CARBONDALE — Battered for 529 yards at No. 17 Southeast Missouri State in the season opener, SIU's defense stood tall at UMass on Saturday, and even did some punching back in the program's first victory over an FBS team in 12 years.
Senior safety Jeremy Chinn intercepted Randall West early in the third quarter to protect a 17-13 lead, and a group that allowed 30 straight points at Southeast Missouri State allowed seven second half points. SIU (1-1) had three sacks, 9.0 tackles for loss and four pass breakups at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
"It's something that we believed in in the locker room, regardless of what anyone else thought," said Chinn, who moved into ninth place in school history with his 10th career interception. "So it's something that's expected from us. If it's not expected from anybody else, we expect it out of ourselves."
UMass (0-2) took over at the SIU 20 yard line after recovering a D.J. Davis fumble and reached the 10 after a 4 yard run by Bilal Ally. Defensive end Jordan Berner, a Chester native, and linebacker Cody Crider dropped Ally for a 3 yard loss on the next play. Defensive end Anthony Knighton tackled Brennon Dingle for a 4 yard loss on the next play, bringing up a third-and-goal at the SIU 17.
West tried to find a receiver near the goal line, but Chinn was there and leaped up for the interception near the 10. The 6-3, 212-pound Chinn returned it 33 yards.
Javon Williams Jr., a redshirt freshman running back from Centralia, scored on a 64 yard run two plays later to help the Salukis go up 24-13.
"We proved a lot to ourselves," Chinn said. "Last week we didn't finish the game well. (Saturday) we did."
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Chucky Sullivan had his first two career sacks and cornerback Madre Harper intercepted a tipped pass that set up another score. Safety Qua Brown, the nation's leading tackler (15 stops per game), followed up a 16 tackle outing at SEMO with 14 stops against the Minutemen.
SIU coach Nick Hill was happy to see his defense's hard work see some results.
"Challenged those guys all week to play better, that we had to play better. Our best players on defense had to be better, and Jeremy came up with a big play, and then Knighton," he said. "I think Chucky was really good. I felt like our DBs, we didn't have any pass interferences. Madre got a pick, and I thought Qua, again, made some big tackles. Where those plays could be touchdowns, he made 'em keep snapping the ball."
UMass converted 6 of 17 third downs and was 1 of 4 on fourth down. The Minutemen averaged 2.6 yard per rush and completed 15 of 27 passes for 198 yards.
SIU allowed 200 yards or more on the ground five times last year and over 300 yards passing five times. The Salukis had at least one sack in every game but one last year, but didn't have a sack at SEMO. Saturday, SIU had three, and nearly forced a three-and-out single-handedly with one of them.
Sullivan hit West as he tried to throw the football forward, knocking it loose. It rolled to the UMass 2 yard line before running back Cam Roberson recovered it. The 16 yard loss put the Minutemen in a third-and-25 midway through the second quarter, and they punted after a short Roberson run.
"The defense played good, and hopefully we can build on this momentum," Hill said. "We still got a long season ahead of us, and we'll turn on the film and try to get better from this one."