CARBONDALE — SIU's rebuilding offense came to life after a slow start against its rebuilding defense Thursday.
The scrimmage was the seventh practice of spring ball. SIU spent the first half of practice on individual and team drills, before moving to scrimmage play. The beginning portion of the scrimmage was non-tackle, thud-oriented, while the second half was live action.
"I thought they did good today," coach Nick Hill said. "It was an opportunity for us to come out here unscripted and just put the ball down and play. That is always the way to play football and it was good to see some of the younger guys come out and do that."
The SIU front seven set the tone early, limiting the offense to minimal yards in the first two series of live action.
Freshman All-American linebacker Luke Giegling anchored the defense with eight tackles, as he made several plays in the trenches. On the day, the defense held the offense to just 56 yards on 23 carries.
"Our fits were well and we were playing aggressive," Giegling said. "Our D-line was getting after it up front and it really cleared the way on the second level, which helped us linebackers run up and make some plays."
Defensive linemen Anthony Knighton, Tyree Jackson and Raquan Lindsey each recorded tackles for loss.
The offense rebounded from the slow start with scores in four of the next five drives.
A pair of redshirt freshmen, quarterback Austin Reed and running back Javon Williams Jr., led the first scoring drive of the afternoon, which was for a scrimmage-long 75 yards. Williams used his stocky 6-foot-2, 234-pound frame to consistently gain positive yards for first downs, while Reed completed 3 of 4 passes for 39 yards.
The drive was highlighted by a perfectly thrown ball to the back shoulder of Avante Cox's arms for a 25-yard gain. Williams capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Williams transitioned to running back this offseason, after playing four games at quarterback last year. With returning 1,000-yard rusher D.J. Davis not taking reps in live action, Williams received the bulk of carries in the backfield. On the day, he carried the ball 15 times for 44 yards.
The scrimmage format transitioned to red zone situational action for the last four series. The air attack, which features five quarterbacks vying for the starting spot, shined in the red zone with three touchdown passes. In total, the group went 9 of 11 for 128 yards and three touchdowns.
Following a series where an experienced defense once again stuffed the run and pass to force a three-and-out, transfer quarterback Karé Lyles hit the field for his second and final possession of the scrimmage and quickly made an impression. On the first play of the drive, Lyles delivered a 25-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the field to tight end Nigel Kilby.
"It was a 1-on-1 with one of our best guys, Nigel Kilby," Lyles said. "I just knew once he got off his break that it was a 1-on-1 and to let him go get the ball."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nic Baker then took the field and produced the same result as Lyles. This time, Baker hit wideout Hunter Milligan on a short slant route for a 25-yard touchdown.
The scrimmage ended the next series on yet another 25-yard touchdown strike, as redshirt sophomore Stone Labanowitz found speedster Je'Quan Burton on a post route. It was Burton's lone catch of the day.
SIU is now at the midway point of spring ball with seven scheduled practices remaining. The Salukis will play in their annual spring game on April 6.
"Spring Ball is all about getting better," Hill said. "We will never stop trying to get better and stress the fundamentals and details every single day. Like I tell the players, we come out here to practice and tomorrow is just as important when we get in the film room, try to learn from our mistakes and build on the things we are getting better at."