Despite identical 4-7 records in his first two seasons, Southern Illinois head football coach Nick Hill knows his team is making headway.
In order to move up the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings, Hill and the Salukis will face these five burning questions for the 2018 season.
- When will the wins come?
Sure, the records look the same. But things are evolving in Carbondale. The offense has dangerous playmakers. The defense has immense young talent. The play-calling is creative on offense and aggressive on defense. And, the recruits are taking notice.
The problem is that SIU plays in the nation’s most competitive FCS conference (the Missouri Valley Football Conference), making a quick turnaround difficult. Slow growth, however, is certainly attainable.
This season’s 42-7 victory against Illinois State is an example of what’s possible for SIU. Finding consistency from week to week will be the biggest challenge.
- Has the defense grown up?
Only four players listed on the season’s final two-deep roster were seniors, leaving the Salukis with plenty of upside on defense.
The four primary defensive line starters this season included a sophomore and three redshirt freshmen.
The SIU defense allowed nearly 55 fewer yards a game in 2017 and 10 fewer passing TDs. The team also produced 24 turnovers, which was 10 more than a season ago.
The defense must be able to get the ball back to SIU’s dangerous offense.
- How valuable is Sam Straub?
The Saluki quarterback, who was hurt in late October against South Dakota, missed nearly four games because of the injury. SIU’s record in those four games? 0-4.
Straub threw for nearly 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns and also showed off his running skills on occasion.
Straub, who will be a senior next season, has a terrific rapport with the weapons around him and is a strong leader. His absence sent a 4-3 team with loads of promise to a 4-7 finish.
- How many touches should D.J. Davis get?
As an offensive player, the dynamic sophomore speedster from Florida averaged 9.4 touches per game. He also was the fifth-ranked kickoff returner in the MVFC.
Davis is a dynamic player whose speed makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. In order to take advantage of the skills Davis has to offer, bumping his touches up to 15 a game on offense can only benefit the Salukis.
- What position group holds the key to 2018 success?
The SIU offensive line had a breakthrough season in 2017, allowing only 10 sacks in 11 games and paving the way for an improvement of more than 30 yards a game on the ground.
For the Salukis to find success, they need to lean on the offensive front, which loses senior tackles DeVondre Seymour and Austin Olsen, in 2018.
Another repeat of this season’s success will ensure the Salukis protect Straub and make their running game more of a threat.