While there are often a large number of plays that decidedly impact a football game, there are almost always two to three things that really shape the game. You know. The big plays. The big stats. The battles within the game that are won or lost. Throughout football season, I will revisit three key happenings from the previous game and talk about the impact they had overall. While the chosen topics may not have ultimately decided the victor, they will always have had a profound impact on the game.
The three things which I have chosen for the SIU game are:
1. Jeff Scott's epic day
I couldn't single out one play for Scott. Obviously his 67 yard punt return was special, but everything about his first quarter could be described that way. Scott, coupled with our defense, was the reason we got up 21-0. Southern Illinois got back in the game due to a myriad of factors, but it never really mattered. The hole was too big because of Scott's sensational play early in the game. For those who weren't paying attention, he scored three touchdowns in the game's first six minutes. I'll take that average.
Scott finished with 210 total yards (118 rushing, 63 punt return, 20 kick return) and 7.4 yards per carry with three rushing touchdowns and the aforementioned return. I remarked to Whiskey Wednesday during the game's early goings that the SIU defense appeared to simply give up when Scott touched the ball. The Salukis were no doubt impressed with Jeff's speed, and it showed on several plays. Jeff Scott is going to be a very special back for us in time.
2. The defense coming up with four picks
Last year, the Rebels secured six total interceptions. Through two games this season, the team has already logged five. Anyone who watched the game on Saturday knows that a couple of the interceptions were horrendous throws, but the point is this: our team made the plays. Last year, and for many years, when opponents made poor throws, our players dropped the football or just never even saw it. This year, they're looking for the ball and getting it out of the air. There's a lot on which our defense must improve, but converting interception chances doesn't appear to be a major problem (yet).
The first interception came on a pass DE Wayne Dorsey batted into the air then managed to bring in and take to the SIU 4. Jeff Scott's job was easy, and we scored our second touchdown to go up 14-0. I would have loved to see Dorsey score there, but what came of it was just as good.
The second inerception was thrown to CB Charles Sawyer who had to go the ground for the ball. His second interception in two games, Sawyer caught the ball then stood up nonchalantly. I loved it. SIU had been able to climb back into the game before the interception, with the score at 28-10 and SIU in decent field position. Sawyer's interception took that away from them.
The Rebels failed to score on the ensuing drive but did get a punt downed at the SIU six. After a very questionable pass interference call on Charles Sawyer to give SIU a key first down, CB Marcus Temple intercepted an errant pass returned it for ten yards, then picked up a late hit penalty. The Rebels had the ball on the SIU thirteen and were able to put it in the end zone for another score to go up 35-10.
Lastly, with SIU driving and down 35-17, Damien Jackson picked off an obvious miscommunication pass. It was an awful throw, but Jackson caught it in the end zone and went down to give the Rebels the ball on their own 20. At that moment, the game was basically over.
3. SIU's quarterback runs
SIU QB Paul McIntosh is a pretty good scrambler, so I wasn't shocked to see him have success on the ground. McIntosh rushed for 80 yards on fourteen carries and frustrated me all game. When the score was 28-3 and I assumed SIU was just going to give up, McIntosh put the team on his back (doo) and carried the ball seven times on the next drive which culminated in a touchdown for the Salukis.
The Rebels simply cannot continue to allow quarterbacks to fake them out with zone-reads, misdirections, or just option opportunities. If we can't get a hold of the problem that has plagued us under Tyrone Nix's reign at defensive coordinator, we have no hope against Mississippi State or any other team who mixes in quarterback runs. They will eat us alive.