On Saturday, #2 SDSU will play host to #8 Southern Illinois in a top-10 showdown, the first time the two teams will play while both being ranked in the top 10. This will be the third matchup between the schools since the start of the new year, as they met twice during the 2021 spring season.
In March, SDSU beat SIU in Carbondale, 44-3, with a large amount of Salukis out under COVID protocols. In the FCS playoffs, the Jacks met again with the Salukis, surviving in a tight 31-26 thriller in Brookings. SIU’s quarterback at the time, Stone Labanowitz, remembers the game well.
“I thought what was cool about it was that we were in a blind spot,” Labanowitz said. “After the 44-3 beatdown, you just had to think that a team was going to have too much confidence, especially on their homefield in the playoffs. I, knowing that, felt like if we hit them in the mouth early, they’ll think were for real. And that’s exactly what happened.”
SIU led for much of the first half only for SDSU to slowly creep back and take control late in the game. Labanowitz was the high passer in the game, throwing for 247 yards and a touchdown. SIU covered the 17.5 pregame spread as well.
(Labanowitz vs. SDSU in the FCS quarterfinals last spring)
“It was an ambush, I wish we would have a few more fans in there but it was loud,” Labanowitz said, explaining that a lot of his family and friends were at the game that night. “It’ll be lit for this weekend’s game.”
This weekend’s game will feature the same programs but different teams than the spring. The quarterbacks from both teams will be different and with the amount of film that both teams have on each other, there will likely be significant some changes in the game plan, according to Labanowitz.
“I’m excited to see what changes they make, I think you have to (make changes) but at the same time, I know how (Southern Illinois Coach Nick) Hill works, he trusts his game plan and his guys,” Labanowitz said. “They’re going to do what they always do and play better football than them if they want to win.”
So far this year, SIU is 4-1, with their only loss coming to Kansas St., 31-23. Last week, Western Illinois took SIU to overtime before losing on a failed two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game.
“Western Illinois wasn’t supposed to give them trouble but they went to overtime in an absolutely weird game,” Labanowitz said. “You can look at it one of two ways: One, they’ve been on the edge two games in a row, is this how they are going to come out? Is this who they actually are? Or, number two, they’ve had two good wake-up calls. If they lost one of those games they probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs, so ‘let’s tighten the bolts and get everything going the right way.’”
Labanowitz said SIU’s roster is loaded with talent and explosive players with “eight to ten guys who could play at the FBS level,” including veterans Landon Lenoir and Javon Williams Jr., among others.
“Get the ball to those explosive guys and let them make the plays,” Labanowitz added.
The Jacks opened as 13.5 point favorites with a 56.5 point total. The Jacks have covered every game they’ve played this year but Labanowitz sees that changing this weekend.
“This is a tough one if I had to bet it, which I wouldn’t knowing what happens in-between the white lines with these two teams, it’s like a brewing rivalry. There’s building animosity, there’s so much ‘respect’ between each other,” Labanowitz said. “This an opportunity for SDSU to be disrespectful and take that (respect from the spring) right back.”
“Gun to his head,” Labanowitz said he would lean to taking SDSU first half (-6.5) and SIU (+13.5) for the full game, because “SIU will make it close at some point in the second half.”
“Going into the Dana, its going to be 100% capacity, it’s going to be full. Oladokun has looked great, SDSU hasn’t been tested, they are riding this wave of confidence that could keep going early on but I know how the SIU boys work,” Labanowitz said. “They’re going to have a chance in the third or fourth quarter to take the lead or tie it up.”
As for the total, Labanowitz expects a close game and would “definitely bet an easy under.”
“In these big games, and you see it in the NFL all the time, two explosive offenses, everyone expects so much, the quarterback on the offense is walking with a limp, your riding into the stadium, ‘we’re about to ball out, watch this’, when you step out on to the field, and the crowd is so loud on third and eight and you throw an incomplete pass and they’re screaming at you and you have to punt the ball, it’s like ‘oh, this isn’t what we were expecting, we’re about to get into a battle,’” Labanowitz said. “Defenses get out there and they’re jumping around and they get a stop. Both sidelines looking at each other being like ‘oh, alright, we’re about to go to war.”
Labanowitz said the defenses on both sides are good, better than each team’s offenses. A third meeting in the last eight months also tends to favor lower scoring games, with both defensese familar with the tendencies of the offenses. Further, Labanowitz expects both sides to try to establish the run with all signs pointing towards an “under.”
Stone’s Stone Cold Lock: 24-20 Southern Illinois
“A touchdown under 5 minutes in the fourth will decide it.”
Other Stone Cold Locks this weekend:
Ohio St. -20 v. Maryland
“Iowa exposed a lot about Maryland last weekend, I think a coach can go to the film room the next day and there’s just so much they can learn, knowing what the other team did. You got Ryan Day doing it, you got Ohio St, give me the Buckeyes in the ‘shoe.”