After the high of beating the No. 1 team in the nation last weekend, Southern Illinois football coach Nick Hill said he wants more from the Salukis.
“We’re not going to shy away or act like it wasn’t a big win,” he said of the team’s 38-14 victory last weekend against FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. “It’s something that (the players) will look back on and remember for a long time.”
But Hill wants to ensure that beating NDSU isn’t the only highlight of the team’s Missouri Valley Football Conference-only spring schedule.
“We’re after sustained success,” he said. “That’s tough to do. (Beating NDSU) doesn’t mean you’re going to have success from here on out.”
The next step for SIU (2-1), which jumped to No. 11 in this week’s STATS Perform national poll, is Saturday’s 11 a.m. road game at Youngstown State (0-2).
“We’ve got a lot of season left,” Hill said. “What we do with that win is what our focus is. If you want to be a great program … you’ve got to get focused back on your daily tasks.”
One of the Salukis’ first tasks will be to ensure the offense remains productive under new starting quarterback Nic Baker, a sophomore from Rochester, Ill. Baker, who won MVFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after the NDSU victory, will start for the second week in a row for Kare’ Lyles, who is out with two broken ribs, Hill said.
Baker’s high school teammate, SIU junior wide receiver Avante Cox, went down with a knee injury late in Saturday’s game. However, Hill said the injury was not serious.
“If it was up to Avante, he’d be out there practicing,” Hill said Monday.
In three games, Cox leads the team with 24 receptions and 323 yards. He ranks in the top 12 nationally in receiving yards, receptions per game and receiving yards per game.
Though Youngstown has scored only seven points in its two games, the Salukis know that any opponent can be dangerous. In Week 1, the Salukis lost 44-21 to then-unranked North Dakota.
“As a coach, there’s nothing like that feeling of a win,” Hill said. “There’s also nothing like the feeling of a tough loss.”
Just as SIU put the loss away and focused on facing the Bison, Hill expects the same approach this week.
“I had full confidence that we were able to put a tough loss behind us,” he said. “They can also put a big win behind them. I have confidence in each and every (assistant) coach who’s going to relay that message.”
After allowing 44 points in the season-opening game to North Dakota, the SIU defense enjoyed an impressive turnaround against NDSU.
The Salukis allowed only 109 rushing yards, 63 of which came on one play late in the fourth quarter.
Linebackers Bryce Notree (16), Bryson Strong (13) and Makel Calhoun (12) lead the team in tackles.
Rebound in the rankings
Beating North Dakota State pushed the Salukis to No. 11 nationally in the STATS Perform FCS poll this week. That is the highest ranking for SIU since the team was No. 5 on Sept. 13, 2010.
About Youngstown State
Despite being 0-2, the Penguins have proven to be stingy on defense. In last week’s 21-0 loss to Northern Iowa, the score was 6-0 entering the fourth quarter.
A week earlier at North Dakota State, YSU gave up only 74 passing yards. In the season opener, the Penguins had 13 first-time starters on the field.
On offense, Youngstown has rotated quarterbacks Joe Craycraft and Mark Waid. The duo was limited to 64 passing yards against UNI.
Linebackers Grant Dixon and Griffin Hoak are tied for the team lead with 15 tackles.
Where to watch the game
The game, which is an 11 a.m. kickoff, will air online via ESPN+