Defense is the key in 2017 for SIU football

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Chris Barron 
Carbondale Times 

SIU head football Coach Nick Hill knows in order to be successful in 2017, the defense will have to lead the charge. 

The Dawgs will probably chug out 20-30 points per game in 2017 just like they did last season, so it will behoove the still young SIU defense to cut down on big plays by opponents.

The Dawgs were intermittently tough — they were one of the better teams in the MVFC as far as red zone defense. But, in the other 80 yards of football real estate, SIU gave up a plethora of big scoring plays and, thus allowed almost 31 points per contest in 2016.

It wasn’t any accident Hill had his defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson as a featured guest on his first radio show of the season last Monday. Hill gave an optimistic picture of the very young defense, and Paulson followed Hill’s lead by describing how that optimism could be made manifest in 2017.

“I think the game has slowed down for last year’s players,” said Hill. “This D-Line is very young, but I think Saluki football fans will remember their names in the future. They had a bounce in their step yesterday at practice.”

SIU will start two redshirt freshmen, a sophomore and a true freshman across the front defensive line in Saturday’s first game, a home one against low level FCS opponent Mississippi Valley State University.

In fact, there is only two upperclassmen linemen on the roster so even the Dawgs’ subs are green.

“We need to keep opponent’s big plays to a minimum,” said Paulson. “That means doing our jobs on first and second downs to limit opponents to 4-5 total yards.” 

One place on that defensive front that is not problematic to either coach is the tackle position.

“It will be hard for other teams to run plays through the middle of our D-Line,” noted Hill. “I’d say with Malik Haynes and Zeveyon Furcronn we have one of the strongest sets of defensive tackles in the nation.”

Rather, it is the defensive ends that Hill probably sweating it out. Sam Skinner is a true freshman and Anthony Knighton is a redshirt freshman. The two are key to helping the rest of the defense handle any opponent’s quarterback.

Most FCS quarterbacks can eventually find their mark if given too much time to scramble around in the pocket unbothered.

This year, that young defensive line will get some help from a linebacker crew of Cody Crider, Kyron Watson and outside backer Airan Reed. 

“Airan has come a long way in two years,” said Hill. “He will become one of the top-level backers in the conference one day.”

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One problem Hill can’t completely account for is how his young team will respond to playing a team like MVSU, who got blown out by NDSU last weekend, 72-7. Let’s hope the young Dawgs don’t overlook their opponent.