South Dakota Preview: Coyotes at Southern Illinois
The downside? The Coyotes (4-4/3-2) are coming off a disappointing loss at home to Western Illinois, in a game they led by as many as 17 points at one stage. To make matters worse, it's the second three-score lead USD has squandered this season (up 20 at North Dakota - week three). In fact, the Coyotes have been ahead by a touchdown or more in three of their four losses in 2016.
The upside? Despite all of that, USD begins the week just a game out of first place in the MVFC, with two of their three remaining games against teams ahead of them in the standings.
This week, the Coyotes get the only team without a conference win in 2016 - Southern Illinois.
The Salukis (2-6/0-5) are one of the youngest teams in the Missouri Valley and have a new head coach, Nick Hill, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator in the off-season.
Offensively, SIU is number-two in the league in total offense, averaging 414 yards per game. Senior quarterback Josh Straughan, a Division II transfer from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is the number-two passer in the MVFC, averaging 303 yards per game. He's thrown 15 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Nine different Saluki receivers have caught touchdown passes this season.
SIU has put up those big offensive numbers despite the absence of leading rusher Daquan Isom, who will likely miss his fourth straight game Saturday with a leg injury.
The Achilles heel for this team has been defense, which is at or near the bottom of the league, giving up 36 points and 453 yards per game. The Salukis started four underclassmen on defense last week against Missouri State.
Senior linebacker Chase Allen is five tackles away from the 300th of his career. Senior defensive end Deondre Barnett has already forced three fumbles this season.
Kickoff in Carbondale is 2:00 PM, Saturday.
All signs point to a close game Saturday. Six of South Dakota’s eight games this season have been decided by three points or less, while each of the Salukis’ last four losses have been by six points or less.
Against Western Illinois last week, the Coyotes welcomed back quarterback Chris Streveler, who had missed the Illinois State game with a concussion. The junior responded with a big day - accounting for 480 yards of total offense and three touchdowns against the Leathernecks.
Junior wide receiver Brandt Van Roekel also returned after missing the last four games with an injury. He caught four passes for a career-high 137 yards.
WIU mounted a second half comeback behind the running of of Steve McShane, who picked up 112 yards on just 13 carries (8.6 yards per carry) on the day, while quarterback Sean McGuire threw for 286 yards and two scores.
The Coyotes had a chance to put the game out of reach in the final five minutes up 34-28, but running back Trevor Bouma fumbled at the goal line, and instead of 41-28 USD lead. The Leathernecks got the ball back, down six, with 4:33 to play.
Eleven plays and 80 yards later, McGuire hit Joey Borsellino for a two-yard score and a one-point lead.
On their ensuing possession, South Dakota drove as far as the WIU 37, but fell short when Miles Bergner missed what would have been a career-long 54-yard field goal, as time expired, in the 35-34 Western Illinois win.
I asked Coyote head coach Bob Nielson about the loss to the Leathernecks and this week's match-up with Southern Illinois: