Waiting game finally over for Southern Illinois football

Waiting game finally over for Southern Illinois football
In his first start at quarterback last season, Sam Straub (4) piled up 407 yards of offense. (Photo courtesy of SIUSalukis.com)

Sam Straub has played the waiting game before, so biding time until Saturday's season opener a week after most other college football teams have kicked off their seasons isn't going to phase him.

As a sophomore last season, the Ames, Iowa native waited until the final three games to get his first collegiate start.

"(I found out I was starting) the Monday after the South Dakota game. We had talked about it going into the Missouri State game that I would possibly get some reps, but I didn’t play that game," Straub said during fall camp. 

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound quarterback made the most of his opportunity. Straub piled up 407 yards of offense in that starting debut. He also started the last two games of the season, including a school record 450-yard passing performance in a comeback win over nationally ranked rival Western Illinois.

That strong finish has Straub ready for tonight's opener with Mississippi Valley State at Saluki Stadium.

"It’s put me where I’m at right now. With that experience under my belt, it’s made me a better quarterback. I’m smarter at the position and it’s put me in a better spot to run the offense," Straub said.

Second-year SIU head coach Nick Hill agreed.

"It’s huge for us. We wouldn’t be in the same situation right now (if he hadn’t played)," Hill said. "It wouldn’t have been the same summer; it wouldn’t have been the same fall camp. He solidified himself as our starting quarterback. He played against three really good teams--all three were ranked in the Top 25 in the country at some point in the season and one went to the national championship game (Youngstown State).

"He went on the road at Youngstown State where it’s always tough to play. He threw for over 300 yards in every game and made some game-winning drives and won two out of three (games). If we didn’t do that, who knows what it would have looked like in the springtime with his confidence. Our first game (this year) would have been his first time going going out there. As a head coach, I trust Sam Straub. I’ve seen him in many forms. I’ve seen him come over to the sideline. I’ve seen him at halftime. The look in his eye is one that is as a winner. He’s got what it takes to lead this team."

Senior receiver and Warren Township High School graduate Connor Iwema doesn't have to be convinced either.

"Sam has always been a great practice player, but there's nothing you can really do to get those game-like reps. Playing in those games really helped him mature as a quarterback," Iwema said. "It helped him with the things he sees in his playbook and he sees in practice and he just applies it. It gives him a lot more knowledge as far as coming into this season with the offense being his. He has that confidence and can be that guy he has to be for us as a team." 

The game

Southern Illinois hosts Mississippi Valley State (0-1) in Carbondale, 6 p.m. Saturday. Game airs on ESPN3 and Saluki Sports Network (radio).

Injury updates

According to Hill, "there is a realistic possibility" that cornerback Roman Tatum may miss the season with injury. Wide receiver Landon Lenoir (Crete-Monee) had surgery last week and will likely miss 6-8 weeks. Offensive lineman Josh Podzielinski is probable after suffering a hamstring injury.

Three key matchups

  1. SIU running game vs. Mississippi Valley State defense: North Dakota State ran all over the Delta Devils in last weekend's 73-7 thrashing. The Bison set highs for points, rushing yards (498) and total offense (683) in 14 years of Division I football.
  2. SIU passing game vs. Mississippi Valley State secondary: North Dakota State threw the ball just 17 times in last week's romp, but Nick Hill's offense loves to air things out. A deep Saluki receiving corps should have a field day against MVS.
  3. SIU special teams vs. Mississippi Valley State special teams:  Should things go as planned, SIU will have plenty of opportunities to evaluate its return and coverage units.

Key stat

Speedy D.J. Davis had a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown vs. Murray State, a Saluki Stadium record and second-longest kick return in school history. 

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