2021 FCS Season Preview: Southern Illinois

CSJ Predicted Order of Finish: 5th

Coach: Nick Hill (Fifth Season, 24-32 @ SIU & overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Blake Rolan
Defensive Coordinator: Jason Petrino
Stadium: Saluki Stadium (15,000 capacity)

Location: Carbondale, Illinois
2021 Spring Record: 6-4 (3-3 MVFC)

Southern Illinois got over the hump this past spring with its first playoff bid since 2009. SIU used the most of their appearance in getting an upset win at Weber State in the first round and the Salukis advanced to the quarterfinals but lost at 31-26 heartbreaker to MVFC mate South Dakota State. SIU returns 10 offensive and 10 defensive starters with goal to again see the postseason.

WR Avante Cox and RB Javon Williams Jr., along with QB Stone Labanowitz and FB Jacob Garrett were the team’s All-MVFC performers from this past spring and will return along OG ZeVeyon Furcron.

WR Avante Cox

Cox led SIU with 55 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to leading the MVFC in receiving yards per game at 82.5. He also ranked second in the MVFC with 6.9 receptions per game, fifth in all-purpose yards per game (112.9) and has recorded a catch in 20-straight games.

Williams Jr. led the Salukis with 529 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns in the regular; a mark that is the seventh-most in the FCS this season. The third-year running back led the conference in punt return average (8.8), while also finishing eighth in total rushing.

Garrett started all eight games at fullback and recorded three catches for 78 yards, which included a 56-yard catch and run touchdown pass from Williams in the last regular season game against Southeast Louisiana. Garrett was the lead blocker for a Saluki offense that finished third in passing offense and fourth in rushing against the Missouri Valley.

Labanowitz played in 7 games and started the final 5 games in the spring season, posting a 2-3 record as a starter. He, however, set a school record by completing 72.4 percent of his passes (110-of-152) with 8 TDs and 4 INTs.

While the offense should produce, the Saluki defense might be the better side of the ball. The trio of DE Jordan Berner, S Qua Brown, and CB James Ceasar were all first team MVFC performers last year and are all back to lead this side of the ball.

Brown led the MVFC with four forced fumbles this season, a mark that is tied for the FCS lead and stands tied for the second-most in a single season in school history. The senior safety has also recorded 31 tackles, which is the fifth-most on the team this season. 

Ceasar leads the nation with 11 PBUs and also has recorded 34 tackles, one tackle for loss and half a sack. Cesar’s play has helped elevate a Saluki defensive backfield that ranks No. 27 in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (179.1). 

Berner led SIU with 3.0 sacks, while also sharing the team lead in tackles for loss with 5.0. The senior defensive lineman finished 11th in the MVFC in sacks per game (0.38), while also finishing 14th in tackles for loss per game (0.82). 

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