3 things we learned: Salukis outraced by Jackrabbits on the ground

SIU sophomore running back Justin Strong (5) and the Salukis rushed for a season-low 121 yards in a 44-3 loss to South Dakota State. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

While zooming up the national rankings this spring to No. 5, Southern Illinois leaned on a three-pronged running attack.

On Saturday in Carbondale, South Dakota State turned the tables on the Salukis, rolling to a 44-3 victory against SIU behind a powerful ground game.

Sixth-ranked SDSU (4-1 overall, 4-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) rolled up 392 yards on the ground on 61 carries (6.4 per carry) to beat Southern for the fifth meeting in a row between the schools.

“This game will humble you pretty quick,” SIU head coach Nick Hill told the media after the game. “They’ve had our number. They’ve beaten us five times in a row. That makes you sick to your stomach to even say that out loud, but that’s the truth.”

SIU used three quarterbacks in the game and managed only 213 total yards, including a season-low 121 on the ground and 213 total yards.

  1. QB becomes a quandary

Southern entered the week uncertain of who would start at quarterback against SDSU after a foot injury to sophomore Nic Baker last week. Junior quarterback Stone Labanowitz, the SIU starter on opening day in 2019, began the game for the Salukis and completed 8 of 9 passes for 41 yards and an interception. Senior Kare’ Lyles, who took over for Labanowitz last season after an injury, started the second half and was 3-for-8 and threw two interceptions. Redshirt Zach Zebrowski entered the game in the second half and was 2-for-5 passing. “I’m not a guy who wants to rotate quarterbacks,” Hill said. “But right now, that’s where we are.”

2. Defense gets bruised

For the second time this spring, SIU gave up 44 points in a game. This time, the defense was roughed up by backup SDSU running back Isaiah Davis, who gained 150 yards and scored three touchdowns in place of injured All-American Pierre Strong Jr. The Jackrabbits’ freshman quarterback, Mark Gronowski, rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Grad transfer Jordan Meachum had 88 yards.

The SIU defense allowed nine runs of 10 yards or more.

3. Where does SIU fall?

After wins against two top-five teams (North Dakota State and Northern Iowa), SIU stumbled in its first game since joining that club. So how far does SIU fall in the rankings, which come out Monday? It’s anyone’s guess, considering the volatile nature of polls.

What’s up next?

SIU travels to Missouri State for a 2 p.m. game on Saturday, March 27.

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