Salukis try to rebound from season-opening loss as No. 1 NDSU visits

Salukis try to rebound from season-opening loss as No. 1 NDSU visits
The last time Southern Illinois faced top-ranked North Dakota State, SIU running back Javon Williams Jr. rushed for a touchdown. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

This week, the Southern Illinois football team will try to do something it hasn’t had to experience in 15 months – rebound from a loss.

The Salukis’ 44-21 season-opening loss last weekend at North Dakota was the team’s first defeat since Nov. 23, 2019 against North Dakota State.

“We’d rather go out there and learn with a win, but were going to have to learn from a loss and move on,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said during his weekly press conference. “We have a great team coming in that we have to do that against.”

Ironically, No. 1 NDSU and its 39-game winning streak is back in Carbondale this weekend to face SIU at noon Saturday.

The Salukis (1-1) have to focus first on taking care of the football after they opened the season with five turnovers against North Dakota.

“There’s no magic formula to that,” Hill said. “You have to make smart decisions with the ball from the quarterback position and you have to have great ball security.”

Senior quarterback Kare’ Lyles fumbled twice before leaving the game with a rib injury. His replacement, sophomore Nic Baker, threw two interceptions.

Despite the defeat, Hill said he saw plenty of positives.

“I think we have a good football team, and we’ll show that throughout the season,” he said.

Lyles listed at No. 1

Senior quarterback Kare’ Lyles, who left last week’s game with a rib injury after being sacked, is listed as the starter this week on SIU’s depth chart.

Lyles was 12-for-14 passing for 74 yards before the injury. The performance tied Lyles for second in single-game completion percentage in school history (85.7%). The last SIU player to complete that percentage of passes was current head coach Nick Hill in 2007.

“I feel that Kare probably graded out … as good of a game as he’s played here,” Hill said.

Cox among nation’s best

Junior wide receiver Avante Cox of Rochester, Ill., is among the nation’s leading pass catchers. Through two games this season, Cox ranked second in the FCS in receptions per game (8.0), fifth in receiving yards a game (90.5), eighth in all-purpose yards (127.5).

Kicking toward Top 10

Nico Gualdoni, SIU’s senior placekicker, has 16 career field goals, which is one shy of the top 10 in school history. His 51 career PATs currently ranks 13th in Saluki history.

Familiar faces up front

On the SIU offensive line, senior left guard ZeVeyon Furcron has 26 consecutive starts, the second-most on the team behind defensive end Anthony Knighton’s 36. Sophomore Beau Branyan, who plays next to Furcron at left tackle, has started 13 games in a row, which is the third-most on the team.

About NDSU

The Bison (2-0), the nation’s No. 1 team and eight-time national champion, bring a 39-game winning streak to Carbondale. A victory against SIU would tie NDSU for the second-longest winning streak in Division I history with Washington (1908-14).

NDSU beat Youngstown State, 25-7, last weekend in its season opener in Fargo. The Bison defense held Youngstown to 51 yards rushing. Meanwhile, the offense rushed for 243 yards in the victory, led by sophomore Kobe Johnson’s career-best 116 yards.

Where you can watch

The game will air at noon on ESPN+ online.

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