Southern Illinois redshirt freshman Javon Williams, Jr. did something for the ages — and the age of the Saluki football program is 107 years.
Williams, who originally signed with SIU as a quarterback, has developed into a multi-threat running back. The former Centralia High School star rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and passed for a touchdown as the Salukis steamrolled to a 35-10 Homecoming romp over No. 18 Youngstown State.
The Salukis (3-4, 1-2) beat a ranked opponent for the first time in two years behind Williams, a power running game that netted 189 yards, and a ferocious pass rush that generated nine sacks and held the Penguins (4-3, 0-3) to 30 total rushing yards.
“I’m just excited for our guys and everybody involved with our program,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said afterward. “It’s not easy in this league and it wasn’t easy today. (Our guys) continue to commit to the process and what we believe in.”
Here are three things we learned following the Salukis’ upset:
1. Williams, Jr. is a star in the making.
The last Saluki to rush for a TD, pass for a TD and catch a TD was quarterback Chris Dieker in 2008. However, he accomplished that in a season. Williams, Jr. pulled off his feat in a single game.
“He could play tight end for us, he could play wide receiver, he could play quarterback for us, he could play linebacker for us,” Hill said. “When you start talking about the top freshmen in the country, Javon’s name needs to come up.”
Williams, Jr. finished the game with 188 total yards (73 receiving, 63 rushing, 41 passing and 11 returning punts). He scored on a seven-yard run, a 73-yard catch and run from quarterback Karé Lyles and threw a 41-yard TD to wide-open tight end Jacob Garrett.
2. The Salukis welcomed back their top players.
SIU was certainly boosted by the return of seniors Jeremy Chinn and D.J. Davis from injuries.
Chinn, a safety from Fishers, Ind., is considered to be one of the top FCS players entering next spring’s NFL Draft. Chinn led the Salukis with nine tackles Saturday, eight of them solo.
Davis, a running back from Pompano Beach, Fla., rushed for a game-high 70 yards on 18 carries.
“There’s just something about having them out on the field, seeing them and believing in them,” Hill said. “Those plays that go for five or six yards could be 20 or 30-yard plays if (Chinn) doesn’t make those tackles out in space.”
3. SIU stepped up defensively.
Southern’s defense shut out Youngstown State in the second half and pressured Penguin quarterbacks Nathan Mayes and Joe Craycraft most of the day.
“(The defense) came out and put up a shut-out in the second half,” Hill said. “I thought coaches did an outstanding job of putting guys in position to make plays.”
Hill said the team changed its practice routine slightly this week, with more live work than usual for this time of year, and felt it helped the team be more physical.
“We didn’t tackle to the ground, but we went at each other (in practice),” Hill explained. “I felt like that was the focus and intensity that we had to have.”
SIU plays its next Missouri Valley Conference game Saturday, Oct. 26 at South Dakota. Kickoff is 4 p.m.