Jacks to host No. 8 Southern Illinois

Marshall Minihan, Reporter (He/Him)

South Dakota State faces its first big test of the season this weekend as they face Southern Illinois Saturday, Oct. 9, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

The matchup will be the third time the No. 2 Jackrabbits and the No. 8 Salukis meet since last Spring.

The two teams met in Carbondale, Illinois, March 20, in a game dominated by the Jackrabbits. In that game, they ran for nearly 400 yards on their way to a 44-3 statement victory.

The two teams would meet again at the Football Championship Subdivision Quarterfinals on May 2 at Dykhouse Stadium. This time, the Salukis were ready, nearly pulling the upset of the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But in the end, the Jacks prevailed 31-26.

South Dakota State

This season, South Dakota State has scored 193 total points, outscoring opponents by an average of 39 points a game.

They also are third in the FCS in both scoring offense, averaging 48.4 points per game, and scoring defense, allowing less than 10 per game.

Last week against Dixie State, the Jacks scored a school record of 35 points in the second quarter, as they blew out the Trailblazers 55-7. 

But one area of concern for SDSU is injuries. In their first three games, a key starter went down with a severe injury that would sideline them for most, if not all, of the season.

In week one, Landon Wolf, a transfer from Oklahoma State, went down with a season-ending injury on a punt return. Running back Isaiah Davis followed the next week but could be back by the playoffs. In week three, all-American cornerback Don Gardner broke his arm and is expected to be out eight weeks.

Last week was the first time this season the Jacks didn’t have a significant injury.

“We are just going to do what we do and play like the dangerous team we are,” said safety Michael Griffin II.

Southern Illinois

Led by coach Nick Hill, SIU started the season seventh in the FCS Stats Perform poll. They enter this game now ranked eighth and are tied atop the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings.

They began their football season Sept. 2 in Girardeau, Missouri, against Semo and walked away with a 47-21 win.

In week 2, they faced Kansas State from the Big 12 Conference. In what was a tough matchup for the Salukis, they wound up losing 31-23.

SIU would quickly rebound the following week in their home opener against Dayton, beating the Flyers 55-3. They would then cruise to a 35-17 win against Illinois State on Sept. 25 to open their conference schedule.

Their latest outing was at Western Illinois, a game the Salukis barely escaped, winning 31-30 in overtime.

Southern Illinois’ offense has performed well this season. They are currently second in the MVFC behind SDSU in scoring offense, averaging 38.2 points per game. The Saluki defense is allowing 20.4 points per game.

Key Players for SDSU

Due to dominating opponents early in games, the Jackrabbits have given significant amounts of playing time to reserves, and some have experienced breakout performances this season.

Last week against Dixie State, tight end Mike Morgan caught the first two touchdowns of his college career, the first touchdowns he’s caught since 2017 when he was in high school.

For the Jackrabbit starters, quarterback Chris Oladokun leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 181.31. Oladokun has thrown for 721 yards and eleven touchdowns so far this season with zero interceptions.

“It’s all about sticking to the plan and trusting your offensive line and your playmakers on the team,” Oladokun said.

Running back Pierre Strong Jr., who was banged up for most of last season, and is looking like his all-American self again, is fourth in the FCS in rushing yards at 486.

Adam Bock has been the team’s best defensive player so far, leading the team in tackles (24) and tackle for loss (2.5), and he has an interception. Daeton Mcgaughy has two interceptions this year, which leads the team.

Key Players for SIU

Like the Jackrabbits, Southern Illinois’ offense gets production from many different places, as they have one of the most explosive offenses in the Missouri Valley.

Quarterback Nic Baker has had a successful start to his season, completing 66.24% of his throws for 1,353 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Receiving leaders for SIU are Landon Lenoir, who is second in the MVFC in receiving yards 429 on 29 receptions and five touchdowns. His teammate Avante Cox is third in the conference with 369 yards and two touchdowns on 17 receptions.

The Salukis also have a strong rushing attack to complement the passing game. It features the one-two punch of Justin Strong and Javon Williams Jr., who each have over 200 rushing yards on the season.

Strong has 235 yards and two touchdowns on 42 attempts, while Williams isn’t far behind with 225 yards and six touchdowns on 39 carries.

On defense, Richie Hagarty has four sacks to lead the team. Bryce Notree leads the Salukis in tackles with 32. Qua Brown and Makel Calhoun are second with 29, followed by PJ Jules with 21. Notree, Brown and Jules also each have an interception.