Southeast Missouri State football team to visit winless Salukis

Friday, September 14, 2012

Southern Illinois football coach Dale Lennon believes the rivalry between the Salukis and Southeast Missouri State has taken on a different vibe since 2010.

That was the year the Redhawks rallied from an 18-point deficit to pull off a 24-21 upset of SIU, which was ranked fifth nationally at the time and was playing just its second game in its $25 million Saluki Stadium.

"This rivalry really intensified two years ago when we were highly ranked at the time and they came in and beat us in our second game at our new stadium," Lennon said.

The 78th edition of the rivalry will take place Saturday when Southeast (1-1) and SIU (0-2) square off at 6 p.m. in Carbondale, Ill. It will be the Salukis' home opener.

Southeast leads the all-time series 37-32-8 and has won three of the past four meetings in Carbondale.

Before 2010, SIU had won the previous four matchups by a combined margin of 170-57. And the Salukis avenged that 2010 shocker last year with a 38-10 romp in Cape Girardeau.

"Any time you have this kind of proximity, you're always going to have some kind of rivalry," said Southeast coach Tony Samuel, who in his seventh season with the Redhawks is 1-2 against SIU since the series was resumed in 2009. "I think it's great to have this kind of rivalry."

SIU, despite being 0-2 for the first time since 2001, is rated a nine-point favorite, which speaks for the talent the Salukis possess.

"They've got an awful lot of talent. I wouldn't look at their 0-2 record," Samuel said.

SIU has fallen on hard times after fielding one of the nation's top Football Championship Subdivision programs.

The Salukis have suffered two consecutive losing seasons, including last year's 4-7 mark that featured a 2-6 Missouri Valley Conference finish.

SIU is 9-15 since the start of the 2010 season. The Salukis won at least nine games in each of the seven seasons from 2003 to 2009, when they went 51-16 and made seven consecutive playoff appearances.

The Salukis hoped to begin their turnaround with a fast start -- but that hasn't happened.

"Sitting here at 0-2 is something we weren't expecting," Lennon said.

SIU opened the season with a 49-28 loss at Eastern Illinois of the Ohio Valley Conference and last week fell 30-14 at Football Bowl Subdivision Miami of Ohio.

"They're still a very good football team. They're a physical team," Samuel said. "You can see they're getting better. They had a lot of turnovers [six] against Eastern Illinois."

The Salukis returned 16 starters from last year, including junior quarterback and Ste. Genevieve High School graduate Kory Faulkner, who was recruited by Southeast.

Faulkner took over last year after an injury to Paul McIntosh and started the final seven games. He completed 59.4 percent (133 of 224) for 1,477 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 235 yards and seven touchdowns.

So far this season Faulkner has completed 54.3 percent (50 of 92) for 488 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

"He's done a really good job in developing his game from a year ago," Lennon said. "He was kind of thrown into the fire."

SIU returned eight of its top 10 receivers, led by sophomore tight end MyCole Pruitt. He paced the Salukis as a redshirt freshman with 43 receptions for 13.1-yard average.

Pruitt has 10 catches so far this year, just behind senior wide receiver David Lewis' 11.

The Salukis lost 1,100-yard rusher Jewel Hampton but have a strong two-headed rushing attack of senior Steve Strother and sophomore Mika'il McCall, an Iowa transfer.

Strother gained 277 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in a limited role last year. He has 89 yards so far this season. McCall leads the Salukis with 130 yards and has scored five of their six touchdowns.

Samuel said Strother is "extremely fast, very quick," and that McCall is "a big, strong kid, a physical runner."

Strother is also among the nation's top kick returners, although he has been limited to a 17-yard average so far this year.

Strother averaged 27.6 yards per return last season and in the 2010 loss to Southeast returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.

"They've got a lot of speed on special teams," Samuel said.

Preseason All-American senior nose tackle Kayon Swanson led SIU with 52 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and four sacks, in 2011. He was suspended for last week's game at Miami of Ohio but is expected to start Saturday.

Senior defensive end Kenneth Boatright had 51 tackles while pacing the Salukis with 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

SIU's top tackler through two games is junior linebacker Bryan Presume with 17. Senior defensive end Eze Obiora leads the Salukis with 3.5 sacks.

Lennon said he has been impressed with the Redhawks, especially during their opening 38-27 loss at FBS Central Michigan. Southeast led the heavily favored Chippewas by 14 points in the first half and still was ahead in the third quarter.

"They played very well against Central Michigan," Lennon said. "They're pretty well rounded in all facets."

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