3 things we learned: Offensive struggles sting Southern in 2nd consecutive loss

SIU running back Romeir Elliott was part of ground game that rushed for only 36 yards Saturday in a 38-28 loss to Missouri State. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

After his team’s second straight loss – and consecutive weeks of subpar offensive play – Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill put the blame for his team’s struggles squarely on his own shoulders Saturday.

“I’m the one who calls the plays,” Hill told the Saluki Radio Network after the team’s 38-28 home loss to Missouri State. “It starts with me. I’m just disappointed. It’s just not good enough.”

After taking a 13-10 halftime lead, the No. 7 Salukis punted on four consecutive second-half drives, which netted a total of 43 yards.

In that time, 17th-ranked Missouri State put up 21 unanswered points and 219 yards of offense to take control of the game and bolster their FCS playoff hopes, improving to 6-3 overall and 5-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

In two weeks, the Salukis (6-3, 4-2) have gone from trailing the MVFC leader by half a game to sitting in a three-way, third-place tie. With two games remaining in the season, there’s little margin for error if the Salukis want to make a second consecutive playoff trip.

“There’s a lack of consistency in putting 60 minutes together,” Hill said. “There’s times on offense where we’re just not very good. It shows up in every game, just too many inconsistencies. We were up 13-10 at halftime. We needed 30 minutes to go win a game, and we didn’t do it.”

Sophomore quarterback Nic Baker threw two fourth-quarter TDs to close the gap and finished 21-for-38 for 262 yards and three scores. However, 12 of his completions came in the fourth quarter with SIU trailing and his 55.3% completion percentage Saturday was his lowest of the season.

“We have to be better,” Hill said. “I have to be better.”

In four straight games against top-20 opponents, the Salukis are 2-2.

“They’re all good teams,” he said. “They’re not going to let you just be inconsistent for too long without beating you.”

Senior wide receiver Landon Lenoir caught seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in the game, but said SIU needs to become a more efficient offense.

“We’ve got to do a better job of executing, pulling out games, finishing games and not getting too complacent,” he said. “It’s tough, but I believe in this team, and I think we can turn it around quickly.”

Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned about the Southern Illinois loss:

  1. Run game goes quiet

With a stable of four running backs, SIU managed only 36 rushing yards and 1.2 yards per carry against the Bears.

“That’s disappointing,” Hill said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We’ll look at everything. There’s too many lulls.”

SIU’s leading rusher was senior Donnovan Spencer, who gained 15 yards on 11 carries. No other back rushed for more than six yards.

The biggest contribution out of the backfield came from sophomore Justin Strong, who caught three passes for 36 yards, including a 17-yard TD pass from Baker in the first quarter.

2. Defense takes a hit

Saturday was a tale of two halves for the SIU defense. In the first half, the Salukis’ pass rush put together seven sacks of dynamic Missouri State quarterback Jason Shelley.

In the second half, he ran for a 14-yard touchdown, threw a 31-yard scoring pass, connected on a 74-yard pass play and guided the offense to 28 points while being sacked only once. He also had five runs of nine yards of longer in the final two quarters.

“He’s a playmaker,” Hill said. “He made more plays individually. Most of the plays they made were off-schedule plays, him running around. We knew that. That was the key to the game. It was, ‘Could we contain him for an entire 60 minutes?’ Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it.”

The Salukis allowed MSU to convert 13 of 20 third-down opportunities on the day and gave up 237 rushing yards, including an 87-yard TD run to Kevon Latulas early in the fourth quarter.

3. Special teams standouts

Senior kicker Nico Gualdoni connected on a career-long 55-yard field goal to give SIU its 13-10 halftime lead. He also booted a 50-yarder in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, senior punter Jack Colquhoun averaged 50.9 yards on seven punts. His long of the day was 66 yards, and four of his punts were 50 yards or better. Three of the punts were downed inside the MSU 20-yard line.

News and notes

At long last, senior defensive end Anthony Knighton took over the career sack lead at SIU with his second-quarter sack of MSU quarterback Jason Shelley. He now has 24 career sacks. … Freshman linebacker Jakari Patterson, who sustained a broken bone in one hand last week, did not play Saturday and will miss the remainder of the season, according to Saluki Radio Network. Patterson had 33 total tackles this season and a team-high four pass breakups. His biggest play of the season was a tackle on a two-point conversion in overtime against Western Illinois to secure a victory. … Hill said third downs continue to be a struggle for the SIU offense. On Saturday, the Salukis converted three of 15 third downs, a 20% success rate. “Our third downs have not been very good,” he said. “If you look at teams that are going to score a lot of points, they’re efficient on third down. They’re in the mid-to-high 40s to 50%. Those are an extra two to three series a game that you get to stay on the field.” For the season, SIU is at 35.2%. … Over the two-game losing streak, Southern has allowed seven sacks. “Sacks kill drives,” Hill said.

What’s next?

The Salukis travel to Terre Haute, Ind., for a noon kickoff against Indiana State on Saturday, Nov. 13.

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