YSU’s Homecoming date with SIU is pivotal
figures to be pivotal
By Joe Scalzo
Typically, teams like to schedule their weakest conference opponent for their homecoming game.
One problem. The Missouri Valley might not have one.
“This is like the SEC of the FCS,” Penguins linebacker Dubem Nwadiogbu said. “This is a hard conference.”
Today, the Penguins host No. 17 Southern Illinois in a game that could end up being a pivot point for the Penguins’ season.
Win, and they’re back in the playoff race.
Lose, and things could get ugly fast.
“We’re going to find out a lot about our team this week,” senior tight end Nate Adams said.
The Salukis (5-2, 2-1 MVFC) are coming off a 38-10 loss at top-ranked North Dakota State, but have played well in the rest of their games. SIU beat No. 16 Eastern Illinois in Week 2 and rolled past Western Illinois 34-17 three weeks ago. Its only other loss came against Big Ten member Purdue.
“We expect a good battle,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “Our games with Southern Illinois are always interesting, always fun and entertaining, so we look forward to [it].”
Southern Illinois has one of the nation’s best players in tight end MyCole Pruitt, who is the active NCAA leader in all divisions in receptions (189) and yards (2,344) for a tight end. He leads the MVFC in receptions (49) and yards (604) this season.
The Salukis also have a talented running back in Malcolm Agnew, who is third in the league in rushing with 132 carries for 789 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, SIU thrives on pressure, registering a league-best 24 sacks to go with 40 tackles for loss. By contrast, YSU has nine sacks and 28 tackles for loss, albeit in one fewer game.
“Obviously, they get after it on defense,” Wolford said.
The Salukis have outscored opponents 117-34 in the second half this season, although they crumbled in the second half of last season’s loss to the Penguins. YSU outscored SIU 14-0 in the fourth quarter to rally for its third win in four meetings under Wolford.
The Penguins still have road games against the conference’s three top-ranked teams — North Dakota State, Illinois State and South Dakota State — so they probably can’t afford another home loss. Not in a conference where nine of the 10 teams are ranked in the top 25 of the Gridiron Power Index, which is sort of the BCS standings of the FCS.
“Losing that game last week put us in a little bit of a predicament, but everything’s in front of us,” Adams said. “You can say our backs are against the wall, but every week your back’s against the wall in this conference. We’re gonna come out swinging.”