What a difference three weeks can make.
Nobody knows that better than the Southern Illinois football team, which was floundering at 2-4 last month and giving up 28 points a game.
Three weeks later, the Salukis beat Indiana State, 23-14, in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday to win their third straight game, improve to 5-4 and boost their FCS playoff chances with three games remaining.
“I’m just really proud of our guys,” SIU head coach Nick Hill told the media after the game. “I felt like so many guys played unbelievable games. There were so many things to be excited about. We played winning football. We kept running the football. We’re excited about getting out of here with a win.”
SIU improved to 3-2 in the MVFC, while the Sycamores dropped to 3-6, 1-4.
During their three-game winning streak against Missouri Valley Football Conference teams, SIU’s defense is giving up only 17.3 points a game, while the ground game has stood tall. In its three victories, the Salukis are averaging 262.6 yards on the ground.
Here are three things we learned about the Salukis:
- DJ Davis hits milestone as dogs’ run continues. Another week, another highlight in the career of SIU standout running back D.J. Davis. A senior from Pompano Beach, Fla., Davis rushed for a season-best 160 yards and surpassed 5,000 career all-purpose yards during his college career. “I think we’ll look back and see that he’s one of the best running backs in school history and a Saluki Hall of Famer,” Hill said. Davis led another punishing SIU ground performance, and redshirt freshman Javon Williams Jr. rushed for two TDs and 84 yards.
- Defense does work in win. For the second time in three weeks, SIU’s defense allowed 14 points or fewer. The Salukis collected three sacks, an interception and held Indiana State to 2-for-13 on third down in a strong performance. The Sycamores managed only 292 total yards and 4.3 yards per play. Sophomore linebacker Bryson Strong forced a fumble and had a career-high 12 tackles. Fellow sophomore linebacker Makel Calhoun racked up a career-best 11 tackles and had two of SIU’s three sacks.
- Depth shines through for Salukis. When redshirt freshman SIU kicker Griffin Cerra was injured in warmups, in stepped junior Nico Gualdoni, who connected on all three of his field goals and booted four touchbacks on six kickoffs. Gualdoni hit two second-half field goals to keep the Sycamores at bay. Perhaps the most important kick was when Gualdoni hit a 27-yarder early in the fourth quarter to set the final score after Indiana State trimmed SIU’s lead to 20-14.
SIU returns home for an MVFC matchup against Missouri State (1-7) on Saturday, Nov. 9. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.