The Kansas State football team plays its first home game of the year Saturday, Sept. 11, hosting the eighth-ranked Southern Illinois Salukis at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The Salukis play football in the FCS’ Missouri Valley Football Conference, the same league as FCS powerhouses North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. They were 6-4 and lost in the second round of the playoffs this past spring.
Several FCS programs—as head coach Chris Klieman and his players pointed out—either beat or nearly beat FBS programs this past week. Southern Illinois is the type of program that could put out a similar performance this week.
The Saluki roster features 18 players in their sixth year of collegiate play, including multiple FBS and Power 5 transfers.
“A bunch of guys have played a lot of football there, and they have confidence in what they’re doing, and they’re well-coached,” Klieman said during his weekly press conference.
Klieman also said Southern Illinois is a team coming off a deep playoff run who correctly — he thinks — believe they should be in the mix for an FCS Championship.
Clearly, Southern Illinois is a serious threat and, if the mid-week press conference is any indication, the Wildcats are treating them as such.
PREVIEW: Football returns for the first 2021 home game against Southern Illinois
This past week, starting quarterback Nic Baker threw for 460 yards and 4 TDs on 34 pass attempts in the Salukis’ blowout win against Southeast Missouri State before the first-stringers got the rest of the night off. Nearly a quarter of those yards came on a 99-yard touchdown pass.
The Salukis also ran the ball 32 times for only 93 yards, a dismal 2.9 yards per rush.
Klieman said what stood out most about their offense was their ability to pull off reverses and other trick plays.
“Probably the best reverse team in the country,” Klieman said. “You’re going to see some reverses out of different formations and reverse passes and gadgets and Wildcat. They make you defend sideline-to-sideline with everybody. You better not just key in on a couple of guys. They’ve got some tremendous players, but they hit reverses on everybody.”
The Wildcat defense needs to play sound, assignment football to avoid giving up chunk plays to the Saluki offense. This spring, Southern Illinois was one of the best programs in the FCS on third down, so they will need to also focus on getting into third-and-long.
On defense, the Salukis favor a 4-3 with experience sprinkled all over and depth in the secondary, but they will mix in some three-down looks.
“They’re a mix between a four-down and a three-down. They like to pressure an awful lot,” Klieman said. “I think they’ve got a really good inside linebacker, number 54. … They’re very active and really experienced on defense.”
Sixth-year linebacker Bryce Notree is a strong run-stopper at linebacker, and classmate Jordan Berner gets to the quarterback well from the defensive end spot. They also sport experience along the defensive line and in the secondary.
Spring football advantage:
Something that cannot be overstated is the experience of this program, along with the fact their season ended just a couple of months ago. FCS programs have had a good start this year, possibly because they played a spring football season.
The Wildcat offensive line struggled at times this past week to open up running lanes through the middle for anyone other than Deuce Vaughn. This Saluki defense has size and experience, so it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can generate more medium-long runs from other sources.
Can’t get fooled again:
K-State was aggressive on defense this past week, and it worked well. The Wildcats were pitching a shutout until Stanford managed a garbage-time touchdown.
This week, they will have to stay home and stick to their assignments to keep the Salukis post-snap misdirection and trick plays from creating game-breaking explosive plays. In past seasons, K-State has struggled to stop these types of plays.
Southern Illinois hangs around longer than K-State fans would like to see, but K-State’s depth puts them over the edge at the end. K-State 35-21