CARBONDALE – Without one of the main cogs in its running game, the SIU football team found the Midas touch against Illinois State on Saturday.
The seventh-ranked Salukis (3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference) threw for 227 yards and rushed for 144 in their 35-17 win over the Redbirds. Quarterback Nic Baker threw two touchdown passes, one to Landon Lenoir and another to running back Justin Strong, but it was the quick appearances from Donnavan Spencer and Javon Williams Jr. that boosted the SIU in the second half.
“Sometimes you’re going to be in a game and someone is going to be kind of a hot hand,” SIU coach Nick Hill said at his weekly press conference on Monday. âThese guys just have certain skills, certain things that we get into the game, that they’re going to learn, but it’s really about spinning and staying fresh.â
Spencer, a Western Carolina transfer who missed the first two games of the year with injury, rushed for a high 69 yards on 10 carries. His 40-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter helped the Salukis get closer to a field goal. Williams has only had seven races, but two of them have gone for touchdowns.
“There are obviously some things that each of them does a little differently to get them to get their transport, and then I think that’s the way the game plays out and what kind of game it is. “said Hill. “Is this a game where we stay on the pitch and consistently get three, four points in a game and then there will be a substitute? We will need all of them, as we have seen.”
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Strong had 45 yards on 10 carries and gave the Salukis a double-digit lead after catching a 17-yard touchdown pass with 7:50 left. Without Romeir Elliott, who missed his second straight game with concussion-like symptoms, the SIU completed 27 races for three different guys. Heading into Saturday’s game against Western Illinois (1-3, 1-0), Williams (6.7 yards per carry), Spencer (6.7) and Strong (5.8) all averaged over five yards. per race.
Williams’ two scores tied him with Muhammad Abdulqaadir (2002-03) for the fourth fastest touchdown in SIU history (31). The 6-foot-2, 245-pound second is one point to match Amos Bullocks (1958-61) for third place.
Baker, who completed 21 of 32 passes for 227 yards and two scores, rose to second in the MVFC by the way. Only his counterpart this weekend, WIU’s Connor Sampson, threw for more yards (1,219) and touchdowns (10) than Baker’s 1,113 and nine, respectively.
On Twitter: @THefferman