CARBONDALE The odds were against the SIU football team in 2019.
With two new coordinators, a schedule with two FBS opponents and a quarterback race starting in early August, the Salukis were not expected to break their four-year streak of losing seasons. In a race between three newcomers, junior college transfer Stone Labanowitz won the quarterback fight and was a few yards from a 14-0 lead over No. 17 in Southeast Missouri state before his throw was tipped and intercepted on the scrimmage in the end zone.
The Redhawks got back into the game and went on to win 44-26. Labanowitz pitched for four touchdowns in SIU’s earth-shattering win over UMass, one of three wins by an FCS program over an FBS program. Things didn’t look good, however, when Labanowitz hurt his shoulder in the first quarter against UT-Martin with the Salukis already 14-0 behind. Junior Kar Lyles, a transfer from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, came in and wired an out route to the right. Lyles’ first pass was intercepted, but the defense held up, and the former Wisconsin Badger led the Salukis to four scoring discs and a 28-14 victory.
Lyles only found his second career start at SIU, completing 19 of 31 passes for a season-high 288 yards against one of the best teams the Salukis played all year, FBS Arkansas State. SIU lost 41-28, but Lyles led the Salukis to five consecutive wins in the middle of the season. The 6-foot, 210-pound righty completed 59 of 91 passes during the winning streak for 812 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. With both coordinators back, as well as guys like Javon Williams Jr., Landon Lenoir, ZeVeyon Furcron, Calvin Francis and Avante Cox, the chance is in Lyles’s favor to bring SIU back into the fight for the postseason.
“You have to take care of the football as a quarterback, it’s rare to get through the season without interception, but it’s all about making the decision,” said SIU coach Nick Hill, a former Saluki quarterback. “We spoke to SEMO about this (last fall), he threw two interceptions, the first could have been a better throw, but there it had to go and we’ll live with that. The second was poorly read and shouldn’t have been. Been to that side of the field. We watched the movie and that’s where he really took the next step as we see us designing plays about where the ball should go and through its progression. ”
SIU (1-0), ranked 24th in the country, opens its first spring season on Saturday against a challenging defense in North Dakota. Kyle “Bubba” Schweigert, the Salukis’ former defensive coordinator under former coach Dale Lennon, has a new coordinator on that side of the ball (linebackers coach Brett Holinka) but is expected to run another 3-4 schedule. The Fighting Hawks (7-5 in 2019) lost their lead passer, lead rusher and lead receiver from their club from 2019, but return eight starters in defense. One of them, the defensive Jordan Canady, was the team’s second-best tackler (87 stops) and one of nine Hawks with at least one interception.
“It’s a defense that will give you a lot of different looks,” Hill said. “People are moving around, fishing for the scrimmage and bringing pressure, so you have to be disciplined to beat them. It’s a new year too, lots of guys coming back and a new defensive coordinator, but Bubba is a great defensive.” mind. “
UND has won 33 openers in a row at the Alerus Center, but Saturday’s game against the Salukis will be their first as a Division I team (2008-present) to be in the top 25 of one of the two major polls.
“We see a very good football team on the band,” said Schweigert. “They had a really good game last fall. They are a very physical soccer team. We will have to defend the run, and we know that, and they are also really explosive on the edges, so that will be a real defensive challenge. “For us. Offensively we have to be really healthy and take care of the football, as you do every week, but it’s a team that really plays with a lot of energy and effort. We will have to match that effort.”