Maroon-hot SIU gunning for fourth consecutive victory

Maroon-hot SIU gunning for fourth consecutive victory
Southern Illinois is gunning for its first four-game win streak since 2009. (photo courtery siusalukis.com)

Riding the crest of a three-game winning streak and moving into the national conversation for a spot in the 24-team FCS playoff field isn't enough for Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill.

"Looking back at last week, we have some things we have to get better at," said Hill in his opening remarks at Monday's press conference in reference to SIU's 23-14 win over Indiana State.

"Like I said after the game, you're always going to enjoy a win, that's the ultimate goal, but we can play better. I think that's the focus we had yesterday when we came in and were really just critical of the film, our players had that attitude. We can tighten some things up and we're going to have to do that if we want to win this week."

This week brings Missouri State, a one-win team to Carbondale's Saluki Stadium for a Missouri Valley Football Conference game.

Hill, whose teams stands at 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference, isn't counting on just showing up for an easy victory.

"You guys will want to look at Missouri State's record, but when you put on their film, I think they're a good football team that's continuing to play hard. They have a lot of good football players," Hill said. "They're playing at a high level on defense.

"When you turn on the North Dakota State film and it's 14-0 in the third quarter, North Dakota State only puts up 22 points against them. Offensively, any time you play a quarterback who can run the football like Peyton (Huslig) can, it makes you work. Teams have tried to stop him from running the football. If you can get a team to be one-dimensional, that's your goal, and then you can put pressure on the quarterback."

Sack happy

SIU's defense ranks sixth in FCS, averaging 3.44 sacks per game. Twelve different players have recorded sacks. Southern tied a school record with nine sacks versus Youngstown State.

Sophomore outside linebacker Makel Calhoun ranks third in MVFC-only games with 4.5 sacks. For the season, he leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Calhoun recorded two sacks in both the Youngstown State and Indiana State games.

Kicking in

When regular kicker Griffin Cerra was injured during pregame warmups, backup Nico Gualdoni was thrust into being a key contributor to the Salukis' win over Indiana State.

Gualdoni, who lost his starting job earlier this season to Cerra, delivered by nailing three field goals.

"That last kick was a big-time kick — 35 yards and swirling wind, not an easy kick and made it to go up two scores. We had four opportunities in the red zone, we had to kick three field goals, which, obviously, we needed," Hill said.

Chinn up

Earlier this week safety Jeremy Chinn accepted an invitation to play in the postseason Senior Bowl. He will be just the third player in school history and the first since tight end Damon Jones in 1996 to play in the postseason all-star game.

Chinn was also added to the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the top FCS defensive player.

Despite missing two games with a foot injury, the preseason All-American is second in the MVFC with four interceptions. A 6-foot-3, 212-pound senior, Chinn has moved into fifth place in career interceptions at SIU with 13. He is also second in pass breakups (26) and second in forced fumbles (6). 

Safety in numbers

While Chinn often gets the headlines as one of the nation's top safeties and NFL prospects, fellow safety Qua Brown is fifth in the nation in solo tackles per game (6.3) and 25th in total tackles (9.2). He had 16 tackles at Southeast Missouri State and 14 at UMass. The junior also has five pass breakups this season.

What this game means

Though the Salukis drew enough recognition in this week's polls to be listed among those getting votes, Hill's focus remains on adding another win to SIU's total.

"As far as being in the Top 25, if we don't win this week, we won't be in it," Hill said. "If you keep winning, you get recognized for that kind of stuff. Our focus is on winning this game and getting to 6-4. If we keep winning, we keep getting to play. We haven't talked any about (the Top 25)."

The Salukis last had a four-game winning streak in 2009.

Where can I find the game?

SIU hosts Missouri State at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised by ESPN3. To listen to the Salukis’ radio broadcast, visit www.CILFM.com.

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