CARBONDALE — Reinforcements — big reinforcements, at that — could be on the way for SIU's football team when it tries to snap a three-game losing streak Saturday against No. 18/19 Youngstown State.
Homecoming could be a gridiron reunion for all-purpose yards leader D.J. Davis, All-American safety Jeremy Chinn and starting right guard Calvin Francis Jr., Saluki coach Nick Hill said at his Monday news conference.
Davis, a senior running back who is the school's all-time kick returner in terms of yardage, has missed the last two games with a dislocated elbow but practiced Sunday. Chinn, one of the top NFL draft prospects in the FCS, practiced Sunday and could return this weekend for the Salukis (2-4, 0-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) when they host the Penguins (4-2, 0-2) at 2 p.m.
Francis, a 6-foot-1, 306-pound sophomore, missed his only start this season Saturday against Illinois State. Junior Matt Chmielewski started in his place, and the Salukis allowed a Saluki Stadium-record nine sacks. Hill said quarterback Karé Lyles, who is expected to make his fourth straight start in place of the injured Stone Labanowitz against YSU, was partly to blame for at least four of them. Hill also said the offensive line, which has allowed 14 sacks in the last two games after giving up just six in the first four, didn't give Lyles much of a chance on some snaps.
"Sometimes you gotta throw it in the stands and get the next play," Hill said. "We held onto the football, and then some of them were just gettin' beat. It's too many, regardless of how many it is, and we've gotta get those cleaned up. We gotta do that as coaches, and then players gotta take ownership."
SIU made it easy for Illinois State to come after Lyles after failing early in drives Saturday. The Salukis converted just 3 of 14 third downs, partly because they made themselves predictable by falling into third-and-long on half of the 14 attempts. The Redbirds were excited to attack. They entered the game second in the nation in sacks per game (4.2).
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Chinn, a 6-3, 212-pound senior, has been battling plantar fasciitis for the last three weeks. He hasn't played since SIU's 41-28 loss at Arkansas State on Sept. 21, and will be a big lift to a defense that's greatly improved from last season. The Salukis allowed 40 or more points five times last year, giving up 50 or more four times. This year, under new defensive coordinator Jason Petrino, they've allowed 40 or more twice in six games, and gave up 28 or less in four of their last five games.
Chinn's 11 career interceptions rank seventh in school history.
"I think we'll have Jeremy back in practice this week," Hill said after Saturday's loss. "I know D.J. will be cleared and gets to practice Sunday, so you'll see D.J. He was able to do some non-contact things last week, and will get back out there and practice. Jeremy's plan is to be out there Tuesday practicing. Stone started throwing the football this week."
Hill said Monday that Labanowitz started throwing the football last week but is still likely one or two weeks away from returning. Labanowitz led the Salukis past UMass on Sept. 7 before leaving the game against UT Martin on Sept. 14 in the first half with a shoulder injury. Lyles came in and rallied the team to a 28-14 victory.
Labanowitz has completed 36 of 56 passes (64.3%) for 489 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in three starts. Lyles has completed 62 of 101 passes (61.4%) for 687 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in four games.