In the first home game of the season, the #2 SIU Salukis (according to FCS Coaches poll in NCAA-IAA) faced off against our #11 Fighting Illini (according to Big Ten rankings). Per the press box predictions prior to the start of the game, the majority of the sports writers predicted an Illini win in a very close game. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were all wrong.
As I predicted, #2 Nathan Scheelhaase threw darts all day, 14 to be exact. Nathan finished the game 14 of 18 for 229 yards and 2 TD’s. Our “new look” ball-control offense does have a TE, Evan Wilson # 89 had a big catch that ended up at the 2 yard line, and # 88 Justin Lattimore had a nice TD grab late in the game. The Fighting Illini receiving core was instrumental in keeping drives alive all evening and realized what YAC truly is. A.J. Jenkins #8 found his knack in the SIU secondary, becoming a favorite target of Nathan Scheelhaase. Jenkins finished the game with 114 receiving yards and 1 TD. I would like to congratulate #5 Mikel Leshoure for his second 100+ yard game and 2 TD’s.
I would like to commend our front seven for containing the QB and shutting down the very potent running game of the Salukis and forcing two fumbles. I was happy to see #93 Clay Nurse (Bandit), #2 Martez Wilson and #38 Ian Thomas adjusting to new positions and making them all very affective in the defense team. As we look forward to the Big Ten games I would like to see more blitzes off the corner and linebacker blitz to put more pressure on the QB. But overall, our defense was outstanding for the second week; secondary was a lot more aggressive. It was great to see the Fighting Illini play for a full 60 minutes.
It’s the little things in a football game that separate good teams from great teams. For example, we have a punter, #87 Anthony Santella who averages 50+yards a punt per game. I would take a 45 yard average punter who angles his punts towards the sidelines trying to pin the opponent inside the 10 yard line, with no return instead of a 50+yard punter who continues to punt down the middle of the field for a touch back. My other concern is defensive secondary should not taunt receivers from the other team when we have not intercepted a ball all year. Let our aggressive play do the talking on the field. I would like to see our safeties breaking on the ball more and jumping the routes, interceptions will come and help our defense tremendously. As a former player I can still remember my secondary coach saying, “Once the ball leaves the QB hands, it can’t change direction — break on the ball”.
Photos by T. McDade