While its offense has grabbed most of the attention in the Nick Hill era, it was the Southern Illinois defense that sparkled on opening night of the 2018 season.
Fueled by six forced turnovers, the Salukis overwhelmed Murray State 49-10 in a nonconference game to kick off the year for both teams. In fact, SIU scored three times on defense--twice on fumble returns for touchdowns and also on an interception of a deflected pass in the end zone. Those three defensive touchdowns tied a school record.
"It's always fun to watch a drill or something that you emphasize come to light in a game," Hill said on siusalukis.com "A couple of the strips is the second guy there punching the ball as the guy is going down. Defensive lineman — if you can't get there, getting a hand up and tipping the ball. Turnovers don't just happen."
Junior D.J. Davis rushed 19 times for 127 yards to lead the Saluki offense. He also caught three passes for 16 yards, collected 55 kickoff return yards and racked up 198 total yards.
Davis set the tone early, racking up 40 yards on five carries on the opening scoring drive.
Meanwhile, safety Jeremy Chinn, a question mark coming into the game with an injury suffered in fall camp, led SIU with six solo tackles. He also forced a fumble.
5 stats that stood out
5.4 -- The per-rush average on first down by Southern Illinois in the game
9.8 -- The average third down distance to go faced by Murray State in the game
96 -- The number of fumble return yards SIU racked up with its defensive touchdowns
295 -- SIU's net rushing total
1991 -- The last time SIU won at Murray State (the Salukis snapped a four-game losing string to the Racers)
The century mark
The game marked the first 100-yard rushing performance for D.J. Davis in his Saluki career.
With a 16-yard reception in the third quarter, SIU wide receiver Darrell James became the 14th player in school history with 100 career receptions.
Scoop and score no more
With SIU leading 21-10 late in the second quarter, momentum looked to have shifted Murray State's way. The Racers scooped up what appeared to be an errant lateral by Southern quarterback Sam Straub and ran it back for a touchdown. However, a replay review ruled the play an incomplete pass.
Given the reprieve, SIU got runs of 16 and 21 yards by D.J. Davis. This set up a three-yard TD run by backup quarterback Matt DeSomer, giving the Salukis a commanding 28-10 halftime lead.
The Salukis play at FBS Ole Miss, a member of the Southeastern Conference, Sept. 8. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
What this means
SIU head coach Nick Hill has won all three of his opening games against FCS opponents. Last season, the Salukis rumbled past Mississippi Valley State 55-3 while his 2016 team defeated Southeast Missouri State 30-22. While those victories came in Carbondale, Thursday night's win was on the road.