CARBONDALE — One of SIU's deepest positions has gotten thinner heading into today's game at Illinois State, but it hasn't dampened the Salukis' hopes of an upset.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Giegling had two tackles, including a tackle for loss, in his first start on the weak side at Youngstown State last weekend. Middle linebacker Bryce Notree (seven stops) and Airan Reed (six tackles, including 3.0 tackles for loss, and an interception) helped fill in some other gaps in SIU's 17-14 loss after outside linebacker Cody Crider for the season.
"Our depth is being tested at linebacker. Bryce and Giegling played every single rep — 91 reps," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "That's the thing about Bryce Notree, he was on the field for 101 snaps — he took 10 special teams reps, 91 snaps on defense. Giegling didn't come off the field. (Cornerback) Madre Harper didn't come off the field and played 12 snaps on special teams. A lot of guys that are just giving tremendous effort, playing hard, and gotta continue to do that."
Harper, a backup cornerback that is expected to make his second straight start when the Salukis (1-4, 0-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) take on the 12th-ranked Redbirds (4-1, 1-1), led the team with nine tackles last weekend. Without starting safety Jeremy Chinn, a preseason all-conference pick, SIU will need an even bigger effort to keep up with Illinois State at Hancock Stadium. Chinn has to sit out the first half after he was called for targeting in the third quarter against the Penguins.
The Redbirds rallied from four points down in the fourth quarter against Western Illinois last weekend behind running back James Robinson and their defense. Robinson, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound junior who set the Illinois record for career points at Rockford Lutheran (948), rushed for two of his three touchdowns in the final 11 minutes. Robinson carried the ball 29 times for 145 yards.
The Redbirds rushed for 150 yards as a team in their 33-16 win over the Leathernecks.
"James Robinson ran like the grown man that he is, and he was very hard to tackle," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said. "A back like him, you hope your big back can wear down a defense, and that's kind of what happened, I thought, in that game."
Robinson had 122 yards rushing and a touchdown on 26 carries in Illinois State's 31-28 win over SIU in 2016, the last time the two teams played in Normal. The Salukis jumped on the Redbirds 28-0 last season at Saluki Stadium before they got on the board off Jake Kolbe's 19-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Schnell. SIU quarterback Sam Straub threw for four touchdowns in the first three quarters of that win, two to running back D.J. Davis, one to backup receiver Sam Bonasinga and one to Raphael Leonard, in a shocking 42-7 victory.
Illinois State was ranked 15th in the country that day, while SIU was unranked and 2-3 on the season. The Salukis hope to bottle up Robinson and Markel Smith, an even bigger back at 5-11, 230 pounds, well enough to give themselves a chance to snap their four-game losing streak.
"The key to the game is No. 25 (Robinson). He's a heckuva back. He might be the best back in our league and we have a lot of good ones in this league," Hill said. "He's a heckuva back. Both of them are. There's been a lot of games where they put the ball on his shoulders and that's kinda who they want to be."