No. 8 Southern Illinois focused on ramping up workload for Williams, deep RB group

Southern Illinois running back Javon Williams Jr. has scored 35 career touchdowns for the Salukis as a rusher, passer and receiver. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

Southern Illinois running back Javon Williams Jr. is no stranger to the end zone.

During his career in Carbondale, the Centralia High School product has rushed for 28 TDs, passed for five and caught two. On the field, he’s been a valuable multitasker.

This fall, despite scoring three times in the first two games, Williams Jr. is likely to get more involved in the SIU offense.

“Javon is always going to be part of the plan, and he can do some special things,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “We’ve got to continue to try to find ways to get him going.”

When the No. 8 Salukis (1-1) take the field Saturday, Sept. 18 against Dayton of the non-scholarship FCS Pioneer Football League, the offense’s versatility is likely to take center stage.

Javon Williams Jr.

A dangerous Wildcat option at quarterback, Williams Jr. leads the team with 23 rushing attempts this season but has caught only one pass and not attempted a pass this season.

He was limited in the spring by injury, but Williams Jr. is back at full strength, according to his coach.

“He’s as healthy as he’s been,” Hill said. “He had a great training camp. He didn’t miss a practice.”

Fellow running back Justin Strong, who had a breakout spring season, is leading the team with 96 yards on the ground and 5.6 yards per carry in two games.

The Salukis also have an additional option in Romeir Elliott, who missed the opener and had only five carries for seven yards against Kansas State.

This fall, the Salukis have yet to use speedy All-America wide receiver Avante Cox in the run game. Used mainly on jet sweeps, Cox rushed 25 times in the spring and gained nearly 10 yards a carry.

The Salukis also added depth via the transfer portal in the off-season with senior Donnavan Spencer, who rushed for 2,100 yards over four seasons at Western Carolina.

No matter who the Salukis use in the run game, Hill expects his offensive players to remain selfless.

“Being unselfish is going to be part of this team’s M.O.,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to trust that.”

Flying high at Dayton

When Dayton takes the field Saturday in Carbondale, it will be only the Flyers’ second game in the past 658 days amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The non-scholarship Flyers beat Eastern Illinois, 17-10, last weekend to improve to 9-2 all-time time against current members of the Ohio Valley Conference. “This isn’t a lower-level opponent by any means,” Hill said. “These guys have had more success that we’ve had over the past 10 years. They’re a team that fully expects to win in their league and be in the FCS playoffs.”

Over the past 10 seasons, Dayton has a 75-36 record and one playoff appearance.

The Salukis, meanwhile, have a 45-56 mark with one appearance in the FCS postseason.

News and notes

Bryson Strong

SIU junior linebacker Bryson Strong, who is out with a reported shoulder injury, is likely to return to the field by “the end of October,” Hill said. “He’s been incredible as a leader on the sideline in games, in the meeting room.” Strong will begin individual work this week, according to Hill, as the linebacker works his way back. During the spring, Strong led the Salukis with 72 tackles. … As reported Friday by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, athletic director Liz Jarnigan was relieved of her duties late last week, just days before the Salukis played at Kansas State. Hill said Monday he publicly wanted to thank Jarnigan for her support of the program. “She was a phenomenal person, No. 1, and that’s what you appreciate,” Hill said. “She was always kind and professional.” Hill said the incoming AD will be the fourth he has worked for during his coaching tenure at SIU.

Where to find the game

The 6 p.m. kickoff against Dayton will be broadcast by ESPN-Plus online. The SIU radio call is available at CILFM.com.

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