SIU Salukis Have Talent, Depth, and Momentum

The Fighting Illini football team takes on Southern Illinois in its home opener Saturday evening. The Salukis are ranked second in the FCS Coaches Top 25 poll and riding high after whipping Quincy last week. SIU is used to winning, and it has every expectation of beating its BCS foe. A look at the roster shows why it feels that way.

Southern Illinois has both offensive and defensive stars returning from its outstanding 2009 team. Coach Dale Lennon is 21-5 in his first two seasons in Carbondale. They have made seven consecutive FCS playoff appearances and have been ranked in the top 20 for 94 consecutive weeks. The Salukis will be playing with tremendous confidence Saturday.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Chris Dieker (6'-5", 235), a three year starter. He had thrown for 3421 yards, 26 touchdowns with only 15 interceptions coming into the season. Sophomore Paul McIntosh (6'-2", 205) is his backup. He led the team to the FCS quarterfinals after Dieker got hurt in 2009.

Senior Joe Allaria (6'-2", 195) led SIU in catches last year. Deep threat Jeff Evans (6'-0", 200) plus fellow seniors Matt Guinn (6'-0", 180) and Anthony Seay (6'-0", 190) provide plenty of support. Evans caught 7 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown last week, while Allaria added four receptions in a game where passing was not emphasized.

Redshirt freshman John Lantz (6'-2", 195) and sophomore David Lewis (6'-3", 220) round out the two deep at receiver. Tight end is manned capably by junior C.J. Robertson (6'-3", 260) and senior starter Kyle Harruff (6'-4", 245).

The Salukis graduated 1000 yard rushers each of the last two seasons, but senior Lucien Walker (6'-0", 215) is making a smooth transition into the feature back role. He gained 114 yards in 12 carries against Quincy last week. Sharriff Harris, a 6'-1", 200 pound junior, is his backup. Sophomore Steve Strother is a 5'-8" scatback who also plays.

The offensive line lost three starters to graduation, but the two junior returnees are excellent. Center Bryan Boemer (6'-2", 315) was 2nd team All-MVFC last year and left tackle David Pickard (6'-5", 300) was a 3rd team All-American. Junior George Danilkowicz (6'-3", 300), sophomore Eric Bergman (6'-2", 260) and sophomore Richard Wilson (6'-3", 305) round out the line.

The Saluki defense is a 3-4, and it is highly aggressive. Eight starters from 2009 graduated, but their replacements are highly experienced, accounting for 84 starts and 348 games played in among them.

Cornerback Korey Lindsey (6'-190) and free safety Mike McElroy (6'-1", 210) have combined for 23 career interceptions and are both candidates for the Buck Buchanan Award as national defensive player of the year. The other secondary starters are cornerback Nick King, a 5'-9", 165 pound junior, and 5'-10", 195 redshirt freshman safety E.J. Clark.

The defensive front is led by junior defensive end Chance Coda (6'-2", 240), a three year starter. Senior Jason Seaman (6'-5", 270) and junior Kyle Russo (6'-3", 255) share the other end. Russo is the leading returning Missouri Valley Conference sack master, having recorded six last year. SIU lost its top two nose guards to graduation, but sophomore Kayon Swanson (6'-1", 280) is a capable replacement.

The Dawgs lost five linebackers to graduation, but there is plenty of talent available. SAM linebacker Stephen Franklin (6'-0", 235) is the speedy and aggressive senior leader of the group. Sophomore Joe Okon (6'-3", 245) mans the other inside linebacker slot, while juniors Connor James (6'-1", 220) and Jayson DiManche (6'-2", 220) are on the outside. Each blitzes frequently.

Kyle Dougherty is the senior place kicker. He needs two field goals to become the all-time leader at the Carbondale school. Freshman Austin Pucylowski averaged 38.5 yards per punt against Quincy.

Many SIU players are from the state of Illinois and are eager to prove superior to their more acclaimed sister school. If Illinois takes the Salukis lightly, it will be a long day at Memorial Stadium. Even at its best, the Illini may have trouble handling a confident, experienced and highly motivated foe.

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