CARBONDALE — SIU might have completed a winless home season Saturday, but one can’t blame running back D.J. Davis for the 57-38 loss to No. 6 South Dakota State.
Davis erupted for 201 yards on just 13 carries, the first 200-yard game of his career. Held in check in the first half, Davis ripped off three runs of more than 30 yards after halftime. Prior to his 67-yard run in the third quarter, his and the team’s longest running play this year was a mere 36 yards.
His explosion allowed him to cross the 1,000-yard mark for the year. Davis’ 1,067 yards are the most for a Saluki since Jewel Hampton gained 1,121 in 2011.
“I’ve got to thank my coaches, and my offensive line,” Davis said of his accomplishment. “I got this for them. Basically, we’re celebrating this together, because without them, I wouldn’t have this. It means a lot to me.”
Davis only got one carry in the first quarter for two yards and then didn’t appear again until the second quarter. Senior Jonathan Mixon got most of the work in the first half, although Davis picked up 36 yards in the second quarter.
However, SIU coach Nick Hill kept emphasizing the running game, since the offensive line was winning enough for the team to control the ball for just over 19 minutes in the first half. Davis validated his decision with his three big plays, two of which led to touchdowns.
“He had a good night tonight, and I’m glad, because he’s an explosive back,” quarterback Matt DeSomer said of Davis. “I know he can do that every game, and it’s nice to see him do that today.”
It was the sixth time this year that Davis has rushed for more than 100 yards, but his first since a 24-21 loss Oct. 20 to Indiana State. Davis compiled 177 all-purpose yards that day, including 126 on the ground.
Davis’ effort enabled the Salukis to gash the Jackrabbits’ run defense, which entered the afternoon permitting only 138.6 yards per game. SIU finished with a whopping 353 yards on 46 carries, allowing it to score more points than any South Dakota State opponent except Indiana State.
“I felt like going into the game, we could have some success on offense,” Salukis coach Nick Hill said. “They’re a good defense, but they’re going to give you some things. You just have to block them up.
“I felt D.J.’s first run of the second half, when he got to the boundary and picked up (32) yards, was a good play. He’s a special kid, and I feel like we ran the football today better than we have in a long time.”
With one more game this year and a senior season left in his career, Davis has 1,620 rushing yards and 4,041 all-purpose yards. The 5-foot-8, 168-pound Davis ranks fifth all-time in school history in all-purpose yards.
Aside from the team’s eighth loss of the year, the only thing Davis could be upset about was getting caught from behind on his 67 and 48-yard runs.
“I just had to trust the process and stay patient,” he said. “The emphasis was we were going to run the ball and stick to the plan. I was a little irritated that I got caught, so that’s something I can work on.”