should work well because their pass defense is bad (96th in FCS at 252.3 YPG). If they stack 8 or 9 in the box to stop the run we should be able to burn them with the pass.
Third; our strength on defense is pass defense (3rd in FCS at 142.2 YPG). SIU is a pass first and often offense. They use the run game as a diversion, not a staple. They average 3.3 YPC and 127 YPG running the ball. Folks those are very mundane numbers.
The last reason I think we will win is our team character has a tradition of rising in the stretch run. The last two years the Salukis have spit the bit.
If we play our game we win by two scores or more. Go Bison!