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Salukis look to open new stadium in style

August 28, 2010

The 2010 SIU football team will open Saluki Stadium on Thursday night, as they take on the Quincy Hawks in the season opener. The Salukis are coming off a 2009 season that saw the Dawgs finish 11-2, bowing out in the second round of the FCS playoffs to a physical William & Mary squad.

After the Salukis take on Quincy, SIU will travel to Champaign to face off against the University of Illinois in a game that will basically determine who the best football team in Illinois is. The only other team that could lay a claim to that title would be Northern Illinois, and while they aren’t a bad team, Illinois’ being a Big-10 school and SIU’s recent almost decade-long success are the two factors that lead me to believe that they are the two big dogs of Illinois football.

The Salukis will normally be able to shove seven or eight defenders in the box while using their secondary, which features All-Americans Korey Lindsey and Mike McElroy, to shut down opponents’ passing games. Lindsey is rated as the top cornerback in the Football Championship Subdivision and the 32nd-best corner in all of college football by Phil Steele this preseason. Lindsey has six interceptions in each of the past two seasons and is usually put on an island against the opponents’ best receiving option. McElroy has intercepted 12 passes over the past two seasons while also securing seven tackles for loss during the 2009 season.

Lindsey and McElroy, both seniors, will anchor a Saluki defense that lost several key contributors from last season, including leading tackler linebacker Brandin Jordan.

The Salukis will look to Chris Dieker to lead the offense. Dieker, a senior, led the Salukis to a 6-1 record last year before breaking his collarbone against Youngstown St. Dieker has thrown 26 touchdown passes in the 1.5 seasons he’s been a starter. Occasionally, the Salukis may turn to Paul McIntosh to throw the opposing defense out of sorts as McIntosh is more of a running quarterback. McIntosh led SIU to a 5-1 record after stepping in for Dieker last year, throwing for 888 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

McIntosh’s most valuable asset is his legs, as the sophomore gained 588 yards with six rushing touchdowns last season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mac run several option plays a game to keep the defense honest. Dieker is a more traditional drop-back passer, and SIU could use McIntosh’s playmaking ability on the ground to  inject some life into the offense if it ever stalls.

SIU’s burning question this year is, Who will replace NFLer Deji Karim in the backfield? The most likely candidates include Steve Strother, a sophomore who can also return kicks. Another likely candidate would be Lucien Walker, a senior with good size. Shariff Harris, a transfer from Pitt, could take some goal-line looks as he is 6’1″, 200 lbs. A darkhorse who could surprise would be LaSteven McKinney, a freshman from Broadview, Ill. McKinney is small in stature (5’9″, 166) but large on the field. A three-star prospect according to Rivals.com, McKinney scored 58 touchdowns in his last three seasons in high school. McKinney and Strother could provide the “dash” to Walker and Harris’ “smash” this season on the gridiron.

The Salukis toughest opponents include Illinois, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Illinois State. If all things go well, the Salukis could easily end the season undefeated. However, I can’t be that big of a homer. So, I think the road trip to Bloomington-Normal could spell some doom for the Salukis, but they could easily get the W on the road, as well.

Whatever the case may be, I’ll be rooting for the Dawgs to go undefeated this year to open Saluki Stadium in style.

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