CARBONDALE -- Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill met with the media on Monday morning for his weekly news conference. The Salukis open the season on Thursday at No. 17-ranked SEMO at 6:30 p.m. in a regional rivalry game that features a matchup of two head coaches from the Saluki family tree. Hill was Southern's starting quarterback in 2006 and 2007 at the same time SEMO head coach Tom Matukewicz was SIU's linebackers coach. Hill returned to his alma mater in 2014 as the program's quarterbacks coach and assumed head coaching duties in 2016.
On his relationship with Tom Matukewicz:
I have a ton of respect for Coach Tuke (Tom Matukewicz) and what this rivalry means, and even him as a person. He coached me (at SIU), even though he's a defensive guy. I have a lot of great memories of Coach Tuke and what he's meant to me as I've come up. Our friendship has continued to grow and nothing but respect for him and Coach (Bryce) Saia. It's always good to see those guys on the recruiting trail, just have a great relationship with them and it's fun to compete against them. I'm looking forward to this week and I know we're ready to go play someone else. We have to trust our process, trust our preparation and what we believed in to get this team ready from the off-season, conditioning, new coaching hires, scheme and now we have to go put the ball down and play. I think that everybody in our building is looking forward to that. It should be a fun evening over at SEMO. It's a good place to play and creates a good college football atmosphere every time we've gone down there.
His scouting report on SEMO:
When you look at their team, they deserve to be ranked where they are -- the same consistent coaching staff, first-team All-Conference quarterback, a leader on defense (coming) back, specialists back, the core of their team is all back and led by Zach (Hall). He's not just the OVC Player of the Year, but he's the National Defensive Player of the Year. I think 10 of 11 come back on defense. Coach Saia does a good job with them. They took it away from people better than anybody in the country last year. I think they were plus-26, which is unheard of. There's no secret -- the key to this game is taking care of the football. They're a team that always plays with high energy and high effort, creates some chaos, and that's why people turn it over. They're an odd-front structured defense. You watch throughout the year and teams are sliding protections wrong (against them), free rushers coming, and turning the ball over. They do a good job of believing what they believe in. Players play fast and they thrive off taking the football away and last year that won them a lot of football games.
On the keys to winning:
It's going to come down to fundamentals. It's going to come down to blocking and tackling, catching, throwing accurate footballs. There's no tricks. The team that wins this game is not going to win it on trick plays. We have to be ready for deceptive and always have them, but teams that consistently win championships do the fundamental things correct. When there's a tackle to be made, they make the tackle. When there's a block, whether on the perimeter or in the box, it's blocked up right to hit a run. It's the consistency in the little things. You watch so many games and there's a lot of sloppy play early in the season, because, can you be locked in and focused for three-and-a-half hours? Practices aren't that long. Kids lose focus, but when you're experienced, you understand what's coming. You continue to have that focus. Each play has a life of its own and you have to reset every time. You have to refocus on every single play to be consistent. You lose focus -- you're out of place, you forget the down and distance, you're not locked into the situation, that's where you can get caught.
On the right guard/right tackle competition:
I think all four of those guys have to be ready to go. We've played six or seven linemen before in a game. Calvin (Francis Jr.) graded throughout camp with (high) consistency. It was a tight competition. Beau (Branyan), this will be his first start, consistently proved that he needed to be out there with the first guys. You're not going to play musical chairs and bring them in and out. That's our starting offensive line (on the right side), it's not like we're saying 'every other series' going into the game. We feel good about eight or nine of our offensive linemen. Brett Groves is a guy who was right there in the mix, then he was out for about four practices, but he's back healthy and can swing outside or inside and has a bright future, so we feel good about our depth.
On the defensive line:
They need to have a chip on their shoulder. Whenever you give up a lot of rushing yards in a season like we did a year ago, you think of the front seven, the defensive line. All those guys are back. We added Elijah Watson as a transfer. A lot of those guys have been here and they continue to grow. We have to play well on the defensive line, there's no question about that. They know my expectations for that group, because there are some talented players in there. On the edge, there's Anthony Knighton who's been around here and played a lot of football games. If we want to be a successful defense, you have to play well on the d-line. We're based out of a four-down front, each coordinator has his different wrinkles, there's not a defense out there that's just going to sit in one thing.
On the importance of special teams:
Punt is arguably one of the biggest plays in football, as far as field position, and so much hidden yardage in that play. We have a team that's built, in my opinion, to cover kicks. We should have a good kickoff team. If you want to have a good team, you better be good on coverage units. You take pride in that, put an emphasis on that.
You can tell a lot about a team when you put that film on there, you throw on their kickoff film, punt coverage film, you watch the effort, you watch the speed, you can tell a lot about a team and what kind of personality that team has when you watch coverage units.
On dealing with adversity:
I don't know that we've been the best at that in the last couple years, but adversity is coming, I promise you. I told them that. I don't know what it will be Thursday night, but it will not be to script. With experience and maturity, you usually handle those experiences better.