2015 Season Preview: September 5th Southern Illinois Salukis

 Southern Illinois will try and derail the Hoosiers' season early when they invade Memorial Stadium on September 5th. 

Southern Illinois will try and derail the Hoosiers' season early when they invade Memorial Stadium on September 5th. 

Written By T.J. Inman

The 2015 season is fast approaching we are a little over 12 weeks until the Hoosiers open the 2015 season by hosting the Southern Illinois Salukis. The Salukis, members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, are the 4th straight FCS opponent that IU will open the season against (previous three were victories over Indiana State). A loss in the opener would be catastrophic for IU’s bowl game hopes and would derail all momentum gained from beating the Boilers to close the 2014 season. So, what kind of challenges will SIU present? Let’s take a look as we begin our weekly opponent previews here at Hoosier Huddle.

Week 1: Southern Illinois Salukis
Time & Date: September 5, 2015 - 4 p.m.
Venue: Memorial Stadium (Bloomington, IN)
TV: ESPNews
Salukis at a Glance:
Head Coach: Dale Lennon (entering his 7th season, Lennon is 42-28 record at SIU)
Last Season: 6-6 (3-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference)
Salukis Returning Leaders:
            Passing: Mark Iannotti (63%, 2241, 22 TD, 8 INT)
            Rushing: Cameron Walter (323 yards, 3.8/ypc, 2 TD)
            Receiving: Cameron Walter (144 yards on 23 catches, 6.3 avg., 0 TD)

Why the Salukis could win:
SIU could win this game because…well, crazier things have happened. Ron Zook took Illinois to a BCS game, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura have both been elected governors and Appalachian State beat Michigan in the Big House. As the saying goes, “games aren’t played on paper”. Plus, the last time SIU was in Bloomington (2006) they left with a win. Seriously though, there are a couple of legitimate reasons for hope that SIU has. First, this will be the season opener for both squads and the Hoosiers could come out rusty. They have a recent history of looking less than stellar in season openers (last year’s opener against the Sycamores was a real slop fest for the offense). Also, SIU has been competitive in a B1G stadium in the recent past as the Salukis nearly knocked off Illinois in 2013. On offense, they return a senior QB with FBS experience: Mark Iannotti transferred from Eastern Michigan and was named the MVFC Newcomer of the Year in 2014. In addition, the Salukis top returning rusher and pass catcher, Cameron Walter, was just a freshman last season and is expected to take a jump forward in his sophomore season.

On defense, two of SIU’s top three tacklers return, including top tackler Chase Allen. Allen, an inside linebacker that recorded double-digit tackles in five games last season, will anchor a defense that returns four full-time starters and multiple players with starting experience. One major statistic to keep an eye on will be second half scoring. The Salukis were extremely strong in the second half (or very weak in the first half but why be a pessimist?), outscoring their opponents 210-113 after halftime. If this is a trend that continues into the 2015 season, the Hoosiers would be wise to put this one away before the break.

Why They Won’t Pull it Off:
IU will be heavily favored and SIU hasn’t beaten an FBS opponent since 2007 (a win over Northern Illinois). How have the Salukis fared against FBS teams since knocking off the Huskies? Not well…that victory has been followed by losses to Northwestern, Marshall, Illinois (twice), Ole Miss, Miami (OH) and Purdue. 

SIU lost their top three pass catchers (including 5th round draft pick, TE MyCole Pruitt) and their top rusher (Malcolm Agnew) and return a grand total of zero players with more than one touchdown catch last season. MyCole Pruitt had 13 touchdowns and top wideout Willis Tay had 6 of them, that’s a lot of red zone production to replace. In addition, SIU’s defense has to replace three of their top five tacklers and seven regular starters. How will they be able to matchup with a (hopefully) high-powered IU offense? In 2014, the Salukis surrendered over 160 yards per game on the ground and their opponent’s averaged 4 yards a carry. It should be a good opportunity for the running back duo of Jordan Howard and Devine Redding and IU’s experienced O-line to get off to a solid start. 

Final Analysis:
This is a game that IU absolutely must win if they are to achieve the goals they are looking to achieve in the 2015 season. On paper, everything points to a Hoosier victory. But, as we know, “games aren’t played on paper”. It will be interesting to see how IU’s defense looks in year two under Brian Knorr. It will be intriguing to see how the passing game looks with a revamped receiving corps and a healthy Nate Sudfeld. It will be fun to see how UAB transfer and new starting running back Jordan Howard performs in his first IU game, but most of all it will be great to see the Cream and Crimson back on the football field against an actual opponent.
Hoosier Win Probability: 99%
Hoosier Huddle will be there and we hope you’ll join us for the ride. Stick with us as we continue our countdown to the season with daily content, previews, recruiting updates and more!