One of the first jobs that Southern Illinois head football coach Nick Hill took on this offseason was finding new offensive and defensive coordinators.
Now that he has Blake Rolan in place on offense, this spring’s priority is to find a quarterback to run Rolan’s wide-open attack.
With Jason Petrino running the defense, the Salukis must revamp a unit that ranked last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in three different statistical categories.
The challenges abound for SIU, which won only two games last season.
Here are five burning questions facing the Salukis for 2019:
Who plays quarterback next season?
The past two years, senior quarterbacks were removed from the starting lineup late in the season as the Salukis stumbled.
This season, Sam Straub went to the bench in favor of fellow senior Matt DeSomer.
The outlook for next season, however, doesn’t have a veteran on the current roster to take over.
Straub and DeSomer combined to pass for all 18 of the team’s touchdowns and 2,328 of SIU’s 2,379 yards through the air.
Freshman Nic Baker of Illinois’ powerhouse Rochester High School program completed 4 of 7 passes in two games. Sophomore Stone Labanowitz, a junior college transfer, completed one pass.
For the SIU offense to thrive, the Salukis need a consistent and highly productive presence at quarterback.
On Wednesday, Baker’s high school teammate at wide receiver, Avante Cox, made his transfer from Wyoming to SIU official. Perhaps that combination will connect again on the field.
When will the injuries stop?
Injuries became the storyline for much of the season in 2018.
In fact, starting tight end Jake Varble and starting linebacker Cody Crider sustained torn ACLs in the same game. For Crider, it was the third time he has torn the same knee ligament.
The injuries didn’t discriminate by position.
DeSomer played the final few games with a painful foot injury. Reserve running back Johnathan Mixon missed time and safety Qua Brown had knee surgery during the season.
Hill doesn’t like to use injuries as an excuse, since everybody has them.
But when will the Salukis enjoy some good health?
When that happens, it will go a long way to increasing the hope for a brighter future in the program.
Can new defensive coordinator Jason Petrino revive the defense?
Among five defensive categories in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Salukis ranked last or next to last in each one.
Giving up a league-worst 40.7 points and 483.4 yards a game can certainly leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Along comes Petrino, who spent four years during his career as the defensive coordinator at South Dakota.
The SIU defense has individual talent at each level.
Sophomore defensive end Anthony Knighton has 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks this season. Meanwhile, sophomore linebacker Bryce Notree has a team-leading 78 tackles and 49 solo stops.
Junior Jeremy Chinn led the secondary with a team-high three interceptions and seven pass breakups.
In the past three seasons, Petrino’s defenses at NAIA Rocky Mountain College in Montana, where he was the head coach, shaved 10 points and nearly 40 yards a game off of their defensive average.
He will have to solve the defense’s 5.5 rush yards and 8.5 pass yards per play allowed in order to make some headway in the conference.
The good news is that he has 10 starters returning and another year of recruits to build a more stingy defensive unit.
What will the offense look like under new coordinator Blake Rolan?
Last season, as the offensive coordinator at NCAA Division II Dixie State, Rolan led a wide-open passing attack that ranked fifth in the nation.
The Trailblazers averaged 323.5 yards a game using three different starting quarterbacks. Six different receivers had at least 19 receptions, which should be welcome news to SIU sophomore Landon Lenoir, the team’s top returning receiver with 48 catches.
Expect do-it-all running back D.J. Davis to see plenty of opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield as well.
How much more can D.J. Davis do?
A team-leading 1,118 rushing yards.
Punt and kickoff return duty.
How much more can soon-to-be senior running back D.J. Davis do for SIU?
The Salukis need Davis to continue contributing in all facets of the game … and they need to find him more help.
An efficient quarterback running the show would go a long way to making Davis even more effective.
The team lost two of its top four receivers and needs to find replacements this spring.