USD (3-5, 2-2 MVFC) suffered their second straight loss Saturday at the hand of Southern Illinois (4-4, 2-2 MVFC) 48-28 inside the DakotaDome.
The Coyotes’ inability to stop the Salukis’ offensive attack, mainly out of the wildcat formation, was the story of the game. Freshman running back Javon Williams Jr. scored the SIU’s first four touchdowns of the contest rushing out of the formation, two of those runs breaking 20 yards.
“The guy they run it with is a good player,” junior linebacker Jack Cochrane said following the game. “Honestly, the big plays they got out of it were just mis-execution things. It’s not what they’re doing, it’s what we’re doing, or not doing.”
All four of Williams’ touchdown runs came in the first half. While senior quarterback Austin Simmons responded after the first Saluki score with a touchdown strike to junior receiver Caleb Vander Esch tying the game at seven, the Coyotes quickly fell behind.
After Williams finished his scoring outburst, junior quarterback Kare Lyles threw a touchdown to sophomore receiver Avante Cox with nine seconds remaining in the first half following an offsides penalty against the Coyotes on a Saluki field goal attempt. SIU entered the half with a 34-7 advantage.
Head coach Bob Nielson said he emphasized the team’s lack of intensity during the break.
“I didn’t like that our guys got down in a hurry today. Not just down on the scoreboard but they got down,” Nielson said. “That was really the only thing I got after them about at halftime, that we had lost a little bit of our intensity.”
However, Nielson shouldered some of the blame as well.
“I’ll take the blame. I don’t think our preparation was as good as it should have been,” he said. “I didn’t think our guys played with the level of execution and intensity that we needed to.”
The Coyotes hurt themselves in another way Saturday too, turning the ball over five times with Southern Illinois scoring 27 of their 48 total points directly from USD turnovers. Simmons threw three interceptions while the team fumbled the ball twice more.
“We have to execute better. Plain and simple,” Vander Esch said. “Once we get that dialed down turnovers will be lowered as well.”
USD managed three more touchdowns in the second half, one coming off of the lone SIU turnover as senior safety Mike Johnson recovered a fumble forced by junior edge rusher Jake Richardson and returned it 31 yards for the score. This was the second career touchdown for Johnson, who scored a pick-six against SIU two years ago.
Simmons later found junior tight end Brett Sampson for his second passing touchdown of the game before running a six-yard touchdown in of his own for the final score of the game.
Simmons finished with 226 yards on 22 completions and 26 rushing yards. Junior running back Kai Henry quietly rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries, averaging 6.4 yards a touch.
Vander Esch led the team in receiving yards once again, tallying 85 yards on nine catches to go with his touchdown grab. Sophomore receiver Kody Case caught three passes for 39 yards in his return from a high ankle sprain.
Cochrane led the defense with 15 tackles, while freshman Brock Mogensen provided ten more. Richardson and senior defensive lineman Kameron Cline each registered a sack on the day.
“We have four games left against four good teams,” Cochrane said. “There’s no room to lay over and sulk. We’re a good defense. We weren’t today but we know what we can do, we know what we’re capable of. We’re going have to dig deep and show some heart in these last games and show what we’re capable of.”
The Coyotes look to regain momentum as they travel to Macomb, Illinois to take on the winless Leathernecks of Western Illinois (0-8, 0-4 MVFC) on Saturday, Nov 2 at 1 p.m.
“You can let your season slide, or you can pick yourself up by the bootstrap and really battle,” Nielson said. “I know I’m going to battle, I know our staff will battle, and I’m confident our guys will too.”