SIU Football | How a promising season turned sour

SIU’s 2022 football season was truly three seasons in one.

There was a 2-0 start that included a 64-29 loss at Incarnate Word, which was going into a top-10 team, and a bitter 34-31 loss to Southeast Missouri State. The Salukis then won five straight games and finished 14th in the FCS Stats Perform poll.

They were on track for a sixth straight win in South Dakota on Oct. 22, taking a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and looking like a team poised for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title to fight.

But instead of going out of business against a one-win team and winning a fourth straight season, SIU forgot the lead and lost 27-24. That was the start of a four-game-ending losing streak that ended in a 28-21 loss at Youngstown State on Saturday after the Salukis held a 21-7 lead with less than nine minutes to go.

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A team that talked about going from seven or eight wins to nine or ten and going playoff games instead went 5-6 and failed to make the playoffs with an experienced, proven roster.

“We’re going to have a lot of time to think about it,” said SIU coach Nick Hill. “If we had those answers now, we wouldn’t have let it happen for the last (four) weeks. We have to look at that internally.

“I have to do better at pushing all the necessary buttons and making all the necessary decisions so that we can finish these games and win.”

We look at three factors why a promising season turned sour over time:

1. Don’t get late stops

The defense has had a chance in each of their last five defeats, perhaps turning the tide of the game by scoring a stop, but they just couldn’t.

In the Sept. 10 loss to SEMO that ended 9-2 and won the Ohio Valley Conference title via coin toss, the Salukis were hit with two questionable last-minute pass interference penalties in the end zone for failing to finish fourth had accomplished.

South Dakota drove to the go-ahead field goal in the final three minutes while Northern Iowa erased a 36-31 lead in the fourth quarter on a touchdown with less than six minutes to go. North Dakota State hit two fourth-quarter TDs on Nov. 12 to earn a 21-18 win.

And then SIU gave up three touchdowns in the finals at 8:43 in Saturday’s finals. A stop on the first or second ride likely means a win.

“We found this year that we have to play well late in the games,” Hill said. “We just haven’t managed to do that in the last four weeks.”

2. Other phases failed

Offense and specialty teams also have their fingerprints on this losing season. They had chances to make a difference and couldn’t make it.

In South Dakota, the offense did what it wanted in the first half but only managed a field goal in the second half. And they underutilized the defense’s work in the middle two quarters against North Dakota State.

In the season-ending loss, the Salukis made YSU 22 late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to record a result that might have prevented the Penguins from completing their comeback. But they failed to finish that ride in points, giving YSU more momentum.

SIU kicker Jake Baumgarte would like a few kicks back. He missed a last-minute 40-yarder that would have given the Salukis a 39-37 lead against UNI and came up short with a 44-yarder at 3:45 ahead of Youngstown State.

Special teams made few impact plays throughout the year. These two stand out simply because of their noticeable impact on game outcomes.

3. Lack of big plays

It was ironic that all three touchdowns on Saturday came on big pass plays because SIU didn’t always come up with chunk plays.

It makes little sense that the Salukis couldn’t. They boasted proven big-play threats at the running back, wide receiver, and tight end. But there were times when those big pieces weren’t there for a long time.

SIU averaged just 3.3 yards per rush, and none of its main backs even surpassed 500 yards. The Salukis’ average completion was just over 11.5 yards, less than their opponents. They held the ball for just over 33 minutes per game but outperformed their opponents by just 17 points.

Gaining possession times helps. But the ability to hit in one go also helps. And SIU didn’t do as much of that this year as they wanted, which is reflected in the final record.

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