CARBONDALE — His favorite two wide receivers are back, along with the top scorer in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and SIU quarterback Karé Lyles is in the same offensive system for the first time in his career.
Getting used to new center Jimmy Wormsley and a new faceshield on his helmet are pretty small hurdles to what Lyles believes could be a big year for the Salukis if they get to play. Lyles, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior, rallied SIU from two scores down to beat UT Martin last season after coming in for the injured Stone Labanowitz. The transfer from the University of Wisconsin threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns in a loss at Arkansas State, an FBS program, and led the Salukis to five straight wins at one point.
"In the end, Karé is a smart kid who takes this job as quarterback really seriously, as far as the playbook and the knowledge and where people have to be, and we trust him with that," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "Making plays and being accurate with the football, and then taking care of the football."
Lyles completed 127 of 202 passes for 1,569 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games last season. Javon Williams Jr., who led Valley Football with 19 touchdowns last season, teamed with D.J. Davis (1,026 yards, four touchdowns) to form a rushing attack opponents had to respect. The Salukis (7-5 overall and 5-3 in the MVFC) finished third in the league in total offense (416.9 yards per game) but were 32nd in the FCS. They were second in the league in rushing (national champion North Dakota State was first) and seventh in passing.
"Opening up the pass game is crucial," said Lyles, who is one of seven returning starters on offense this year. "The timing with the guys, and just understanding the schemes and the concepts, and just executing. That's made me feel a lot more comfortable."
Starting his second year in the same system has been a much-awaited blessing for the Madison, Wisconsin native. Lyles returned to the same system as a redshirt freshman at Wisconsin but hardly played. He had two schemes at Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College between 2017-18 and had to learn Blake Rolan's new system last year.
SIU returns its top-two receivers from last year, junior Avante Cox and fifth-year senior Landon Lenoir, and added Cox's twin brother, D'Ante', from Division II Missouri Baptist. The Salukis also added Jerron Rollins, a transfer from Cincinnati, and return two promising young receivers in sophomore Jaden Roberts-Thomas and redshirt freshman Branson Combs.
"Different guys are getting more reps and there's a lot more talent, with what we got coming in, where we can throw the ball around with," Lyles said. "Just knowing that, and the culpability, and being in the system, it's definitely opened up."
SIU gave its players Monday off and is scheduled to return to Saluki Stadium on Tuesday. Wednesday is the first practice the Salukis can go in full pads. The season opener at Kansas is scheduled for Aug. 29.
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