A year ago Southern Illinois hosted Illinois State for its Homecoming game. This year, the roles are reversed.
"I can’t wait for it. When they played Ole Miss, they hung in for three quarters. They’re a solid team," ISU senior offensive lineman Donivan O'Day said. "We have to be focused and ready to play. We didn’t do that last year."
Last October, the Salukis throttled the 15th-ranked Redbirds 42-7, handing ISU its first Missouri Valley Football Conference loss. While SIU’s offense rolled up 549 total yards, the Saluki defense was equally dominant. The loss may well have kept the Redbirds from the FCS playoffs.
"We came out with energy and took care of the ball. We didn't have any turnovers and our defense shut them down," SIU receiver Raphael Leonard said.
In his weekly media address, Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said, "Both teams are different right now."
The Redbirds enter Saturday's game fresh off a win over rival Western Illinois. Ranked 12th nationally, ISU is 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the MVFC. After an opening-season victory, the Salukis (1-4, 0-2 MVFC) have lost four straight.
High school teammates, collegiate rivals
Southern Illinois receiver Raphael Leonard and Illinois State quarterback Brady Davis played high school football together for a season in Starkville, Miss. The duo combined to help the team to a state runnerup finish.
This past summer Leonard and Davis returned to their hometown.
"We worked out together over the summer and we've talked a little bit as the season has been going on," Leonard said.
Does that add extra incentive?
"Oh yeah," Leonard chuckled, "I always go out and play hard, but with him being there I really feel like we have to go out and beat 'em."
The Redbirds and the Salukis will meet for the 81st time, with SIU leading the all-time series 41-36-3.
Taking it on the chin
SIU will play the first half without star safety Jeremy Chinn as a result of a targeting penalty in last week's loss at Youngstown State.
"I talked to Bill Carollo, the head of officiating for the Big Ten and our conference. It's just a tough rule," SIU head coach Nick Hill said. "Jeremy does everything that he possibly could be taught to do. In my opinion, it's a bad rule to punish a kid to have to sit out a half. The rule says, any forcible contact to the head or neck area. They threw the flags, they reviewed it, they upheld the targeting call. We have to move on from it."
Three key matchups
- ISU running game vs. SIU defense: "The key to the game is (James Robinson)," Hill said. "He might be the best back in our league and we have a lot of good ones in this league. He's a heckuva back. There's been a lot of games where they put the ball on his shoulders and that's who they want to be."
- D.J. Davis vs. ISU defense: SIU's versatile back will draw plenty of interest from the Redbird defense. "He's much like (Western Illinois' Steve) McShane. Very quick, athletic and changes direction. Not a very big guy, but tough, really tough," Spack said.
- Health & depth: The Salukis come into the game banged up. SIU's linebacking corps has been particularly hard hit. In addition, starting quarterback Sam Straub missed last week's game with a concussion. He is expected to play against the Redbirds.
Southern Illinois at Illinois State. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Hancock Stadium. Fans can listen to their respective school's radio network or can watch the game on ESPN3.