CARBONDALE -- Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill met with the media on Monday morning as the Salukis (2-4, 0-2) prepare to play No. 18-ranked Youngstown State (4-2, 0-2) on Saturday at 2 p.m. The last four meetings between the schools have been decided by a touchdown or less. Saturday is SIU's Homecoming and Hall of Fame game, in which eight Class of 2019 Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized during the game.
Looking back and watching the film against Illinois State, we had our opportunities to win the football game and we didn't get it done. We talked about at halftime in the locker room, somebody had to make a play. We didn't necessarily start it the right way when we fumbled the first kickoff, but our defense responded, they get a stop and miss the field goal, and we score on our first play of the second half. Then we hit the onside kick. Really, at that point, is where you need to take over the game, have full momentum of the football game. We weren't able to, on that ensuing drive, to go and score. We continue to compete, but we're not in this thing to be in close games. We have to go and finish games and win.
I know Youngstown's in a similar situation. They've had two tough games against two tough opponents, one similar opponent in South Dakota State. It will be two teams that desperately need a win that compete on Saturday. Looking forward to the challenge and I know our guys are going to be ready. It's a resilient group that has good leadership and I know they'll be ready to play.
On Youngstown State:
They're always going to play solid on defense. Coach (Bo) Pelini does a great job. Since I've been here, in 2015 the game went to overtime, and the last three years have been one-possession games. Last year, 17-14, felt like we let one slip away there. The year before that was 21-20 and we had the ball with two minutes to go around midfield and we got a strip sack and they went down the field and scored. Each year has come down to the last possession of the game, they've been low-scoring, grind-it-out type of games. They're always going to run the football and they're always going to play great defense. It comes down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. Winning and losing comes down to doing the fundamental things right. You can scheme up some plays or scheme up a blitz and make a play, but at the end of the day, you have to tackle well, you have to block, you have to throw and catch, you gotta get open, break tackles on offense. That's what it will come down to on Saturday.
On the play of the defense:
I'm encouraged by the way they've been playing. To go from a pretty good defense, to a good defense, to a great defense, those drives that we can eliminate some of those mistakes, we can be even better. That's what Coach (Jason) Petrino and that staff continue to coach and preach and hound on. We gotta have a great week of practice. I think Malik Haynes has played the best football he's played since he's played here. Cody Crider is playing at a high level. We're rotating some guys up front, we have a couple guys banged up, and it's really just next-man-up. In this league you have to play great defense, and they've done that. They've played good enough for us to win the football game the last two weeks.
On the protection problems versus Illinois State:
We got sacked nine times last week. We felt four of them were really on the quarterback. The first sack in the red zone on third down, just slid the protection the wrong way. They brought a field pressure and we should just slide right into it, have enough guys to protect it, and we take a sack. Whether it's setting the protection wrong, sometimes you have to learn to fight another day when there's not a play there to be made, sometimes you have to throw it in the stands. Some of them, we're just getting beat. There were too many of them, regardless. We had 14 third downs and seven of them were 3rd-and-10+. We had a 3rd-and-24 in there, a 3rd-and-18 in there -- not high percentage, where people can pin their ears back and come after you. It's a collective thing. Those sacks are on everybody and we've got to get it fixed. It's our job as coaches to put them in better positions.
On quarterback Stone Labanowitz's injury rehab:
Stone practiced yesterday. He's not be cleared to play in a game yet. He did the noncontact portion of practice but had his pads on. It's really day-to-day with him on how he feels, as far as really pushing the ball down the field. He looked good with the intermediate stuff, but he's still really probably a week or two away from being able to play in a game. You still have to take hits and take a pounding. He's definitely on the trend upward.
On the importance of positive plays on early downs:
We've had too many negative plays. We had eight plays for minus-114 yards in that game, whether it be penalties, sacks or throws behind the line of scrimmage where we didn't get a block on the perimeter and got tackled for minus yards. You aren't going to win any games with those numbers. We've had a couple of penalties to start drives, so now you're 1st-and-15, 2nd-and-15. It's a little bit of everything. I have complete confidence we're going to get it figured out. We just have to take ownership, (don't) start pointing fingers, we all have to do our job better.
On wide receiver Sam Bonansinga:
He's always been a consistent guy. Sam's going to be where he's supposed to be, when he's supposed to be there. He's continuing to get more confidence and we have confidence in him. He's been doing it for a long time, he's the smartest guy in the room. He's a junior on the field, but he's applied to medical schools, has a few interviews coming up. He's a really smart kid, good football player and has had a really good career here.
On the quarterback situation when Labanowitz is healthy:
We have to win. Going into this week and this game plan, Karé (Lyles) is our starting quarterback. Stone's done some good things, he was our opening day starter. We need Stone to come back and compete, get into practice and get in a rhythm. At this point, it's not a quarterback competition. Karé's our starter and will be our starter this week.